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SANTA BARBARA HARVEST

Restaurant Journal: Turn and face the change

September 5, 2007

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For a wine and food mecca, Santa Barbara is usually pretty quiet on the restaurant news front. But as summer winds down, the scene has had plenty to buzz about.

To begin with, Restaurant Marcella in Los Olivos is ready for its close-up. Although the look of the room is pretty much the same as when it was a branch of the Wine Cask, changes in the menu are apparent now that a new chef is on board. And some new wine-friendly special offers signal a fresh start.

The chef Shannon Cummins, 31, arrived in July with a résumé that includes New York's erstwhile Cello Restaurant and Santa Barbara's Bacara Resort & Spa. His menu focuses on local wine-country food products. "On my 5-mile drive between home and work," he says, "I pass several farmers whose produce we use." Examples include peaches from Buttonwood Farm, featured in a foie gras dish, and lettuces from Jacob Grant.

The restaurant, situated in Fess Parker's Wine Country Inn ( www.fessparker.com), was, for about three years, a branch of the Wine Cask in Santa Barbara, which was sold in May. The Parker family took control of the venue after the Wine Cask's sale, finalized June 1. The family has managed the restaurant before and has some ideas about negotiating a tightrope wire of appealing to wine country tourists without losing the important local fine-dining crowd.

General manager Carlos De Leon says he plans to make greater use of not only the restaurant's wraparound front patio but also its back patio with fireplace. He's worked with Cummins to design a weeknight special for visitors that combines wine, dinner and a room. But locals may have the better deal. The Tuesday night BYOB evenings are bringing in area wine lovers, who are invited to bring their own wine, with no corkage fee.

Meanwhile, back in Santa Barbara, the Wine Cask's new owner, Bernard Rosenson, says he won't be making big changes at the well-regarded restaurant, wine store and tapas bar. Rosenson, 61, is a former owner of assisted living facilities who's moved into food and wine in a big way recently. He owns the Sky Room restaurant in Long Beach and in 2005 bought a vineyard in Solvang. He's producing wine under the Coqueliot label with winemaker Louis Van Tonder and plans to build a winery. Last year he bought the former Big Yellow House restaurant in Summerland, just south of Santa Barbara, which had been closed for several years. The familiar building visible from Highway 101 will undergo extensive renovations to become the Yellow Rose restaurant, perhaps by early next year, according to Elissa Blatt, marketing director of Rosenson's Woodland Hills-based company Dining, Dancing and Romancing.

Maybe he's ready to go high-profile too: He's building a new restaurant in Calabasas -- to be called Bernard's.

Restaurant SevillaTHE 2-year-old Restaurant Sevilla in Santa Barbara has a new chef, Rémi Lauvand, who arrived in June. A Périgord-region native, Lauvand is a veteran of several restaurants including Le Cirque, where he was executive sous chef to Daniel Boulud, and Montrachet, where as executive chef in the late '90s he earned three stars from the New York Times. He came to Santa Barbara in 2000 as executive chef at Miro at Bacara Resort & Spa. At Sevilla, he's offering five- and seven-course "spontané" chef's tasting menus, along with a seasonal Mediterranean menu of such dishes as lobster soup with crackling rice, smoked Spanish paprika and lobster dumplings; roasted foie gras with spiced kumquats and black Mission figs; and monkfish with oxtail jus, black olive purée and braised potatoes. Lauvand was joined in July by wine director Justin Willett, who had worked at Sevilla as consulting wine director at the opening but left to concentrate on his Tyler Winery project.

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Small Bites* The Zaca fire, although contained, continues to burn, but the historic Cold Spring Tavern off Highway 154 has reopened. During early August, when the fire threatened the area and residents were evacuated, the restaurant closed -- for a week -- and firefighters wrapped the buildings, some of which date back to 1868, in fire-resistant material. By Aug. 10, the highway and the tavern were open again, but it's taken awhile for word to get out. Now's the time to drop by for venison sausage and buttermilk biscuits at breakfast, tri-tip sandwich or chili at lunch and steak, rabbit or venison at dinner.

Cold Spring Tavern, 5995 Stagecoach Road, Santa Barbara; (805) 967 0066; www.cold springtavern.com.

* Joe's Cafe, the 79-year-old dive on State Street in Santa Barbara that helped fuel a zillion drives up the coast, reopened July 30 after being closed by owner Gene Montesano for eight weeks of remodeling. It was time, after nearly eight decades, to do some work on the kitchen. The front room's been spiffed up -- leather padding on the wooden chairs and in the booths, more bar stools, tablecloths instead of vinyl toppers -- but it retains its period look. The menu's taken a step or two up the scale too.

Joe's Cafe, 536 State St., Santa Barbara; (805) 966-4638.

* Tonight is the first of a new series of monthly "Epicurious" evenings at the 6-month-old Eos cocktail lounge, a Santa Barbara spot named for the Greek goddess of the dawn. Eos is devoted to "culinary and organic" cocktails. Billed as a "new concept in happy hours," the evening features tastings by local chefs and live music. Tonight's chef is Paul Becking of Elements Bar and Restaurant; wine is from Edna Valley Vineyards. Tariff of $18 includes wine and chef tastings. Eos, 500 Anacapa St.,Santa Barbara, (805) 564-2410; eoslounge .com.