Julienne - Santa Barbara, CA

Dinner - Sunday, September 18, 2011

Julienne is a cute shoebox of a restaurant in downtown Santa Barbara, a relative newcomer to their dining scene. It is owned by Justin and Emma West, a young couple living their dream, so to speak. The space is remarkably tight (comparable to Commis, but with a denser layout of tables), but the two of them and their small team dance very well. The atmosphere is very relaxed, and the simple rusticity of the food matches up well.

Having eaten a rather substantial lunch earlier in the day at an entirely forgettable "Danish" tourist trap in Solvang, we opted for Julienne's $65 5-course prix fixe menu (3-course and 7-course options are also offered) - even this proved to be slightly overwhelming towards the end. Make no mistake, these are not dainty dishes.

Chicken liver
We started with a simple spread of chicken liver on ciabatta as an amuse bouche of sorts - nicely done. The deeply caramelized onions were a nice counterpoint to the minerality of the smooth liver mousse.

Lonza, finocchiona, garlic toscana, pork pate
Toasted ciabatta, mustards
The entirely housemade charcuterie plate featured a particularly nice example of finocchiona, which exhibited a good balance of fennel and black pepper. The textures of the meats were rather wanting, but it was still a nice effort.

Pig tongue, poached apple, walnut vinaigrette
Fantastic! The tongue had a perfect amount of chew, and its flavour was nicely supported by the sweetness of the tender apple and the acidity from the vinaigrette. One of my favourites of the evening.

Roasted beets
Pistachios, chevre whip, baby arugula, balsamic
Braised octopus
Broad noodles, radicchio, olives, red pepper-tomato broth
The pasta was very well made, with great bite. Similarly, the octopus was tender on the inside, with a nice exterior char. The sauce, although lovely, was present in large excess (to be fair, they called it a broth, but we're not eating noodle soup here... what is with places oversaucing their pastas!?)

Roasted duck breast, smoked duck sausage
Apple, mustard, turnips, duck jus
Great duck sausage, not-so-great duck breast - the skin was rather flabby and soggy. Despite this technical roadbump, I enjoyed the meat with the very classic apples and mustard, as well as the refreshing tang of the turnips.

Pan-fried Idaho trout
Green beans, toasted mustard, potatoes, dill creme fraiche
Grilled quail
Money beans, Spanish chorizo, onions, kale, sofrito
Perhaps my favourite savory dish of the evening - the quail was truly superb. Juicy and well-seasoned by itself, the bird played well with its supporting cast, particularly the bitter kale and spicy chorizo. The aromatic sofrito really melded the flavours of the whole dish together.

Oven-roasted pork
Crispy chickpeas, baby onions, gremolata, tomato sauce
Another hit after the quail. The crispy chickpeas were a great addition, providing unique textures to add variety to the large piece of melting pork. The dish suffered from a case of palate fatigue, but it was immensely satisfying to eat.

Strawberry nitro sorbet
We ended with a simple order of strawberry sorbet. It was sweet but not cloying, allowing more complex notes to come forward from the strawberries. The preparation showed a nice degree of restraint in showcasing the primary ingredient.

Is Julienne, as others have claimed, the "best restaurant in Santa Barbara"? I'm certainly not qualified to answer that, but we will add our voices to the chorus of diners recommending it for a meal. This is not progressive cuisine in any way, but Justin West is cooking what he loves to eat, and there is no faulting him for that. It was a good, soulful dinner.

138 E. Canon Perdido
Santa Barbara, CA 93101
Phone: (805) 845-6488