Calypso, the lush bar on Santa Barbara's State Street, "presents" the recently opened restaurant, Island Delights, according to the menu. Actually, they cohabit quite amiably next to each other, with the bar providing drinks for the restaurant and the restaurant whipping up appetizers for the drinkers.
The restaurant fits into what was once a passageway between two buildings, now outfitted with a canvas roof and plenty of lush green foliage. From the street, it resembles a jungle garden; inside, the decor might best be described as funk and fronds. It definitely feels outdoorsy, but with the heaters blasting, it's cozy enough, and the friendly service more than makes up for a dearth of posh.
The best reasons to go to Island Delights, which offers a mixture of Cajun, Creole and Caribbean food, are the island-inspired dishes. Chef Harold Welsh is a native of Barbados in the West Indies, and his Bajan cooking can be sampled in dishes like West Indian curries, fish cakes, fried plantains and coconut bread.
At the moment, this is the only place I know in Santa Barbara where you can get Jamaican-style jerk chicken and pork. I'm worried that it won't attract the clientele it deserves. The spicy jerk seasoning is terrific. It's a different kind of hot, not so much in the mouth as down the throat and through the body. It makes the heaters superfluous. The chicken was better than the pork, which had been roasted and sliced. In fact, I craved a plate of chicken wings for days afterwards.
Another Caribbean appetizer, Jamaican patti ($3) resembled a turnover made with dough as flaky as a croissant, filled with ground meat or vegetables. Fish cakes ($4.50) were even more tasty. Made from salted cod, a staple on the islands since the days of Columbus, the cakes were thin, firm, spicy and delicious, served with a fresh mango sauce redolent of cloves.
A Creole gumbo ($8.50), and a Cajun blackened catfish, were decent enough renditions of these specialties. The catfish came with hush puppies--fat little fried balls of cornmeal and spices.
I've had crisper versions of soft-shelled crab, but the one I ate here still deserves to be called succulent. It came with a bland Hollandaise-type sauce that certainly let the crab keep center stage.
A marvelous lamb curry ($13.95) tasted as if they'd cooked it with the chutney, making it fruity and sweet.
Most of the entrees come with rice and peas--actually small red beans--and both fried yams and plantains. Plantains are another great island staple, a member of the banana family but more starchy than sweet. You can order fried plantains here as an appetizer ($3) with a savory yogurt sauce for dipping.
If you like your food sweet, the coconut shrimp ($13.95) is a knockout, fat and crunchy, with filaments of coconut embedded in the crust. On the other hand, if you prefer to get your sweet kicks with dessert, you won't be disappointed. The coconut bread resembles a coconut-infused pound cake, sliced very thin and served warm. Key lime pie ($3.50) was so infused with lime I could taste it in my toes. The best dessert was the bourbon pie with its chewy, rich mixture of caramel, molasses and pecans.
This would be a good destination for dessert and dancing. At 9:30 every night the live bands begin to play. They range from funk to R&B;, jazz and reggae.
The other day we went back for lunch. It was particularly pleasant to sit in the front patio under the dappled light of a lovely ficus tree, with the sad-happy strains of a reggae lament in the background. They had fresh crawdads--or crayfish--as the special that day. I had a bowl of these bright red, Lilliputian lobsters, clustered around a tiny trough of horseradish-tomato dipping sauce. They made quite an adventure in peel-and-eat, messy and delicious. Warm, crumbly corn bread and a fresh salad of greens and avocado slices conspired to make a perfect meal.
* WHAT: Island Delights.
* WHERE: 514 State St., Santa Barbara.
* WHEN: Open every day for lunch 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m. and dinner, 5-10 p.m.
* HOW MUCH: Dinner for two, food only, $30-$42.
* FYI: Reservations accepted. Visa and MasterCard.
* ETC.: 962-6868 or 966-1388.