Standing tall on a gritty corner of downtown Santa Barbara, where buses and delivery trucks roar past every few minutes, the Canary Hotel is an oasis of calm. On a late Thursday visit to its ground-floor restaurant, we pored over the menu assembled by newly named executive chef Peter Cham, just back from the 300-mile chef’s cycle for No Kid Hungry. (Some menu items also benefit the nonprofit.)
Growing up in Santa Barbara, he’d always eaten at home with his family, Cham said, laughing as he told us that his first job in a kitchen was as a dishwasher, 25 years ago. He went from cooking with his grandmother to culinary school in San Francisco, and then through every station on the restaurant line as he honed his skills at restaurants on the West and East coasts. His new spring menu is a revelation.
Burrata with Spring Peas is sure to become a signature for Cham, who ascended to executive chef after two years at Finch & Fork working alongside James Siao, who’s now focused on the Kimpton De Witt in Amsterdam. Cham’s visual artistry and spice genius are perfection. In the dish with the fresh green peas, laid atop a deliciously creamy burrata, are tangerine wedges and deep-green mint leaves; they have a deceptively simple, sweet crunch that mingles with the potent flavors of preserved lemon. It was a balance on the palate that marked every dish we sampled at Finch & Fork.
Not to be missed is the pork chop — perfectly seared, with apple-bacon chutney and a mustard-ginger crumble all beautifully piled on a swoosh of butternut squash. Even a serving of the humble cauliflower was exquisitely matched with a roasted red pepper romesco, Egyptian dukkah, and lemon. The suggested wine pairings unlocked even more flavors and continued the menu’s locally sourced theme. Despite the mounting calories — we also happily sampled the opulent short ribs and zesty grilled shishito peppers — the mascarpone cheese cake, with nice lemony notes and sliced strawberries, and a chocolatey s’more pot de crème proved to be irresistible.
The noisy corner at Carrillo and Chapala is a comfortably cozy spot for superb food. Dining chez Peter Cham is a sensory experience in the best sense of the word and a definite brush with genius.