Christmas Treats at the San Ysidro Ranch

Tasty Holiday Cocktails and a Dreamy Dinner Among Countless Ornaments and Twinkling Lights

Inside the Stonehouse Restaurant | Credit: Ivana Milenkovic

With a nine-month-old at home, it was a rare night out. So we made the most of it with dinner and drinks this Tuesday at the quietly luxurious San Ysidro Ranch

We started with cocktails at the bar of the timber-beamed Plow & Angel restaurant next to a crackling fireplace and historic painting of the property’s namesake Saint Isidore. Above us hung twinkling lights and what had to be more than 1,000 shining ornaments. The scene couldn’t have been cozier.

Credit: Ivana Milenkovic

We eyed the holiday drink menu with enticing choices like “The Grinch” and the “Frosty Spritz” but opted for something more traditional. Better to save the specialties for the main event, we thought. As delicious as our negroni and rusty nail were, the real pleasure came from watching my hardworking better half breath a sigh of contentment and melt into her seat.

As the sun dipped below the horizon we made our way upstairs to the Stonehouse Restaurant, meandering first through the resort’s gardens and past its cottages bedecked like a Bavarian village at Christmastime. The descriptor that kept coming to mind was “storybook.”

Our seats on Stonehouse’s balcony overlooked oak trees wrapped in lights and, further in the distance, the faint outlines of the Channel Islands. We smiled at each other in the soft glow of the antique oil lamp on our table. I ordered an old fashioned with Breaker “33” bourbon, demerara sugar, apple spiced syrup, and Australian aromatic bitters; she got the homemade San Ysidro Ranch eggnog with Amaro Averna and fresh nutmeg. We melted a little more.

The Stonehouse Restaurant | Credit: Ivana Milenkovic

The dinner was prepared by Executive Chef Matt Johnson, a California native who graduated top of his class from the Santa Barbara School of Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management and later embarked on a gastronomic tour of Europe, working and cooking alongside the region’s top chefs.

At the advice of our server Antonio, we started with the slow-braised venison agnolotti (shaved black truffles, morel mushrooms, seaside pea shoots, hazelnut gremolata, sweet corn, and fennel sauce) and the Japanese yellowtail crudo (pixie tangerines, purple sango radish, petite seagrass, Espelette, and shiro dashi vinaigrette). Both struck that rich yet delicate balance that had us grabbing bites from each other’s plates.

Next up were our main courses of crispy skin Maple Leaf Farms duck breast (persimmon glaze, bulgur wheat pilaf, tiny turnips, brussels leaves, kabocha squash puree, star anise duck jus, spiced pepitas) and dry-aged prime New York striploin (lobster mushrooms, house-smoked bacon lardons, pee wee potatoes, frilly mustard greens, shishito peppers, smoked Point Reyes blue cheese butter, sweet garlic puree). Goodness gracious, were they delicious. I just wish I had a more learned palette to appreciate every single nuance of texture and flavor that Chef Johnson manufactures in his dishes, because even I could tell the intentionality and execution were off the charts.

Credit: Ivana Milenkovic

For dessert, after agonizing over the choices for a good 10 minutes, we went with the lemon tart made with Meyer lemons grown right there on the ranch. In fact, we learned, the original grounds were overseen by Franciscan monks in the 1700s until a citrus fruit company took them over in the late 1800s. Barely one bite into the tart’s tangy, velvety filling with its cookie-thin crust, we knew we’d made the right decision. 

By that point, it was time to get back to the babysitter, so we took one last look around the dreamscape of a property and floated back to the car. Once the young one is a little older to understand just how much of a treat the place really is, we’ll be back. (If not sooner, maybe for one or two more date nights.)

The Stonehouse Restaurant is also offering a four-course prix-fixe menu with seasonal favorites and local ingredients, including herbs picked from the onsite garden, plus an entirely vegetarian option. You can view the menu here. Stonehouse will be open from 12 p.m.- 7 p.m. on Christmas Day. Cost is $195 per person with optional $110 wine pairing add-on.


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