With Carpinteria being the quintessential beach town, you’re naturally inclined to face the ocean when choosing your outdoor seat at Little Dom’s Seafood, the restaurant that opened last summer in the former Sly’s location on Linden Avenue. You’d be wrong, though, as the mountain vistas to the north and west are far more stunning, especially on days when the sunlight-splashed clouds cast even more dramatic depth across those imposing peaks.
Or maybe my vision was skewed by heavenly bites of that afternoon’s fettunta, lavished with creamy cuts of bluefin, their richness cut by a tangy, just barely spicy salsa verde and fennel pollen-flecked yogurt. Translating to “oily bread,” fettunta is Tuscan toast that’s rubbed with garlic and then grilled — basic bruschetta can qualify — but Little Dom’s version managed to alter my entire experience, triggering my taste buds into more acute attention and, somehow, making mountains more beautiful.
I’d started with a half-dozen Kumiai and Kumamoto oysters, the suggestion of general manager and wine buyer Liz Hammond to pair with the crisp melon de Bourgogne that I picked from her exciting wine list, a mix of intriguing Old World selections, hip labels like Broc, and Central Coast stars like Holus Bolus and Caraccioli. “I realize you can get them other places, but you ordered the melon, so…,” she explained. “My personal favorite is putting the mignonette and cocktail sauce together.” I’d concur, though the oysters were so fresh they didn’t need a thing.
The fettunta was followed by a squid ink mafaldine, a dish I’ve had elsewhere, almost always heavy to the point of tummy-popping. This one, laced with spicy uni butter and savory on the nose like stewed parmesan rinds, turned out to be refreshing, tingling with acidity, ample heat, and chopped herbs. I didn’t know squid ink pasta went that way.
My entree entered classic territory: sea bass caught from our waters and treated picatta-style, expertly crisped on the outside, yet still taut on the interior, warmed by a zesty citrus-butter sauce and served atop string beans. On the side were addictive fried potatoes, blasted with garlic and lemon, the smashed ones being most addictively crunchy.
My plans to bring some of the panna cotta dessert home for my family were squashed when I inhaled its silky essence. But I did emerge with remains of the mafaldine and picatta, and everything was still delicious when reheated two days later, an uncommon feat for seafood leftovers.
“This was always kind of my dream: to live in a seaside town and to have a great seafood restaurant,” co-owner Warner Ebbink had told me on the phone a few days earlier. “We really focused on that.”
Though they seem too young for such exaltations, Ebbink and his business partner, Brandon Boudet, are legends of the Los Angeles restaurant scene. After meeting while working for the same restaurant group in New York City, the two opened Hollywood’s 101 Coffee Shop in 2000. It was a homecoming for Ebbink, who was raised in Manhattan Beach but started working in Hollywood hospitality while in college, and the desert-themed diner enjoyed icon status until its COVID-related closure this past January.
They took over West Hollywood’s Rat Pack–loving Dominick’s in 2004 (it closed in 2015), and scored an immediate (even pandemic-proof) hit with the 2008 opening of Little Dom’s in Los Feliz. Explained Boudet, a chef who was raised in New Orleans and started his cooking career in San Francisco, “It’s really turned into a neighborhood institution over the last 12 years.”
That’s the hope for Little Dom’s Seafood as well, and it has the bones to get there. There’s the sit-down restaurant, which traded Sly’s high-tops for booths, and now features a parklet as well as sidewalk seating. In addition to the seafood, there’s a range of Italian classics (meatballs, chicken parm), American comfort food (fried chicken, tenderloin), and a full quiver of wood-fired pizzas. Then there’s a delicatessen of sorts in the back along 7th Street, where the entire menu can be ordered for takeout or where you can grab sandwiches on stecca bread, pickled veggies, fresh mozzarella, handmade pasta, cookies, olive oil cake, and more.
The team seems to have the required small-town soul, too. Ebbink bought a home in Ojai almost 15 years ago, became a full-time resident a decade ago, and then moved to Carpinteria in 2015, where he coaches little league and surfs Rincon with his kids, who went to the Howard School. Boudet and his wife, Isabelle Dahlin, who owns deKor & Co. design stores in Ojai, L.A., and Manhattan, bought a home in Upper Ojai in 2014 and split their time between there and L.A.
Both owners are fanatic about seafood from the Santa Barbara Channel and believe they are showcasing the region’s commercial fishermen better than any other restaurant. Ebbink said he was “shocked at the lack of local seafood” on menus here. “Yeah, there are fish places, but if you look at the menu, none of it’s local,” he explained.
“Once I started spending more time in the area, I realized there are all these local fishermen that are so accessible,” said Boudet, who now fields calls from skippers on their boat decks, letting them know what they’re bringing into the harbor that day. He’s tight with urchin ambassador Stephanie Mutz, who was standing out back when I visited, and hooked up with Ventura’s Jolly Oyster, which will harvest oysters in Baja on Tuesday and deliver them on Wednesday. “To get oysters harvested from the day before?” said Boudet. “That’s just unheard of in the business.”
Sea bass picatta with green beans and fried potatoes. | Credit: Matt Kettmann
Ebbink deeply understands how much Sly’s was a focal point of downtown Carp, and he respects the historic community impact of its chef-owner James Sly, who died in 2019 a year after closing the restaurant when the 10-year lease was up. The end of Sly’s opened the door for Ebbink to buy the building, although rumors still swirled that James and Annie Sly were being forced out. “They were great to deal with,” said Ebbink, explaining that Annie comes in often. “I think they were pretty happy that I was gonna go in there based on what they knew about my restaurants and because we lived in town.”
Opening last July during the pandemic was not ideal, but Boudet found advantages in the scaled-back seating. “I was able to have more control over it and was able to see every dish go out,” he said. “We were never overwhelmed at any point.”
They aren’t quite established yet — “the peaks and valleys are a little more drastic until we get enough people to really know we are out there,” said Boudet — and it will take years to achieve the status of a place like The Palms, which sits across the intersection. But Little Dom’s Seafood is sailing with a good wind.
“Carpinteria is one of the last great beach towns. It’s small; it’s a great place to live. It’s a really great community. It’s shown us tons and tons of support,” said Ebbink. “I’ve opened I don’t know how many restaurants in L.A., both my own and other people’s, over the last 30 years. I’ve never gotten a thank-you card in the mail from customers. After opening this restaurant, I got multiple from Carpinteria. It’s kinda crazy.”
686 Linden Ave., Carpinteria; (805) 749-7400; ldseafood.com.