It's time that chefs trained in California-French cuisine gave up these dated, over-reduced sauces that obliterate the other ingredients, not to mention the accompanying wines. It's the equivalent of winemakers producing over-extracted, high-alcohol wines -- intensity for intensity's sake.
Come dessert, there's an enjoyable coffee pot de crème served in a cup, with whipped cream and vanilla bean shortbread cookies. A mixed berry shortcake needed more strawberry coulis to juice up the berries. Slushy root beer granita ladled over vanilla bean ice cream is sheer heaven for a friend who spent summers as a teen working at a root beer stand. For me, it's too sweet.
All in all, dinner at Wine Cask is a pleasant diversion when you're looking for a wine-friendly experience in Santa Barbara. The wine list is still strong. The kitchen under Pettit is moving in a more ambitious direction. All it needs is focus, a tighter lid on the salt shaker, and some tweaking.
Rating: * 1/2
Location: 813 Anacapa St., Santa Barbara, (805) 966-9463 or (800) 436-9463; www.winecask.com.
Ambience: Handsome, wine-focused restaurant in Santa Barbara's El Paseo with a Spanish revival dining room and a spacious outdoor courtyard framed by the restaurant and wine shop. The new chef is John Pettit, former chef de cuisine of Mélisse in Santa Monica.
Service: Informed and intelligent. Wine-friendly.
Price: Dinner appetizers, $12 to $22; main courses, $34 to $52; dessert, $7 to $12. Daily tasting menu, $90 per person ($125 with wine pairings); vegetarian tasting menu, $70 per person ($105 with wines); chef's eight-course tasting menu, $115 per person ($175 with wines).
Best dishes: Eggplant soup, duck rillettes ravioli, freshwater shrimp with warm potato and leek salad, local abalone, duck breast, lamb trio or quartet, coffee pot de crème, mixed berry shortcake.
Wine list: Comprehensive Central Coast selection, along with good choices from other regions, including Europe. Corkage fee, $25.
Best table: One at the edge of the outdoor courtyard.
Special features: Wine shop across the courtyard.
Details: Open for lunch 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday through Friday; for dinner, 5:30 to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, until 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Full bar. Valet parking in adjacent lot.
To see a photo gallery, go to latimes.com/food.
Rating is based on food, service and ambience, with price taken into account in relation to quality. ****: Outstanding on every level. ***: Excellent. **: Very good. *: Good. No star: Poor to satisfactory.