1759 S. Jameson Lane,
Montecito, CA 93108
By MICHAEL AUSHENKER | Contributing Writer
When it comes to proper nouns, Rick Caruso, esteemed developer of Southern California’s top-tier retail centers, has become sort of a mini-nightmare for this journalist. When writing in print about Caruso, one must distinguish for the reader: Are you referring to Caruso the man or Caruso the firm (formerly known as Caruso Affiliated)? You could also be talking about Caruso Drive, a street that leads into the Americana at Brand, his downtown Glendale retail empire.
Add to the mix—Caruso’s, the crown jewel of seven eateries, which opened March 1 with the other components of Caruso’s ambitious Rosewood Miramar Beach resort in Montecito.
So while it may take some work to differentiate Caruso’s from the man, the firm and the rest, I’m happy to report that Caruso’s, an elegant fine dining experience with American Riviera oceanic views, is anything but a nightmare. This destination is not only worth the drive up the coast, it should be high priority.
For the purpose of editorial space, I will spare you details about the eye-popping, 161-suite Rosewood Miramar Beach resort itself; a stunning, singular Caruso masterpiece in nostalgic Cape Cod architectural style sprawled across 16 acres of premium beachside Montecito property, literally divided by active Amtrak-ridden railroad tracks.
Caruso’s, flanked by Pacific blue-view cabins with a patio deck that bleeds into the restaurant’s interior, takes itself very seriously in the best of ways.
The menu, executed by Caruso’s team Executive Chef Massimo Falsini, Chef De Cuisine Paul Osborne and Executive Pastry Chef Benjamin Kunert, is a powerhouse experience that is overwhelmingly Italian by way of California, with fruits and vegetables sourced from local Santa Barbara area farmers markets.
Seated on the hardwood deck with a sunset-hued view of the Santa Barbara coastline, there are many ways to launch this meal, from a Santa Barbara Farmer’s Market Salad (greens, fennel, blackberry vinaigrette) to Striped Bass Carpaccio or American Riviera Seafood Platter, which offers Santa Barbara spot prawns, spiny lobster, stone crab, oysters and Stephanie’s urchins.
Our first starter was Hand-Pulled Burrata & Violet Artichoke, an amazing variation of this classic Italian antipasto sided with blood orange jam, spicy sprouts and pistachio pesto.
As an appetizer, the grilled octopus has become something of an LA cliché in recent years at seafaring restaurants, however, Caruso’s Charred Octopus, a succulent bite masterfully counterbalanced by prosciutto ragout, Castelvetrano olives, gigante beans and romesco sauce, is a must and outdoes any previous version of this you may have had, both in execution and expression.
Pinsa Romana offers three varieties of Stone-Baked Ancient Roman Pie (mini-pizzas), including one basic and one teeming with mushroom. We opted for Prosciutto, which thin dough bedding arrives crispy and burnt in a good way, layered with Crescenza and Parmigiano Reggiano and loaded with arugula to complement the crust’s smoky flavor. This is by no means your Americanized personal pizza, nor should it be.
Rick Caruso would not be worth his Italian-American salt if his restaurant did not offer an array of pasta for the rimo course, and at Caruso’s, you can indulge in Chef Falsini’s golden spin on tagliolini, risotto and gnocchi. Artichoke is a Falsini favorite, and so the textural vegetable appears in many a dish on his menu, including Lamb Batutto and Artichoke Pappardelle.
Our party opted for Tagliatelle al Ragu, a triumphant Bolognese noodle dish abundant with a savory blend of veal, beef and pork and Parmigiano Reggiano.
Refreshingly minimal, the Main Courses section offers only seven options to cover proteins by way of surf ‘n’ turf, and when the offerings are this sublime, you won’t be wanting for other fare.
Sonoma Lamb, Rack and Meatballs comes with Neapolitan Croquette, almond artichoke crema and artichoke Romana. Pan-Roasted Channel Island Halibut gives good white fish, accompanied by fingerling potatoes, spring onions and asparagus (there is also the orange fish dish, Crispy Monterey Salmon).
Cooked to perfection, Santa Barbara Harbor Cioppino (basically Italian for “bouillabaisse”), is a hearty bowl bulk-loaded with calamari, succulent octopus tentacle, seared cod, Dungeness crab, and clams and mussels.
As for meal accompaniment, Caruso’s solid signature cocktails offer a nice range of breadth, from the Citrus Spritz (grapefruit-infused Aperol, prosecco, club soda), to the Milano-Torino (Campari, vermouth, orange slice), or Sgroppino (vodka, prosecco, lemon thyme sorbet, mint).
As with all elements of the property itself, presentation is put on a pedestal at Caruso’s, and dessert does not get short shrift. Tiramisu, filled with biscuit and mascarpone, arrives in an egg-like shell made of a gossamer-sheer spun sugar, which the waiter serves with espresso in an affogato-style pour-over.
Citrus Bellini is comprised of citrus compote, blood orange sorbet, candid buddha’s hand and champagne spun thin. Passion Fruit Grand Cru Chocolate Bar, made with buffalo milk gelato and Mandarin orange.
The cliché “the devil is in the details” never rang more true for a developer than for Rick Caruso. At a Caruso establishment, nothing is haphazard or left to chance. There has been forethought put into every brick, every capitol, every angle, every placement of a tree or shrub.
Yet, Caruso’s appears to be a more-personal-than-usual project for the famed developer, perhaps even a crowning achievement. From the monogrammed napkins to the choice of classic standards wafting through the ocean breeze in the background, the restaurant not only echoes the billionaire’s uncanny eye for detail but appears to reflect his personal taste.
Indeed, dining at Caruso’s as the sun sets over Montecito, one gets the idea that this establishment encompasses everything that Rick Caruso enjoys in a culinary experience.
And while the culinary fare may be more expensive than the average restaurant, you won’t flinch because the experience will be worth every penny. Be among the first to visit Caruso’s and witness a Michelin-star restaurant in the making.
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