In the Kitchen with Fieldside Grill’s Philip Stein
Philip Stein doesn’t fit the standard mold of a polo club chef. For starters, his warm and friendly personality is devoid of the stuffy airs that one might assume is mandatory among those in close orbit to the regal sport. Now the Fieldside Grill’s executive chef, he was completely unfamiliar with the game – and its arcane terminology – until six months ago when he first learned the meaning of “chukker.” (That’s the Hindi-derived name for a game period in which players on a rotating menu of horses swing wooden mallets to drive a ball across a field and into a goal.)
Stein welcomes all challenges, including the COVID-19 shutdowns, inflation, supply chain shortages, and increased labor costs common in the industry today. He says many local chefs just have to press on, finding ways to bring value to the dining experience.
“We have to tap into our creativity,” said Stein, who joined Fieldside Grill at the Santa Barbara Polo and Racquet Club (SBPRC) in Carpinteria about a year ago. “Some ways that have been successful in helping us keep our prices steady have been using a seasonal menu, cross utilizing the same products in different dishes, creative specials, plating, and team development.”
The restaurant was revived by BBC Catering – a food-and-events company that operates Fieldside Grill, along with Tack Room Tavern at Empire Polo Club in Indio – when it partnered with SBPRC to reinvigorate the polo experience with upscale yet approachable cuisine.
At the time, there was another chef at the helm, but when he left, Stein stepped up. Ever since, diners say Stein has been churning out winning plates from his modest-sized kitchen. He also oversees daily team management, inventories, catering and events, member mixers, and weekend barbecues.
BBC Catering envisioned the opposite of an exclusive dining club, but rather a dining establishment that is open to the public – a genius idea that promotes the sport through its delicious culinary offerings.
Stein has the perfect background for the job. He served in the U.S. Army before attending culinary school; he also worked as executive chef at Sunset Hills Country Club in Thousand Oaks, where he introduced new cuisines and dishes to the club’s fine dining program. His easy-going approach to gourmet meals represents a growing trend as chefs find novel ways to make fine dining more of an everyday ritual – and diners are eating it up.
On a recent sun-kissed afternoon, a server presented a trio of diners on the patio with buffalo chicken sliders, spicy sauce, and garlic aioli ($12); a chipotle chicken wrap with bacon, sundried tomatoes, and shredded jack and cheddar cheese ($15); and a beef burger made with a premium blend of short rib, brisket, and chuck, with cheddar and the works tucked into a brioche bun ($15).
Few restaurants have the storied history of Santa Barbara, much less its polo scene. (SBPRC is the 3rd oldest polo club in the U.S.) Inside the dining room, handsome wood tables and chairs accented by polo-green walls and stately green leaf print curtains provide the backdrop for this elegant Santa Barbara institution. There, a second group of guests enjoyed a working lunch, feasting on spinach, artichoke, and parmesan dip sprinkled with fresh herbs and served with warm house-made pita chips ($14), and a variety of grilled flatbreads ($15) with a round of Arnold Palmers to quench their thirst.
SBPRC’s executive team oversaw the creation of the original menu, which is constantly getting updated with Stein’s fresh seasonal creations. “Everything on the menu is representative of something you’d see on a private club menu,” said Stein. “My focus is to modernize the cuisine, make it more approachable for customers.”
It also reflects Stein’s extraordinary knowledge of country clubs and their vast culinary traditions.
During polo season, the game menu consists of cheese and charcuterie ($20) and hummus plates ($14). Stein replaced lettuce cups with a poke bowl ($22) because the former can be messy for game attendees who are nicely dressed, he added.
His seasonal menus take an updated approach to old-school classics: shrimp cocktail ($16) is served with a tequila and orange cocktail sauce and lemon wedges; a chopped Caesar salad ($13) is made with a mixture of Tuscan kale and romaine lettuce, Parmesan and garlic croutons; and chicken piccata is served airline-style over pappardelle pasta with lemon and capers.
On the dinner menu, filet of beef tenderloin is cooked to order, glazed with balsamic vinegar reduction and served atop red wine demi-glace with truffle mashed potatoes and seasonal vegetables ($49); a miso marinated Atlantic salmon filet is grilled and presented with crunchy vegetables and soba noodle stir fry ($32); braised pork osso buco is drizzled with pomegranate molasses ($30); and shrimp and saffron pappardelle ($28) is finished with a hint of citrus.
A departure from country club cuisine might be the seared Ahi Burger ($16), tōgarashi seared ahi served with wasabi tossed slaw and dynamite sauce, or crispy pork belly tacos ($16). Here, Stein slow roasts pork belly with Cajun seasoning, brown sugar, and spicy chilies, and serves it in a warm, slightly crispy corn tortilla — street taco style. It’s sided with a citrusy pineapple slaw and plantains.
For dessert ($9), the bread pudding — described by chef as a pain perdu (French toast) – is classic. There is also a waffle churro with Mexican hot chocolate and orange vanilla mousse.
The bar program offers a mix of country club classics from bloody marys ($12) to Pimm’s Cup ($12), an English-style lemonade (clear and carbonated) made with gin and fresh garnishes such as apple, cucumber, orange, lemon, strawberry, and mint. The Sage Brown Derby with bourbon, grapefruit, lime juice, sweet vermouth, Angostura bitters, and sage leaf ($15) is a delicious doozy.
“When people think of a polo country club they think white linens, sometimes silver service and flambé tableside dining,” Stein said. “Diners here are still pampered but it’s more of a welcoming atmosphere with good food and impressive polo.”
So, pin that fashion forward hat to your head, sit back and enjoy the artfully crafted Pimm’s Cup and bloody marys — two of the finest refreshers you’ll ever enjoy at any country club. The Fieldside Grill at SBPRC will not disappoint as you experience this exciting reinvention of a legendary polo icon.
If you go: Fieldside Grill is open for lunch, dinner, and brunch at 3300 Via Real, Carpinteria. Look for the second building on the right along the main entrance road. Plenty of parking is available for restaurant guests. Reservations are required for Sunday polo matches. For more information and hours, call