The menu here, like San Ysidro Ranch at large, is gloriously old-fashioned. To be clear: That’s not the same thing as dated. The chef flirts with just enough global trends and modern twists to make classic preparations feel fresh and exciting.
While Johnson (head chef since 2011) is a master of French and Italian techniques — impeccable sears, perfect gnocchi, textbook gelée — he cooks in a vernacular that is distinctly Californian. Sole might be flown in from Dover or truffles from Burgundy, but the chef’s menu is mostly a who’s who of local produce and provisions, some of it even grown on the resort grounds, like Meyer lemons and tangerines and all manner of vegetables and herbs.
Here’s a quick visual tour:
Diver-harvested scallop in pomegranate aguachile with cara cara oranges, pickled peppers, Tokyo turnips and watermelon radish. Absolutely stunning, right?
Kumamoto oysters with prosecco gelée, pixie tangerines, mango spheres and Persian cucumber:
Japanese yellowtail crudo with tangerines, purple sango radish, sea grass, espelette and shiro dashi vinaigrette:
Roasted California quail with Mexican mole (reminiscent of Oaxaca), sweet potato gnocchi (ethereal), baby kale and toasted cashew vinaigrette:
Maple-glazed king salmon with wild rice, asparagus, butternut squash, baby kale, brown butter almonds and lemon beurre blanc. This was probably the best piece of salmon I’ve ever eaten. Seriously incredible. In more than 25 years of writing about food in restaurants, I don’t believe I have ever described a piece of salmon as “incredible,” until this:
Truffle honey glazed duck breast with morel mushrooms, creamed corn, asparagus, fava beans and duck jus. Pray you never get COVID and lose your sense of smell because you really need to appreciate this one:
Coffee-dusted venison with miatake mushrooms, romanesco, sweet potato puree, braised cabbage and blackberry peppercorn jus:
Meyer lemon tart with raspberry meringue and poppy seed sablé. The lemons are grown onsite:
Chocolate cake with salted praline and milk chocolate feuilletine:
Valrhona chocolate soufflé with warm chocolate sauce and Tahitian espresso ice cream:
The restaurant occupies the upper level of a two-story sandstone landmark built in 1889 as a citrus packing house for surrounding orchards. An original wood-burning fireplace anchors the romantic dining room, the windows of which overlook the local creek. Most of the tables, for now, are set up outdoors on two terraces with heated limestone floors, surrounded by frangipani and bougainvillea.
Despite the restaurant’s ultra-exclusive location within a gated resort and the staff’s meticulous attention to detail, the entire affair is surprisingly relaxed and casual. This is quintessential indoor/outdoor living. This is the good life. And here’s the kicker: If you’re staying overnight at San Ysidro Ranch, dining here is complimentary (except for alcohol). It is otherwise very expensive, a detail that doesn’t phase the regular neighborhood clientele.
Sommelier Tristan Pitre oversees the 12,000-bottle wine cellar. He assembled the vast collection from scratch in a matter of months after the restaurant’s original inventory was destroyed in a mudslide. With the generous help of owner Ty Warner, Pitre not only built it back but also procured the deepest vertical of Chateau Petrus currently available the United States. I told him I couldn’t afford the Petrus, so he summoned an equally enjoyable alternative from Italy for $75.
It had been nearly 15 years since my last visit to Stonehouse. It was good back then. But it’s in a completely different league now.
Add this one to your bucket list.
Stonehouse at San Ysidro Ranch, 900 San Ysidro Lane, Santa Barbara, 805-565-1720, stonehouserestaurant.com
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