Where: 1134 Chapala Street, 805-884-4701,.thehungrycat.com
What: Cool cocktails, sensational seafood, and a sizzling scene
How much? Small plates $9-$16, larger plates $16-$26, seafood platters $45-$125, cocktails $10-$11
The dish: While the Hungry Cat is the second of David Lentz’s restaurants following his success in Hollywood, the day-to-day cooking is done, impeccably, by executive chef Dylan Fultineer (he came from the acclaimed Blackbird in Chicago). That pedigree does mean the Cat thinks and feels and feeds like a big city restaurant, but in Santa Barbara. The freshest of seafood can be had in wonderful preparations including the scrumptious bowl of braised clams, house-made chorizo, sofrito, and grilled bread, which is almost always on the ever-changing menu. You can never go wrong with the oysters, of which there are regularly several choices, and if you feel rich, splurge for that seafood platter that can include sea urchin and caviar. Although the wine list offers unusual choices (a muscadet for those oysters, several ch•teauneuf du papes for the scrumptious Pug burger, the only meat selection), it’s hard to pass up the clever made-to-order cocktails with fresh-squeezed juice (try the Cucumber Martini, made of Plymouth gin, cucumber juice, and lime). There’s a weekend brunch, too, that also offers farmers’ market fresh produce and top of the line seafood and baked goods (not to mention some killer Bloody Marys). The place has one big problem, though: it doesn’t take reservations. You can call and get on a waiting list 45 minutes before you hope to dine. It’s just a shame the bar is so small you can’t just drink there pre-dinner.