In these divisive times, it’s comforting to know that there’s at least one thing we can all agree on: the cradle of luxury and the epicenter of glamour is, indisputably, not western Goleta.
And yet, improbably, it’s there, just beyond the DMV parking lot and the teeming masses yearning to eat Kirkland pizza, where the Bacara Resort & Spa has provided seaside opulence for the past two decades. And now, the resort, which became part of the Ritz-Carlton empire in 2017, celebrates two important milestones: the acquisition of a new lead sommelier and the recent debut of the hotel’s casual-dining concept, the ‘O’ Bar and Kitchen.
For those of us who have long considered the Bacara to be the exclusive domain of Tesla-driving tourists who treat hundreds like Kleenex, the newly opened ‘O’ Bar is something of a revelation. Under the direction of Santa Barbara native Chef Richard Brown, the ‘O’ Bar is serving impeccably crafted dishes at accessible price points in a surprisingly relaxed and welcoming atmosphere. It’s a place where even jaded locals can eat well and feel at ease.
“We’re on the ocean; we have a great view; we’re an upscale bar with a nice kitchen,” said Brown. “It’s a Ritz-Carlton gastropub.”
Menu highlights include the elevated chicken wings ($19), coated in a soy harissa glaze and served alongside a cucumber dipping sauce, as well as the rigatoni ($20), tossed in a delicious sausage ragu with blistered broccolini and heirloom cherry tomatoes.
The seasonal menu’s current standout, however, may well be the exquisite seared Atlantic salmon ($27). Served on a bed of spiced carrot puree and topped with Medjool dates, crispy brussels sprouts, and a drizzle of sherry caramel, it’s something akin to autumn in a bowl.
While the upmarket pub grub is remarkably reasonable, the bar’s cocktail pricing delivers a swift reminder that you are, indeed, hanging at the Ritz. With prices starting at $20 a pop, one can’t be blamed for expecting a little razzle dazzle with each drink. Fortunately, the Smoke ’N’ Pineapple ($24) delivers an appropriately theatrical presentation: a cedar plank is meticulously blowtorched, creating a plume of smoke that scents and flavors the glass, which is topped with a blend of tequila, mezcal, pineapple juice, and a rim of tajin. It’s a splurge-worthy concoction with an imminently Instagrammable preparation.
Meanwhile, at the ‘O’ Bar’s fine dining counterpart, Angel Oak, recently hired Zacary Welch is pouring wine and dropping science for the resort’s visiting oenophiles. Certified as a Level III Advanced Sommelier from the Court of Master Sommeliers, Welch has curated a wine list that he described as a “a mixture of classic and fresh … but also with a flavor of what might be flying beneath your radar right now.”
In addition to offering recommendations to inquisitive patrons, Welch oversees the restaurant’s voluminous wine cellar, which houses rare vintages and elusive varietals, many of which long predate his arrival. “This cellar has been here for almost 20 years now,” Welch explained. “Each sommelier has had their unique input into the cellar, and some of the wines that we have in here — I could never get them now.”
For his part, Welch is stocking the cellar with immediately quaffable classics and hot new upstarts, as well as bottles that will come to maturity at a date far in the future. “I’ve brought some wine here that’s probably not quite ready to drink right now,” said Welch, “But in 25 to 30 years, someone will be really happy to open that wine, and that will be my piece that I’ll be giving in the future.”
Working in a restaurant fully committed to a robust wine program, Welch regards his new role as a perfect fit. “What Ritz-Carlton stands for is what I want to bring to the wine program,” said Welch, “which is professionalism and great-tasting wine as well as rare gems that are hard to find.”
8301 Hollister Ave., Goleta; ritzcarlton.com/en/hotels/california/santa-barbara; Angel Oak: (805) 571-4220; The ‘O’ Bar and Kitchen: (805) 968-0100