The Stonehouse Restaurant
Recently, as my birthday was approaching, my husband and I were trying to figure out what we could do to celebrate. For me, I love my birthday. It’s the one day of the year that’s my day, just for me, so I like to do something a little special to celebrate. We finally came up with the idea to go on a little road trip for the weekend which included some time in Santa Barbara. So, the next question was: where would we eat dinner to celebrate my birthday? Since neither my husband or I are very familiar with Santa Barbara, I decided to do a little research on restaurants in the area by checking out Yelp. It turns out that the highest-rated restaurant in the Santa Barbara area was a place called The Stonehouse Restaurant. After reading through the reviews and checking out the restaurant website, I became quite intrigued by the restaurant. The setting looked gorgeous and romantic and the perfect place to have a nice birthday dinner. I told my husband about the restaurant and after he, too, did some Internet research, agreed that this would be a great place to have dinner, so I went ahead and made reservations.
Shortly before leaving on our weekend getaway, I had mentioned to a co-worker of mine that my husband and I were having dinner at The Stonehouse Restaurant at San Ysidro Ranch. She kind of blinked and looked at me, and said, “You know about the San Ysidro Ranch, right?” It was my turn to stare at her with a blank look. She told me that the San Ysidro Ranch was considered the best hotel in America. I couldn’t believe it since I’d never heard of the hotel before.
We had decided to arrive at the San Ysidro Ranch in advance of our dinner reservations so that we could walk around the grounds, see the gardens and perhaps watch the sunset. Unfortunately, the day was very overcast and cloudy, so that made it difficult to catch the sunset from the hotel grounds. But, it didn’t prevent us from being able to walk around the beautifully manicured gardens and the grounds of the hotel. It’s hard to even call this place a hotel, it’s actually a series of private cottages set on over 500 acres of land in Montecito. Apparently, Travel & Leisure magazine named San Ysidro Ranch America’s best hotel and it is the 4th best hotel in the world. The hotel is famous for being the honeymoon location of John & Jackie Kennedy. Being on the grounds of the hotel, it’s easy to see why it’s considered to be one of the world’s best hotels. The hotel has some beautiful gardens, including a vegetable garden from which the chef sources fresh vegetables and herbs for the hotels 2 restaurants, The Stonehouse and Plow & Angel.
The Stonehouse Restaurant is located in 19th century citrus packing house which has been converted to a restaurant. As its name would lead you to believe, the building is made of stone with an elegant lounge and a separate dining room. It’s almost like stepping into someone’s home. The restaurant is small and intimate, but does have an outdoor patio area. The main dining room has an old wood-burning fireplace that sets an intimate mood. We were seated right next to the fireplace, which was perfect. This was a great start to a great night.
For the appetizer, my husband and I had both agreed on ordering the Iberian ham, to be served alongside a toasted baguette topped with chopped tomatoes and extra virgin olive oil. When the appetizer came to the table, it looked amazing. 3 toasted baguettes each topped with some chopped toamtoes and lightly seasoned with extra virgin olive oil, just as advertised. Then, at one end of the plate was a pile of Iberian ham, from which we were to take a few thin slices and place it atop the chopped tomatoes on the baguette and eat, much the way you would eat bruschetta. Iberian ham is a type of cured ham produced mainly in Spain and some parts of Portugal. The process of preparing a black Iberian pig for slaughter and curing begins almost as soon as the piglet is born. Once the pig is slaughtered the ham is salted and left to begin drying for 2 weeks. After that point, the hams are rinsed and then left to dry for another 4 to 6 weeks. This process continues for a minimum of 12 months to be considered Iberian ham. The end product is similar to prosciutto in look and somewhat in texture, but certainly not in flavor. Iberian ham is often considered to be the world’s best ham. Thinly sliced, the ham has a slightly nutty flavor which comes from the black Iberian pig’s favorite food, acorns. Unlike proscuitto, Iberian ham has just the perfect amount of salt, which means you can taste more of the flavor of the meat as opposed to the salt curing. Put the thin slices of Iberian ham together with the toasted baguette, chopped tomatoes and extra virgin olive oil and you have perfection of flavors and textures all on one toasted baguette. The Iberian ham was amazingly flavorful. My husband and I both agreed that we ordered the right appetizer.
However, that wasn’t the only appetizer we ordered. We had originally decided we were only going to have Iberian ham until our waiter mentioned that the special soup of the night was a roasted tomato soup with basil creme fraiche and micro greens. I love tomato soup, so I had to get a bowl. You can’t ever go wrong with tomato soup, can you? The soup was fantastic. The flavor was so robust and really showed off the roasted tomatoes. The soup was thick and hearty rather than being soupy, which I like. The basil creme fraiche with the little bit of microgreens added a nice contrast to the tomato soup.
When it came to ordering our entrees, my husband and I found it hard to decide what we wanted to eat. A lot of the items sounded delicious. There was the duck two ways that I had thought about ordering; it was served with crispy duck skin paired with sweet potato mash and then duck leg confit paired with an arugula salad. There was also a class steak Diane which sounded fabulous as well. In the end, I opted to go for a seafood dish since the restaurant specializes in fresh seafood dishes. Since it was my birthday, I figured I could splurge a little bit and indulge in something fantastic, so I ordered the Maine lobster bolognese. When the dish was brought out to the table, I was blown away by the lobster. I figured ordering a lobster dish, I’d got some generous chunks of lobster meat. But I didn’t expect what I actually got, which was essentially the meat from one whole Maine lobster. Atop some spaghetti noodles in tomato sauce and parmesan cheese was the tail and claw meat from a Maine lobster. The dish was so delicately prepared. The lobster meat was incredibly tender and flavorful. The spaghetti was just enough for a filling meal without overwhelming the dish with spaghetti. The tomato sauce was perfectly light and delicious without taking away from the lobster which was the star of the dish. The whole dish was topped with a fried basil leaf which added a nice contrast to the dish. I couldn’t have been any happier with my meal.
My husband also decided on a seafood dish. He ordered the Five Spice Seared Big Eye Tuna. The tuna was served over udon noodles in a dashi broth with some vegetables. His dish was also overflowing with slices of big eye tuna that was perfect seared on the outside and raw on the inside. The minute he took one bite of his tuna, the first words out of his mouth were “wow!” The five spice sear on the tuna was so incredibly flavorful. The sear created a nice crust of the five spices. The tuna was so perfectly seared that you could see that the edges were cooked and the center was raw big eye tuna. My husband said that the center of the tuna was melt-in-your-mouth fantastic. He was blown away by how good his tuna was. He said he’d never had tuna this delicious before. And he hadn’t even started digging into the udon noodles in the dashi broth at all. He said that the noodles were just the right amount and the broth was delicious and the vegetables mixed in with it all were the perfect combination. He, too, was pleased with his entree selection.
By the time we were done with our meals, we were trying to decide whether or not we should get dessert or not. My husband had mentioned that he might be too full for dessert, but I told him I at least wanted to look at the dessert menu. When the waiter gave us the dessert menus he told us that their special dessert was the Varlhona Guanaja Chocolate souffle. He mention that unlike most other souffles, this was only made with egg whites, so it cooked in 12 minutes rather than the customary 25 minutes you’d wait for a souffle elsewhere. He said that because it was egg whites only, the souffle would rise very tall but it would be light and airy and fluffy. He had me sold at that point. I love souffles, so I couldn’t pass this one up. Varlhona is considered one of the world’s finest chocolate makers. The company was established in 1922 just outside of Lyon, France and they specialize in high-grade luxury chocolate. Specifically Guanaja Varlhona chocolate is dark chocolate made of 70% cocoa and is said to have a very intense chocolate flavor and exceptional bitersweetness which is said to last on your palate for a very long time. For someone who loves chocolate, like me, how could I pass that up? When the souffle was brought to the table, it was huge. The light and fluffy egg whites certainly rose to double the size of the ramekin. It was like chocolate glory in a ramekin. The waiter used a spoon to cut a hole through the center of the souffle to which he poured in more of the liquid Guanaja Valrhona chocolate. He then topped it with some vanilla chantilly cream. It was superb. He even left the remainder of the vanilla chantilly cream in case I wanted to add more. The souffle was heaven in my mouth. The outside was nice and crunchy and crusty and the inside was liquid chocolate and vanilla heaven. I’m not sure I’ve ever tasted a better souffle. And the waiter was right, since it’s made only with egg whites, it was nice and fluffy and light.
My husband, not being a fan of souffles, ordered the caramelized Bartlett pear millefeuille. Mille-feuille in French means “thousand sheets”. Normally associated with the construction of a Napoleon dessert with its multi layers of puff pastry and pastry cream, the chef took some liberty with this dessert and the use of the term millefeuille. In the case of this dessert, the Bartlett pear is sliced into numerous thin sheets and layered one sheet on top of the next sheet and then caramelized to form a millefeuille of caramelized Barlett pear. The pear was served on a slab alongside some pecans, honey drizzle and thin slices of blue cheese. I tried some of the pear and thought it was delicious, the pear was sweet and caramelized, but still with a bit of crunch to it. My husband loved his dessert and promptly finished it off, even though he was pretty full.
Before the night was over, the waiter came over to the table with a plate of chocolate covered strawberries with one lit candle and the words “Happy Birthday” written in chocolate along the rim of the plate. The restaurant was nice enough to provide a little treat to help me celebrate my birthday, which was nice. And I must say, maybe it was the atmosphere, but these chocolate covered strawberries were delicious too!
This was probably one of the most incredible meals I’ve ever had. My husband and I agreed that we were both blown away by the restaurant, the service, and the food. And the setting was pretty spectacular too. I certainly made the right decision to choose The Stonehouse restaurant as the location for my special birthday dinner.