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Food

Santa Barbara Eats: Elements Restaurant & Bar

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Ah, Santa Barbara. Wine, adobe buildings, wine, nice scenery, wine...

So a few months ago I shot a beautiful, simple wedding at the Santa Barbara Courthouse (Most of us bloggers have a life outside of LAist, dear reader. I happen to be a photographer.) Afterwards, we walked through the huge grassy courtyard, across the street, and right into this gorgeous little restaurant called Elements. We had some unbelievably good sandwiches and wraps at the reception along with some great pastries. So I just had to come back and do a proper meal. Little did I know, sandwiches are just the tip of the iceberg. This place is no ordinary American bistro, the food here caught me off guard with its audacity and innovation.

Photos that'll make you hungry, after the jump.

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Szechuan braised prime beef shortribs with crispy scallion polenta cake, baby bok choy, and ginger orange gremolata.

I saw this on the menu and I had my doubts. Szhechuan braised beef ribs, in an American restaurant, in Santa Barbara? Please! This stuff should be in the San Gabriel valley written in a Chinese menu. I've had a LOT of Chinese food in my life, and Chinese people know how to braise beef, simply because they've done it a billion times-- IN THE LAST MONTH.

So I was ready to shoot this place down if they had some fru-fru version of this dish -- if the flavor was weak, if the meat was dry or stiff -- I would have remorselessly badmouthed this place to no end.

I couldn't believe it, Chef Paul Becker knocked it out of the park.

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First of all, it was huge and had a good amount of fat on it, Chef Paul knows what I like and what makes good braised meat. Then I tried cutting it with my fork and knife and discovered that I could've torn the whole thing apart with my butter knife, it was so incredibly tender. The meat falls apart along the fat. Finally, when I got a piece of beef in my mouth, the flavors were incredibly rich and deep -- the meat had been saturated with the flavors of the sauce. Oh, it was more intense than Chinese than the stuff I had before -- did I always go to bad Chinese places, or did Elements sell their soul to the devil? Thank you, Satan.

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Sesame Encrusted Ahi Tuna Steak, with passion fruit - soy butter sauce, wasabi whipped potatoes and braised asian greens.

This dish was simply stunning to look at. But the most interesting thing about this dish is that the tuna has a crispy top layer texture from the sesame seeds encrusting it, fantastic, of course. Then, to kick it up a notch, the mashed potatoes has wasabi blended in with just the right amount of kick. Wonderfully simple, and huge extra points for being gorgeously presented.

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16 oz. Semi boneless crispy poussin with butternut squash mashed potatoes, braised brussel sprouts, cippolini onions and baby carrots, with marsala herb jus.

That was quite a mouthful. A poussin is basically a young chicken. This looked pretty dramatic as well, an entire chicken sitting on a bed of vegetables and mashed potatoes. The chicken had a crispy texture, not deep fried but seared, I suppose -- without breading-- for a subtle crunch. So very flavorful, tender and not overcooked, which was just slightly scary for me, as I'm terribly scared of undercooked chicken, but it turned out to be delicious.

Portions are generous, prices are on the high side but not ridiculous. Each dish was $28 tonight, which was fully justified by the beauty of the presentations and great flavors of the food. The ambiance was elegant but relaxed. Service -- like the food -- is top notch. Even Chef Paul was kind enough to sit down with me, chat a little about food and recommend a place in LA for me -- I'm gonna keep my mouth shut for now but I'm definitely going, so stay tuned.

Elements Restaurant & Bar
129 East Anapamu St
Santa Barbara, CA.

Photos by Kevin Cheng for LAist.