Ron True, owner of the new Arlington Tavern, is a man of many influences. Some of those come from his amazing résumé, with time at Zuni Café in San Francisco, Gramercy Tavern in New York, and LaVarenne, Anne Willan’s famed cooking school in France. Others come from simply liking Guinness, for as he tells the tale: “A bunch of us were throwing color ideas around for the remodel and weren’t feeling it. I put my head down and saw the Guinness bottle I was holding and thought, ‘The cream and stout brown colors would be perfect.’”
True has also managed a perfect circle, since the 21 West Victoria Street address was his first kitchen job back at the original location for SOhO in 1988. He later manned the kitchen for Epiphany, too, before wandering the world. “I always thought about coming back to Santa Barbara to open a restaurant, and I was hoping for this space,” he explained. “It’s still sinking in. It certainly wasn’t easy, but that’s where my partners came in to make it happen.” Those partners include Skye McGinnes of SkyeLine Construction and Trevor Zellet of Bella Vista Designs, who helped with the redesign; friend Cody French, “who just believes in the project;” and front-of-the-house manager, Diego Barbieri, whom True first met at Epiphany. “Now that it’s ours,” said True, “we’ve had to pinch ourselves.”
As to the food, True’s keeping it local. “We head down to the Farmers Market every Tuesday and Saturday and buy a lot from Roots Farm, B.D.[of Earthtrine Farm] … Mama’s jams and a lot of the vegetables she brings are incredible,” he explained. “Then we also feature local wines: Zaca Mesa’s Z Cuvée has been a big seller, and the Paring from Jonata. As for sparkling, Megan [McGrath Gates] at Lucas & Lewellen makes one of the valley’s great secrets. Then there’s Figueroa Mountain — they’re such a popular beer right now.”
The menu is full of American classics — True’s team takes the tavern designation seriously — all of which have connections to True’s travels as a chef. “My strongest influences really do come from Zuni Café, and certainly our Caesar salad is a direct reflection of the time I was there making thousands upon thousands of Caesars,” he explained. “There’s no shortage of quality ingredients that go into what that Caesar is, and I boast it’s a salad Caesar Cardini would be proud of.”
If one does not live by salad only, there’s the Arlington’s filet, rich in red wine sauce True learned from Michael Romano at Union Square Café in New York. “I received a great education from him on the reduction process,” True said. “It’s a two-and-a-half-day process.” And then there’s True’s own truffled mac and cheese that goes back to his Epiphany days. “That became famous in my tenure there,” he recalled. “You don’t skimp on great ingredients in that dish.”
Beyond the food, he’s taken über-restaurateur and former boss Danny Meyer’s axiom to heart. “He used to say, ‘When hiring, look for the fifty-one-percenters.’ That is, people who will take ownership,” he explained. “That’s what we’ve done here at the Arlington Tavern, hiring people who will keep our customer base assured they’ll get a quality experience each time they come to the restaurant.”
Get fresh and local at the new Arlington Tavern (21 W. Victoria St., 805-770-2626, arlingtontavern.com).