It’s one thing to tout California cuisine and name your restaurants WineBistros, but it’s another to do so as Pierre Lafond has, given his winemaking roots go back to 1962. That’s more than a track record for Santa Barbara County — it’s like being able to say you saw the rib get ripped from Adam way back when. And it probably takes that much gravitas to move into the Montecito Upper Village location that was home to the much-loved Italian trattoria Piatti for 21 years.
“Piatti was Piatti, and we’re definitely not Piatti,” says Nathan Heil, chef for both the new San Ysidro Road WineBistro and the long-standing one on State Street. “Trying to emulate them wouldn’t be fair.” Instead, the two restaurants will now feature largely similar menus, focused on wine-friendly dishes and seasonal fare.
“The chanterelle mushrooms now are really good,” said Heil, by way of example. “The chanterelle and asparagus risotto with scallops we’re serving now is a big seasonal favorite. I’m a huge chanterelle fan …. I haven’t met too many people who aren’t.”
There are subtler distinctions between the two locations, too. “The vibe is definitely different: State Street is more tourist-based, while this location is more locals-based,” Heil said while on the phone from Montecito. “I don’t have a Caesar salad up here, but I have one on State Street — I’d be crazy not to. Here, I have a romaine heart salad with a roasted garlic and white balsamic vinaigrette that comes with an herb cracker that looks like an ice cream cone.” Which is to say the chef gets to be a bit more playful for non-vacationing, more discerning palates.
Heil is also a master at desserts, noting the Montecito WineBistro (as opposed to the downtown one) features both apple fritters with a caramel cappuccino mousse and a Greek yogurt frozen soufflé. In October 2011, he won the Downtown Organization’s Chocolate Taste-Off with a divine salted-caramel chocolate tart with Chantilly and caramel-Oreo popcorn. “It was nice to receive a little recognition,” he said modestly, explaining, “It’s one of the things I take into consideration when I’m creating a dish — is it balanced? A dessert is not just all sugar.”
The new location is sounding sweet to many already, as Heil explained: “We’ve definitely developed into the neighborhood restaurant.”
Lounge at Montecito WineBistro, 516 San Ysidro Road, (805) 969-7520, or taste with the tourists at State Street WineBistro, 516 State Street, (805) 962-1455. See pierrelafond.com.