Way back in 2006, George Clooney couldn’t take the heat, so he found a great kitchen. The Modern Master awardee at last year’s film fest, Clooney gamely made his way through a tribute, red carpet, and press grillings, but then ditched his own after-party and snuck off to nurse his privacy in public. Where? The Upham Hotel (1404 De la Vina St., 962‑0058), which alone proves his quintessential coolness. He consumed libations responsibly in a quiet corner, in a chair the staff still calls the “George Clooney chair.” We only hope that amid the wee tipple, the sexiest man alive availed himself of Chef Tony Manzanares’s comforting yet sublimely vivid cooking. Nobody else in this town makes such exquisite meatloaf with cabernet sauce; the Florentine ravioli with sea scallops, white wine sauce, and garlic could take your breath away. In fact, everything this 150-year-old hotel serves laden with garlic will put your blood pH back to soulful. It’s a real S.B. secret pleasure.
But we don’t need no film festival to get movie and pop stars out to our local bistros. We have our own bevy, and many more run away from Hollywood to our seaside hamlet. Here’s a tour of celeb vista opportunities that promises nothing, but still suggests some great foods to mollify your nerves while waiting to spot the Divine Ms. O.
We don’t have a Château Marmont, but the closest to a celebrity preserve is the Bacara Resort and Spa (8301 Hollister Ave., Goleta, 968‑0100). Here, I’m afraid the cuisine is pricey but hotel-like; the best things served are the big fancy drinks and the desserts that border on candy.
Closer to home is the Montecito Coffee Shop (San Ysidro and East Valley roads), which a number of performers frequent (Jonathan Winters, for instance, when he’s not at the Summerland Beach Café); the best food is the burger, which is double-digit in cost, but juicy and flavorful.
Out on the seaward wend of things on our picturesque working harbor is Brophy Bros. (119 Harbor Wy., 966‑4418), where John Cleese likes to dine. You’ll love the clam chowder, the oysters, and even the hamburger, and the view without actors is still wondrous.
Our most famous restaurant, La Super-Rica Taqueria (622 N. Milpas St., 963‑4940), is a good place to catch rock stars like Jackson Browne, who practically put the place on the map. This is Santa Barbara’s version of a national treasure, and the daily specials like enchiladas, tamales, and chilaquiles are buttery rich, but the staples like the subtle aromatic adobado and the pungent yet paradoxically sweet and smooth rajas offer Mexican epiphanies.
One of the more reliable spots is the new restaurant Tre Lune (1151 Coast Village Rd., Montecito, 969‑2646), where Christopher Lloyd seems to take most of his meals. The breakfasts are surprisingly good, but the pizzas and the Caesar salad are sublime. At the other end of Coast Village Road is Mollie’s Trattoria (1250 Coast Village Rd., Montecito, 565-9381), where Oprah famously occasionally goes — as does Ghostbuster director Ivan Reitman. The stunning dish here is Mollie’s meatball, which is made with ground turkey and spiced with chile, garlic, basil, and raisins. It’s not cheap, but euphoria never is.
The real celebrity magnet in this town has been Lucky’s (1270 Coast Village Rd., Montecito, 565‑7540) ever since it opened. The queen of the place is Carol Burnett, but other regulars include Rob Lowe, Kirk Douglas, novelist T.C. Boyle, Dennis Miller, and God — if He can get a reservation. Actually, there is a seating policy that favors regulars, but after that, the place is pure, albeit expensive, pleasure. (That is, not snooty.) The steaks are unmatched in this town, the salads are yummy, but the real treats are the sides like the creamed corn. Yes, I said creamed corn.
And speaking of which, let’s end on an inspirational note. Remember, you are the celebrity in places of fine food — or at least you should feel like one. The above are all set up for you to enjoy. But don’t bother the other celebs unless they ask you to, because George Clooney deserves a night or two of silent relaxation in public. It’s hard work shining all the time.