Blue Agave was part of Santa Barbara’s nightlife for 20 years, but that’s putting it too simply. After all, where else could a bathroom line back up only for two people to emerge, both clearly having just enjoyed a shower together? (I swear I saw this happen.)
While intoxicated group hygiene has its charms, that’s not the direction that Brad and Aparna Sherman have in mind for the location. “Brad bought Blue Agave two years ago,” Aparna explained, “we met a year and a half ago, and it’s been a long conversation about whether it should remain Blue Agave or become a brand-new place.” A private chef and ayurvedic lifestyle counselor, Aparna voted new place, and Nectar was born.
“We both love food, friendships, and sitting around and talking for hours,” she said. “We want people to come here and eat with friends and family and not face loud, obnoxious drunks.”
The new menu, developed under the watchful eye of consulting chef Mattias Blom, certainly helps. It’s built around clever balances — starting with a snack of Persian cucumber, crispy and cool, dusted with zingy tōgarashi and zipped with lime — and the typical nudged just past the familiar: the now ubiquitous seared shishito peppers with Maldon salt come with grilled tiny potatoes for ballast and heat absorption. There are also nods to Blue Agave’s faves, like the new lemongrass shrimp, richly buttered and redolent of garlic, which Aparna calls a “vague memory of the Blue Agave tiger shrimp.”
Meanwhile, Brad — who once co-owned Sojourner, currently co-owns Aldo’s, and drums in Area 51 — recognizes the challenge of this evolution. “We’re taking on something 20 years old. People have lots of associations,” he said. “Will people go for change? Change is hard!”
The Shermans are also hankering to attract former fans of the late, lamented Soj with numerous veggie options, like Bibb lettuce pockets stuffed with red rice and a vegetable-walnut slaw. And thanks to items like a portobello burger dressed with a warm goat cheese crisp, ancho tomato, arugula, and sides of fries and a salad, this isn’t a “how I suffer for my meatlessness” kind of spot.
There’s plenty of protein that once possessed eyes, too, from the steak bites appetizer to a salmon plate that’s already becoming a signature dish. The fresh fish comes atop a clever mix of couscous and quinoa — a tumult of texture — and swirled with aji mandarin sauce. There’s also a rumor (okay, more than that — its photo is on Facebook) of a pork ramen to come, about which Brad raved, “I couldn’t believe what I was tasting.”
“Nectar represents this kind of juiciness of experience — a nice environment, good music, great food — the juiciness of life is to be experienced here,” said Aparna. “We want people to come here and have that experience.” Brad wants Nectar to have presence and staying power for many years, “that we become a real destination,” he explained. “Then I will be heartily pleased.”
Nectar is located at 20 East Cota Street. Call (805) 899-4694 or see nectarsb.com.