Tucked away on West Haley Street, Mosto Crudo, the Italian-Spanish-Santa Barbaran tapas bar, is one of the best-kept secrets for downtown gourmands. It’s now also serving a mouthwatering lunch menu Monday-Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m, featuring a wide selection of inventive vegan options as well as many favorites like fresh burrata and imported charcuterie to please all palates.
“This is just another way of making food,” Tiziano Fioretti — the passionate executive chef who hails from Rome and owns the restaurant with Alejandra Garcia — explained of their vegan options, which sing of refinement and don’t compromise on taste. “All of the salad, sandwiches, and toasts come from my Italian food inspiration. Fresh, local ingredients help us keep up with high-quality food.”
The vegan Caesar salad topped with corn and avocado won’t have you missing those anchovies one bit. The vegan burger features a juicy portobello mushroom topped with tomato, arugula, cashew brie, red onion, and vegan mayo nestled between an ethereal sourdough bun. The bread is from Basque-style Etxea Bakery in Los Angeles, with gluten-free options supplied by neighboring prodigies at Oat Bakery. Their dishes let the natural flavors of fresh ingredients take center stage and are enhanced with imported delicacies such as Sicilian olive oil.
My favorite non-vegan item from their lunch menu, and the most popular to date, is the Forbidden Rice Salad. A perfect combination of textures and flavors, it showcases smoked salmon from the Santa Barbara Fish Market atop nutty black rice, arugula, tomato, mint, and feta. Also worthy of attention is their avocado toast, which puts a new spin on an old favorite thanks to the invigorating additions of orange zest, goat cheese, the Santa Barbara touch of edible flowers, and the Italian flair of garlic.
Although their menu expanded, the space still remains charmingly small, with the “kitchen” right behind the bar, where diners can watch the heart and smarts that go into their dishes. “It took a lot of creative design of the kitchen space to organize the right tools to make the food we make,” explained Fioretti.
The restaurant gets its flavorful vegan cheeses from organic Sproutcraft Creamery. Chris Rayman, the chef de cuisine of Mesa Verde, is the innovative creator behind these cave-aged, artisanal nut-based cheeses, such as the dreamy lactic acid cashew porcini. Nestled alongside impressive accompaniments of honey, strawberries, and nuts, the vegan cheese board is a delicious exploration of the powerful possibilities of nondairy cheeses.
For those craving the traditional, the restaurant still carries their selection of impeccable charcuterie and cheeses imported from Italy. The Bresaola toast with dried cured beef loin, atop a generous bed of fluffy fresh burrata sprinkled with arugula and lemon, satisfies on all accounts. Their delightful selection of Central Coast and European wine and beer options provides a celebratory pairing for any dish.
To end the meal Italian style, finish with a robust espresso from 100-year-old Bologna company Filicori Zecchini. Lattes, cappuccinos, espressos, and pastries are served starting at 10 a.m.
The fact that Mosto Crudo first opened during the Thomas Fire and remains in business is no small feat and speaks not only to the quality of their food but to the passion, drive, and friendly service of Fioretti and Garcia, who make their customers feel like family. With vegan pop-up dinners, lunch delivery, and live music in the future, Mosto Crudo proves that big flavors can indeed come in small packages.
7. W. Haley St.; (805) 689-5679; mostocrudo.com