At one point during my interview with Julian Martinez and Jesse Gaddy — the two twentysomethings behind the new Barbareño restaurant in the old yet very remodeled D’Vine Café space at De la Vina and Canon Perdido streets — the latter leaves abruptly, only to return with a heavy tome that he tosses onto the table. The book, which lands with a dull thud, is beloved historian Walter A. Tompkins’s The Yankee Barbareños: The Americanization of Santa Barbara County, California 1796-1925. “So many books we just read and read,” said head chef Martinez about their search for a concept and name. “The book’s pretty interesting, pretty dry,” adds Gaddy, the general manager, before Martinez concludes, “But now we’re filled with plenty of fun facts.”
Indeed, and those facts inform their fascinating and delicious new restaurant. “When Julian had the concept and explained it to me,” said Gaddy, “well, we loved the farm-to-table and local and organic idea, but we knew we wanted something far beyond that. We want to limit ourselves to things specific to Santa Barbara.”
Like naming the spot after a Chumash dialect, for instance, or serving 12-hour tri-tip with Santa Maria–style pinquito beans, or growing avocados on the property, which is right where Judge R.B. Ord nursed California’s first saplings of the fruit way back in 1871. There’s even a gourmet take on the Milpas Street McDonald’s most famous culinary creation, the Egg McMuffin, but theirs is decidedly upscale, made with a cured egg, Seascape cheese, and speck. And they also serve Refugio Ranch’s Barbareño red wine blend, of course.
The two met while attending Claremont Colleges — Martinez at Claremont McKenna, Gaddy at Pitzer — and worked together at the school’s Shakedown Café, where Gaddy was almost fired by Martinez, and their sous chef Kris Brown. After post-college restaurant work in San Francisco, Martinez returned to Santa Barbara, where he grew up. “And it just kind of happened,” he said.
That oversimplification doesn’t include the six-week trip the pair took to the East Coast and Europe for, as Gaddy explained, “food research/to see if we could be with each other 24/7.” They’d save their money each day to splurge on lavish dinners at night in hotspots like San Sebastian, started to appreciate how “the little towns in Spain and Italy all have very regional cuisine,” and, most importantly, got along fine.
They’re also happy to be two blocks off State Street, where they hope to cater to locals and the industry crowd.“We wanted a neighborhood restaurant,” said Martinez, and there is a financial upside, too. “Not paying a State Street rent allows us to put that money into quality things like ingredients and staff,” explained Gaddy.
Martinez is in charge of the food, but he’s quick to praise Chef de Cuisine Owen Hanavan and Sous Chef Kris Brown. “Owen has classical training, so he brings the technique,” said Martinez, “and Kris is the wildcard, so it all balances out.” That balance shows in the “Sunflower” appetizer, which was envisioned when they thought about opening the restaurant in Summerland. “The area began as a spiritualist community and their symbol was the sunflower,” said Martinez. “The dish is roast sun choke (the root of a sunflower), sunflower-seed gremolata, sunchoke puree, sunflower sprouts, and petals.” Think of it as vegetarian tail-to-snout delicious.
The dish alone is evidence that, although open just two months, Barbareño is already firing on all cylinders. That goes for the service in the front of the house, too. “We took a really long time to hire and train,” said Gaddy. “The whole place is about stories and passion, so we needed people who could express that. The same thing is true with the back-of-the-house staff — what we saw when traveling is often chefs from the kitchen would serve the food, and who knows the food better than the people preparing it? So we do that, too.”
Barbareño is located at 205 West Canon Perdido Street. Call (805) 963-9591 or see barbareno.com.