In the year 2000, back when Rodney’s Grill was called Rodney’s Steakhouse, the restaurant announced its opening with a kicky “Love Me Tender” advertising campaign that splashed across Santa Barbara’s newspapers. Eighteen years later, Rodney’s remains true to its roots, offering some of the best cuts in town inside the Hilton Santa Barbara Beachfront Resort. But it’s also evolved to feature on the regular menu some really delicious dishes, like a braised pork osso buco with parsnip purée and a fettuccine ragout with mint-sprig polenta.
Now, Rodney’s is kicking it up yet another notch with a new, specialty Santa Barbara Heritage menu. Inspired by California cuisine, which owes all of its culinary inheritance to a rich Spanish-Mexican history, the kitchen is creating dishes that are tried and true but a little risky, too. The standout is the whole fried snapper, a healthy-sized crisped fish propped around a mound of saffron rice next to a dollop of sweet red-pepper-based Vizcaina sauce. The playful presentation ― a conversation-stopper when it hits the table ― still takes second to how the meal tastes.
The snapper’s distinctive sweet, nutty flavor comes through just right in flakey morsels that beg to be eaten with the fingers, and you get the satisfaction of a fried food without the gut-bomb heaviness that usually accompanies such a treat. Remember to bring your appetite, because there are two whole sides of the fish to pick clean. Fess Parker’s 2016 chardonnay is the right choice for your dinner wine.
The Heritage menu is deep with options. There’s the California heirloom gazpacho with crunchy-fresh cucumbers and bell peppers that ride an even wave of toasted cumin warmth and jalapeno spice. Vegetarians should also try the quinoa paella for its impeccably seasoned oyster mushrooms, chickpeas, and grilled artichoke. The churrasco ― a garlic-and-citrus-marinated flat-iron steak ― is served with a green chimichurri, the perfect marriage of Rodney’s bygone steakhouse days and its modern embrace of original California culture. It’s a tasty and tender kind of love.
633 E. Cabrillo Blvd; (805) 884-8554; rodneysgrill.com