Stepping into Costa Kitchen & Bar, the Mar Monte Hotel’s new signature restaurant along the Santa Barbara waterfront, I felt as though I had hopped on a plane and landed in Morocco. As the whitewashed brick ceiling, cozy sunflower-yellow velvet chairs, and vibrant wall art transported me to a radiant oasis, I took in the comforting ocean views of Cabrillo Boulevard that frame the space, casting the familiar beauty of East Beach in a new light.
“There’s a great balance between the history and nostalgia of it, and the newness of it,” Chef Nathan Lingle explained to me of his restaurant, which was part of a multimillion-dollar redesign of the Mar Monte under the Unbound Collection by Hyatt that elevated amenities yet retained the Spanish-influenced flourishes of the past. “I think the food and beverage kind of represent that as well.”
Lingle’s “Cal-Mediterranean” cuisine is just as stimulating as the atmosphere, blending tastes and textures from coastal Italy and the eastern Mediterranean while sourcing as much as he can from Santa Barbara farmers’ markets, fish markets, and even honey from the Central Coast. “Every Saturday, I go to the Ventura Fish Market,” said Lingle. “I’m really talking to a lot of the fishermen there and understanding what product is coming in.”
The menu showcases his seafood passion. Case in point is the California King salmon, paired with watercress, pickled red onion, tzatziki, and summer squash latkes. My mouth still waters thinking about the Central Coast albacore crudo, lightly accented with cucumber, basil, Meyer lemon, and sunflower seeds.
While Costa’s flavors and ambiance are bold, every dish is prepared and plated with tasteful delicacy under Lingle’s meticulous care. Honing his craft at the Culinary Institute of America and later at the Ritz-Carlton Resort in Naples, Florida, Lingle’s talents led him to positions at the Philadelphia’s Ritz-Carlton and the L’Auberge Del Mar Resort.
“A lot of our inspiration comes from our travels, things we’ve done in the past, and ingredients we see in the farmers’ markets,” Lingle explained.
Take the lamb scallopini. The lamb is pounded thin, breaded, and fried, but the potential fried-meat heaviness is refreshingly offset by the accompanying zucchini-mint salad, with charred feta and smoked chile aioli. The dish was inspired both by his mother’s schnitzel recipe and the bounty of summer squash at the farmers’ market.
“It’s kind of a nod to food that my mom would have made,” Lingle said. “There’s almost a kind of carpaccio salad with it. It goes really nicely with the crisp thin scallopini of lamb. There are a lot of warm or hot components mixed in with cool components.”
Chilled saffron couscous salad mixed tableside with gems of caramelized onions, dried apricot, roasted lemon, Calabrian chile, almonds, and yogurt, and the house-made flatbread with luscious muhammara beg to be shared and enjoyed alongside your entrees.
As do their beverages. The delightful wine list sings of Santa Barbara County, boasting bright beauties such as Stolpman’s “Love You Bunches” sangiovese and Scar of the Sea’s chardonnay. Beers from Figueroa Mountain and Captain Fatty’s flow from the taps, and creative cocktails such as the Italian mojito with SelvaRey rum, Montenegro amaro, mint, orange, lemon, and soda start the evening on a festive note.
Diners can taste the sweetness of our town in the creative seasonal dessert menu from pastry chef Alex Loretto, which features the eclectic sampling of dates from Flying Disc Ranch, or more classic endings, such as a California olive oil cake drizzled with brown butter caramel, basil-infused peaches, and caramelized white chocolate. Other inventive options include a crème fraîche cheesecake accented with “textures of strawberry,” which include actual strawberries, strawberry sauce, and even bits of freeze-dried strawberries to create an exciting dessert experience.
For such a prominent corner of our city, on an iconic boulevard near the zoo, East Beach, countless other hotels, and plenty of both Eastside and Montecito residents, there’s been quite a culinary hole in this location for years. Costa Kitchen & Bar is well poised to change that, as the whole menu is a tour de force for the senses.
As we continued talking about his passion for Santa Barbara’s produce, seafood, and outdoorsy lifestyle, Lingle’s motivation seemed pure. “I really love telling stories through the food and beverage,” he explained.
1111 E Cabrillo Blvd., inside Mar Monte Hotel; (805) 882-1234; costasb.com