Coast has long been the downtown hotel restaurant that could … if people only let it. Chef Brian Parks has a flair for seafood and a sense of simple elegance about his plates, so it wasn’t really a seismic shift when Coast revamped its menu this summer, doing what they call “From Farm and Coast to Table.” The menu proudly boasts of local sourcing, and not just for old-time produce favorites like Shepherd Farms and Tutti Frutti Farms—it also calls out the Cultured Abalone in Goleta for its lovely little mollusks and Steve Escobar and his good ship Ocean Pearl for spot prawns, crab, and the like.
There’s more than the menu change, though, for Coast has also re-jiggered its rooms. Dinner is now served in the smaller room off the bar (what they dub the Chapala Terrace), and the bigger space, in which midweek tables could at times seem lonely and lost in a sea of prettily paneled room, is now devoted to bar food throughout the evening, from the signature pickled vegetables to your slightly unusual grilled cheese sandwiches (anyone for blue cheese and onions on dark rye?). All in all, these changes make plenty of sense, as dinner gets more intimate and romantic (always a plus), while folks enjoying cocktails or the finely tuned, once-again-highly-local wine list, can be louder in a space that can absorb their more frenetic merriment.
Food as good as Parks’s will surely help the romantic mood. For a starter, you can’t go wrong with a kampachi crudo, the fish so startlingly fresh it practically invites you to go swimming, set off with a bit of radish zing, just the right dashes of oil, and surprising Cerignola olive slices, bringing a bit more fatty richness to the otherwise almost ascetic plate. There’s also roasted baby abalone, five bite-sized pieces for just $12 in a town where abalone generally sells for much, much more.
The mains also let fine ingredients—the whole point of the local, sustainable, seasonal approach, after all—sing with just the right accompaniment. A roasted sablefish (black cod) is cooked to perfection, the skin’s crispiness playing off the still-firm flesh. That’s set atop what has to be considered summer in a few loving spoonfuls: a corn-and-fava-bean succotash, livened up with bay heirloom tomatoes (for color, for acid), and some Bloomsdale spinach, as you need your greens. Or go for the house-made lamb ravioli, the pasta translucent and leaving each ravioli looking like some jellyfish (perhaps Parks just can never give up on the sea). Add the woody morels, the pea tendrils, and an onion jus that could be sold as consommé and do well, and it’s a hearty, not-your-usual pasta serving.
Make the most out of being a locavore at Coast Restaurant & Bar (in the Canary Hotel, 31 W. Carrillo St., 879-9100, canarysantabarbara.com).