For most of you reading this, spending the night in one of the 41 cottages at San Ysidro Ranch is little more than a fantasy, especially after the resort recently completed a $150 million renovation. The bargain rooms start around $600 a night and, for the splurgers, the Warner Cottage-named after Beanie Baby tycoon Ty Warner, who purchased the property in 2000-will set you back about $6,000 for a good night’s rest. Teamed with the charming architecture, perfectly manicured gardens, neighborhood-like layout, and private location in the Montecito foothills, those prices assure an always discriminating, usually wealthy, and occasionally celebrity clientele. It’s probably safe to say that the folks who founded the property as a citrus orchard in 1825 couldn’t have predicted their little ranch would one day be one of the most exclusive resorts in the world.
But you needn’t spend the night to get a taste of the ranch. For decades, Santa Barbarans have been getting their high-life fix by dining fine at The Stonehouse, which serves gourmet food both inside the sandstone building that was built in 1889 as a packing house for the citrus ranch and outside, where the sound of San Ysidro Creek pairs well with the stars and ocean view. And with the holidays on the way, it’s about time you tune in, too.
“The majority of our guests at the restaurant are locals, and they’ve been coming here for years,” said Tamara Fang, who’s been in charge of sales and marketing at the ranch for about five years. “They all believe that this is a special hideaway that only they know about. People regard it as their own secret spot.” That goes for the adjacent Plow & Angel bar, too, which serves comfort food such as mac and cheese and ribs, and gives people, according to Fang, “the ability to kick back, whether you’re just a Santa Barbara person or a person of a higher profile, and you enjoy going out but don’t like being bothered. You can have a pretty high-profile celebrity sitting next to you and everyone is left alone to enjoy themselves.”
And the crowds are only getting thicker thanks to the restaurant’s own $25 million renovation, which was completed in December 2006 after an April 2004 fire closed the kitchen. Among other improvements, guests can now enjoy a radiantly heated outdoor patio, where you can dine comfortably even in winter, and the new Cruvinet wine preserving and pouring system, which allows the restaurant to serve 16 wines by the glass, including some very exclusive selections that would usually only be available by the bottle.
During a recent wine-laced dinner thrown for visiting journalists from Australia, Austria, Ireland, and England, Chef John Trotta-a Santa Barbara native who honed his skills at the Biltmore and in Austin, Texas, before coming to the ranch six years ago-showed off his best stuff, which is always based on what fish and produce is freshest, with much of it coming from the property’s organic garden. The dozen or so folks-including representatives from Demetria Estates, Ampelos Cellars, and Alma Rosa Winery-toured the property, ate appetizers on the patio as the sun went down, and then gathered in a private dining room for the “sustainable winemaker dinner.”
We began with the “famous” tortilla soup, a savory blend of avocado, grilled chicken, cheddar cheese, and crispy chips. Never having heard of such a soup, the British writer sitting beside me said she was happily surprised as we sipped our glasses of Demetria Estate Cuvee “Papou.” The second course featured grilled asparagus and mushrooms atop frisee and topped with parmesan and ranch-grown Meyer lemon vinaigrette; the salad’s warmth was nicely balanced by the chilled Alma Rosa chardonnay. For the entrees, we had a choice between the Santa Barbara halibut with gnochetti, asparagus, Kalamata olives, oven-dried tomato saute, and basil butter sauce; or the surf ‘n’ turf, a spiny lobster with lemon beurre blanc and filet mignon with port demi-glace served with black truffle whipped potatoes and baby vegetables. Not much of a choice for me, and the surf ‘n’ turf lived up to its reputation, especially when served with three pinot noirs from the attending wineries. And, for dessert, the lemon ricotta torte with almond Japonais and raspberry sorbet worked just fine when washed down with the yet-to-be-released sweet white dessert wine from Demetria.
While you may not be able to sit down with winemakers or foreign journalists when you make it to The Stonehouse, you can enjoy the same exact combination of items-so long as everything is still in season. For the holidays, Fang explained that there are indeed special menus being created, but warned, “People should book early because it fills up very quickly.” Take her advice-visiting friends and family will all thank you for revealing your very own secret spot.
The Stonehouse is located at San Ysidro Ranch (900 San Ysidro Ln., Montecito). See sanysidroranch.com or call 565-1700.