Where: 1295 Coast Village Road, 969-3392

What: Sophisticated yet comfortable dining at moderate prices in Montecito

How much? Lunch entrees $10.25-$18.95, dinner entrees $10.75-$18.95

The dish: A rare restaurant that feels special without any lingering airs of snoot, the Montecito Cafe is like a gateway drug to fine dining. Always sharp service, a classy room, chic patrons, a menu that unmasks what California cuisine means – in a word, fresh. They may not have invented the classic appetizer of goat cheese pancakes, gravlax of salmon, and caviar, but their version is definitive. (The secret: make great pancakes and don’t ride on the fancy, stronger flavored fish.) The nightly fish specials are always direct and pleasing, and duck, when they have it on special, always sells out for a reason. Those little potato cakes I’d order on their own by the plate. And speaking of cakes, the coconut is never dry, something few places can say. The semi freddo dessert, too, is a slab of creamy goodness.


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