After the sudden salacious shuttering of Anchor Woodfire Kitchen this past September, after less than 10 months in business, one of Santa Barbara’s most expensive — and drool-worthy, with its custom smoker and wood-fire grill — kitchens lay empty. In fact, that kitchen may have been the catnip partly responsible for luring up-and-coming L.A. chef Ricardo Zarate to Babylon. (It certainly had something to do with the super-quick turnaround; Zarate says they’re only doing minimal remodeling of the interior.)
Of course, calling Zarate — a 2011 Food & Wine Best New Chef and two-time semifinalist for the James Beard Foundation’s Best Chef, West Award — an L.A. chef is not entirely accurate, despite the fact he’s earned those accolades while helming Los Angeles restaurants Mo-Chica, Picca, and Paiche. The Lima, Peru-born Zarate is passionate about his native country’s cuisine, and at the Blue Tavern, which he’s opening next Tuesday, November 19, he intends to fuse “what I think of as California cuisine and Peruvian spices and flavors” using local ingredients — and sneak in a little education while he’s at it.
“People aren’t really familiar with what is Peruvian cuisine,” he says. “It’s 500 years old and brings in the Spanish influence; then we had Africans and Europeans, French and Italians, Chinese and Japanese. And you have to have fresh ingredients.”
His international perspective will be in evidence in dishes like the beet, tomato, and burrata salad tossed in a huacatay-pesto dressing, or seafood risotto with tomato-aji panca and salsa verde. Lomo saltado will be made over as a homemade tagliatelle with beef, tomato-onion stew, and pecorino, while that wood-burning oven will crank out Peruvian-inspired pizzas, seafood, and meat. The bar program, conceived by Deysi Alvarez, will also incorporate nods to South America, replacing the bourbon in the Old Fashioned with mescal, for example, which will be offered alongside plenty of fresh margaritas and mojitos.
As enthusiastic as he is about food, though, Zarate seems equally excited about Santa Barbara. “I went there once and said, ‘This is the place I want to retire,’ so when I saw the opportunity, I thought it would be perfect. It’s a good way to become a part of the community. Santa Barbara is so beautiful, it has such beautiful ingredients, and the response is very warm so far. I love the city, and I’m really excited about the food we’re bringing to Santa Barbara.”
The Blue Tavern, located at 121 State Street, next door to the Hotel Indigo, will be open daily for breakfast, lunch, and dinner beginning at 7 a.m. Visit bluetavernsb.com.