More Than Just Food: Santa Ynez Valley Restaurant Weeks Target Wine Lovers, Too
Have you seen all the promos for Restaurant Week? It’s a national phenomenon throughout the winter season, actually: destinations leveraging the appeal of their top chefs (and the allure of value) to entice consumers and beef up foot traffic during a historically slow travel time of the year. Santa Barbara’s Restaurant Week returns February 21 through March 6 and will feature prix-fixe menus at top-tier eateries all around town; in Montecito, they’ll include Lucky’s and the Biltmore’s Bella Vista.
The one I’m really excited about is the one happening throughout the Santa Ynez Valley right now. It’s Restaurant Weeks, actually – plural – since its run from this past Sunday through January 31 will have offered hungry travelers almost two full weeks of tasty savings. The promotion screams “staycation,” by the way, with several hotels offering discounts and free upgrades during the Weeks’ run.
Santa Ynez Valley Restaurant Weeks launched in 2010 and has successfully spotlighted the remarkable dining that the zone’s six towns – Buellton, Solvang, Ballard, Los Olivos, Santa Ynez, and Los Alamos – have to offer. To be sure, though, it’s a dining scene that’s an offshoot of the viticulture that’s been flourishing there for decades.
“We’ve had incredible wine crafted in the Santa Ynez Valley for over fifty years, but our burgeoning culinary scene is relatively new,” says Shelby Sim, President and CEO of Visit the Santa Ynez Valley. “Restaurant Weeks is a great time to sample all that we have to offer at an unbeatable price: at $20.20 for a three-course meal, you can visit several restaurants over the two weeks without breaking the bank!”
More than 30 restaurants are participating this year. At Cecco Ristorante in Solvang, home to what is probably the best pizza crust in all of Santa Barbara County, Chef David Cecchini’s special three-course menu features starter options like a seared diver scallop crudo and smoked salmon carpaccio and entrée selections like Risotto al Mercato, Pizza Bianca and Bistecca al Vino Rosso; everyone gets Affogato for dessert, that sumptuous espresso-gelato treat. A mouthwatering deal, indeed, at $20.20.
First & Oak in Solvang, which nabbed special recognition in Michelin’s California guide last year, has a trio of courses that includes a wild mushroom risotto main and chocolate mousse for dessert; they’re also doing a four-course menu for $40.20 and a five-course meal for $58.20. And at the Los Olivos Café in the historic haven of Los Olivos, the $20.20 prix-fixe main options include sage fettuccini, buttermilk fried chicken, and rock shrimp risotto.
“Chef Conrad Gonzalez at Cisco Kid [in Los Alamos] will use locally sourced heirloom corn to take his dishes to the next farm-to-table level,” Sim told me, “while Luca Crestanelli and his team at S.Y. Kitchen [in Santa Ynez] will offer dishes not part of the regular menu, like Zuppa Celestina, which features a clear beef broth with thinly sliced crepes.”
In Buellton, Jeff and Janet Olson of Industrial Eats continue their annual charitable push with a culturally-inspired menu which, this year, features recipes from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire) and whose proceeds benefit humanitarian causes in that Central African nation. Down the street, at the Hitching Post II, beef buffs get to choose from a top sirloin steak, a New York steak or sirloin-and-quail combo, along with chicken, pork chops, and fish dishes; there’s bittersweet chocolate tart with whipped cream for dessert and, as a bonus, special pricing on their popular Hometown pinot noir.
In fact, wineries and tasting rooms are taking part in Restaurant Weeks, too. At their new wine tasting room right next door, the Hitching Post team is offering a special $20.20 pricing on bottles of their outstanding Santa Maria Valley pinot, along with an exclusive lunch-with-wine menu. At nearby Alma Rosa Winery, the pet project by wine pioneer Richard Sanford, a special $20.20 tasting fee adds their delicious bubbly to the regular lineup, and guests enjoy artisan cheeses. At their Gaviota tasting spot off Highway 101, Folded Hills is offering a charcuterie board accompanying the wine tasting. And at sprawling Pence Vineyards off Highway 246, on the way toward the coast, $20.20 is the price for wine sipping with cheese and charcuterie, as well as a vineyard tour.
Here’s the bottom line: some of the best eating in California exists in the Santa Ynez Valley. If a promo like Restaurant Weeks succeeds in filling seats during low season with lovers of food and wine who would have otherwise missed out, then it’s a win-win to be sure. Check out the menus and plan your visit at DineSYV.com.