Blackbird – Santa Barbara, CA

36 State Street
Santa Barbara CA 93101

I was a little concerned about this reservation. I read good things but do I trust the people who wrote those things? Oh, internet. I was worried because of its location. Right on State Street, a block from the beach, tourist central. That doesn’t usually equate to a good meal.

Our Lyft driver dropped us a block away to avoid driving into the chaos of the tourist block…I don’t blame him. Santa Barbara is a lot like Santa Cruz in that it’s a beach tourist town that, on its own, is a bit grungy. It’s not a fancy place, it’s just pretty so therefore touristy. There’s a whole area that isn’t for locals. In Santa Cruz it’s the Boardwalk and we just avoid that completely. In Santa Barbara it’s the western portion of State Street–at least as far as I can tell–and it’s full of people from farther south. The LA, plastic, there-to-be-seen crowd.

Having prefaced with all that: The food was great! Flavors were spot on but my only complaint was something we now think should be a tattoo but it would have to be in Chinese characters to have really make a proper tattoo: PRESENTATION HINDERS CONSUMPTION.
Does anyone know how to read Chinese? Does this mean that? I am totally not getting this tattooed on my body but someone should.

This applies to the Blackbird food–it was beautiful but in a way that made it difficult to construct a bite with all the ingredients. Everything was in big beautiful ribbons, too big to assemble all on one fork. My son told me that I’m really good at making the perfect bite. I couldn’t do it here. This also applies to the clientele. A woman walked by that I think was more plastic than flesh. Wrapped in a skin-tight, pink and gold, meshy dress. Presentation hinders consumption. I’ll leave that one there. Let’s just say Santa Barbara is as far south as I like to go in California.

We got to have an in-depth wine conversation with the sommelier. He’d just returned from a wine trip to Italy and was just really excited about everything that he’s getting to explore. He was full of knowledge and verve. Our server was enthusiastic and attentive as well.

Back to the food. The yellowtail with peas, heart of palm kimchi, kohlrabi and sesame was a definitely highlight. Acid and salinity were perfectly balanced. There were 4 pieces of fish and 3 of kohlrabi but besides that, I think I could get mostly everything into each bite. I could have had two of these. The Big eye tuna after this was a bit of a miss. It was a little flabby and bland. Needed more acid, more salt. It fell flat. The gazpacho had really great flavor but was a bit of a challenge to eat. Pretty though!

The oysters came as our fourth dish. Odd. But they had these wonderful mignonette pearls that I want my kid to use his little molecular gastronomy kit to make. They were great. I’ve had mignonette granita on oysters and loved it but this had that same concentrated flavor without melting! Brilliant!

My other favorite of the night was the Branzino with fava beans, chorizo, some other mystery heritage bean that was wonderful, and chicory. I was surprised at how many of these I saw going out to tables since it’s a whole fish you have to take apart. It was a flavor bomb. So much going on. I loved every single bite.

For dessert, I had the chocolate one, hubby had the coffee one. They were both great but, again, hard to eat. Piled high, swirly, in a pretty little chocolate cup. I wanted something crunchy in mine but besides that the flavors were great, rich and luxurious.

Overall, I was happy with the dinner. I’d go back for the yellowtail in a heartbeat!