The many-windowed Craftsman bungalow across from the County Courthouse on Anapamu Street enjoys one of the most iconic views in Santa Barbara, and a revolving door of restaurateurs have tried to parlay its perfect patio and cozy bar into the eatery of their dreams. The longest success story in recent memory was the seven-year run of Elements Restaurant & Bar, which closed in 2012, but today there is a new team with a fresh, music-minded vision to make this seemingly ideal but historically challenging location shine.
Piano Riviera Lounge (129 E. Anapanu St.; (805) 882-0050; sbpiano.com) was opened in October by Chef Stephen Goularte and DJ Fabrice Allain, both veterans of the town’s hospitality scene. While working together at Eos down on Anacapa and Haley streets, they hatched their idea for a laid-back restaurant with Mediterranean-inspired dishes and a weekly lineup of musicians performing in an intimate space. “When [people] come here, they feel really at home,” remarked Allain. “It’s casual, the food isn’t crazy expensive, but it’s like an extension of the living room.”
They’re also capitalizing on the location by offering picnic baskets and blankets so customers can enjoy their food in the Sunken Gardens across the street. “You order the food, we’ll put it in containers, and go have lunch across the street,” said Goularte.
As for the music, every Wednesday-Sunday night, 7-9 p.m., the lounge hosts both area and nationally renowned musical artists sharing their tunes from the recently built stage. “It’s not much,” quipped Goularte, “but it’s got a baby grand piano!”
Allain attributes the positive response so far to “the spirit of the cabaret.” He explained, “There’s a little room with a stage, everybody’s kind of compact, and suddenly the music starts and something happens.”
Here are some highlights:
Seared Ahi Tuna: Though admittedly not Mediterranean, this small plate offering is “one you just have to have!” exclaimed Goularte. The fish is artfully displayed upon a bed of Asian slaw (napa cabbage, purple cabbage, and edamame) that’s tossed in a soy ginger sesame dressing.
Piano Pizza: The homemade crust gives just the right amount of crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. The secret is the oven, which Goularte says is cranked up to temperatures you won’t see at home. After it’s cooked, thinly sliced prosciutto is liberally draped on every other slice, and a handful of a fresh arugula and shaved parmesan dressed in olive oil tops it off.
Lasagna: Just like mamma makes it. The Bolognese recipe — from a family that hails just outside of Bologna, Italy — is prepared a day in advance, giving more time for the pork, beef, and pancetta to marinate in the flavors of Italy. The sauce is then carefully layered with béchamel and noodles, then hit with melted mozzarella and a splash of marinara sauce. The result melts in your mouth.
Chocolate Lavender Tart: A perfectly buttery pecan and brown-sugar crust is the foundation for a decadent chocolate lavender ganache filling. Finished with a drizzle of Earl Grey crème anglaise, this unexpected combo of indulgence is also gluten-free.
Opera Night: “We had one in October, and it was just amazing,” said Goularte, who is hosting the next one on November 13, 7-9 p.m., with $75 seating that includes a four-course meal, wine, and an opera performance between each course.