San Ysidro Ranch
900 San Ysidro Ln.
Montecito, CA 93108
By MICHAEL AUSHENKER | Contributing Writer
On the inland side of the 101, San Ysidro Ranch feels both old and new.
Old, because the property dates back to Hollywood’s Golden Era. New since the Montecito resort destination is celebrating its grand re-opening after over a year of renovations following substantial damage from the January 2018 debris flow.
As Food and Beverage Director Franco De Bartolo explained, the mudslide demolished bungalows and leveled the wine cellar, which De Bartolo rebuilt.
Roaming the property, one would never know it had suffered significant damage. While the wine cellar lost some 12,000 samples of the finest wines, the new cellar has 10,000 bottles, including premium magnums housed in walnut wood wine shelves.
Now San Ysidro Ranch, as well as restaurants Stonehouse and the more casual bistro Plow & Angel, are back.
Manning the proverbial ship is Executive Chef Matthew Johnson, who grew up in Santa Monica and whose grandmother resided in Pacific Palisades.
“What I remember most about the Palisades is its beautiful landscape and wide streets,” Johnson said. “It was perfect for skateboarding and riding my bike around as a kid when I would visit my grandparents’ house there.
“My grandma used to make an amazing honey baked ham,” Johnson continued, “with homemade apple sauce and a potato dish that we used to call ‘Those Potatoes’—just sliced Idaho potatoes layered with salt, pepper, fresh thyme and butter then baked in a casserole dish until crispy on top and soft in the middle.”
Johnson has been creating the delicacies at the conjoined restaurants for about a decade. The restaurants take pride in the grass-fed, free-range and USDA Prime beef products, plus vegetables grown on site.
In addition to the extensive wine program, the Stonehouse offers signature cocktails. Light and sunshine-y, the grapefruit-licious Ruby Red Martini, features elderflower liquer. For something darker, try the sweet vermouth-infused Manhattan. For something straddling the two, Blood Orange Margarita is emboldened by Omeca Altos tequila.
We started with some appetizers from Plow & Angel. One can order a small plate of Colorado Lamb Sliders, which arrives sandwiched between gluten-free rosemary buns and accompanied by an apple coleslaw. Kalamata olive aioli and feta cheese punctuates the meat’s perfect preparation.
From Plow & Angel, we ventured into a list called SYR Traditional Classics to partake in Ranch Macaroni & Cheese. This beautifually presented small cauldron of pasta arrives covered in a four-fromage sauce (two varieties of cheddar, gruyere and Parmesan) with pieces of prosciutto di Parma tucked within its contents.
From the Stonehouse appetizers, we ordered Kona Kampachi and Local Uni Crudo. The colorful Japanese-inspired plate, adorned with Persian cucumbers, petite sea grass, Pixie tangerines, black raddish and shiro dashi vinaigrette, showcased one of Santa Barbara’s greatest oceanic morsels: the sea urchin (uni) with slivers of yellowtail.
Potato Crusted Halibut became our evening’s culinary highlight: a spectacular side of white fish covered with Chanterelle mushrooms, carrot confit, Napa cabbage, parsnip puree and black truffle beurre blanc (white butter). The halibut is as perfect a fish entrée as one can order; attractive, fresh, light, fluffy and, most importantly, excellently savory.
We also opted for Classic Steak Diane Flambéed Tableside, beef served with Stonehouse’s signature mashed potatoes (clean and unfussy with no extra unnecessary additions) and organic green beens. The 22-ounce steak comes covered in a house-made—make that table-made—brandied cremini mushroom sauce.
The Stonehouse is wonderfully quirky. Near our table was a small tree in which the servers and our cart-wheeling waiter Roberto had to navigate around when he created the brandy-infused sauce that went atop our delicious steak. We watched as the heat emulsified the Landy cognac while retaining its flavor until the sauce began to bubble.
“Those dishes still remind me of their home in the Palisades when I use the recipes,” Johnson said.
For the banana flambé, also made tableside, Roberto combined brown sugar, water and butter and Myers Rum in a pan in front of us to create the caramel that topped our sliced fruit.
Places like San Ysidro Ranch, with its scenic views, make for perfect staycations or holiday celebrations in paradise. Palisadians should feel blessed that such a spot is only a day trip away.