Opal Restaurant and Bar, Santa Barbara, CA: Restaurant Review

Website: http://www.opalrestaurantandbar.com/opal.html

This past weekend Jay and I took a little trip to Santa Barbara, CA for a friend’s wedding. Arriving early afternoon on Friday, we did a little research and looking around for a good dinner spot before deciding on Opal. While other restaurants looked very good and imaginative, something about this place called out to us from the ads in the yellow pages and the pocket concierge given to us by the motel we stayed at.

The restaurant was packed, which made it seem like a good bet. We didn’t have reservations but were seated without any real difficulty. The only table for two was close to the door, and it was a bit chilly out, but a few glasses of wine later we forgot all about that.

For my starter cocktail I had the special, a ginger cosmo, but it tasted just like any other cosmo to me (and was deceptively strong). Jay ordered a vodka tonic, which was delivered in a huge glass. With dinner (after a glass of Malbec for me!) we split a bottle of the Tantara Pinot Noir from Santa Maria Valley. This is probably one of the best pinots I’ve ever had, much warmer than it’s cheaper counterparts and much more complex. Overall a very good choice.

The restaurant has a regular menu, but they also have a full menu of specials for the day. This was greatly appealing and one of the reasons we chose the restaurant. There were so many options on the special menu that I didn’t even look at the regular menu. Also a plus was a special pairings menu that suggested different wine pairings for different menu choices.

For the appetizer I had a salad of tiger prawns over gourmet greens with a light vinagrette and feta cheese. Absolutely wonderful. The prawns were plentiful but not overwhelmingly so and were thankfully not overcooked. Jay started with a small salad.

For dinner I had another special, the salmon wrapped in prosciutto with a pepper-cream sauce (I almost chose the paiella, but went with the salmon because I got scared the paiella might be too spicey). The salmon and the sauce were wonderful, but I found some faults with the sides. The brocolli was bland and unexciting, but more shocking were the mashed potatoes. I grew up eating mashed potatoes out of a box, the kind of spuds you add water to and just heat them up, and I know what spuds from a box taste like. It only took one bite of the “mashed potatoes” to realize they had just come from a box, and needless to say that sent my opinion of the place down a few notches. I’m not saying I’m right, I didn’t personally walk into the kitchen and watch them prepare the potatoes, I’m just saying they dasted damn close to spuds from a box.

For dessert we split a chocolate and pecan tart, but on reflection we should have chosen the berry pastry with brown butter. I could have eaten a dark chocolate bar with nuts in it and it would have tasted about the same. Not to say the dessert was bad, it was just average, unexciting. I think the creme freche was the best part of the dessert.

All in all, Opal was a good choice. Fresh ingredients and an ever-changing menu are nice. The ambiance was nice, even though we were sitting right next to the door. I felt, however, that my happiness over my restaurant choice slowly dissolved over the course of the meal, and rather than leaving in an extatic mood I left wanting a little something more. Yes, the apps were good and my salmon was good, but the sides looked straight out of an assembly line and the dessert could have come from any other decent restaurant. Next time I might try something else down the street.

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