If you’re looking to splurge on a little taste of France, Stella Mare’s is the perfect place for you. The bistro is located right by the Santa Barbara Zoo next to the bird refuge and has been serving their French country bistro cuisine for almost 20 years. I discovered this little gem when my boyfriend took me here for our anniversary, and I was beyond impressed.

Winnie Lam / Daily Nexus

Our reservation was at 8 p.m., and when we got there, I immediately noticed all the strings of lights that encompassed the building and made it stand out. Once we were seated, we were surrounded by live jazz music, which is something Stella Mare’s has every Wednesday from 7 to 11 p.m. The seating area was pretty small, but it was nice because it gave the restaurant a cozy and intimate mood.

Their menu focuses on French cuisine and the price range was around $10-$40. To start off, we ordered the oeufs mimosa au homard, which came with three deviled eggs filled with lobster tail slices, tobiko caviar, pickled shallots and dill served on a toasted French baguette and arugula with a drizzle of olive oil. Although the eggs were small, they definitely made up for it with their flavor. The different textures and flavors of all the ingredients together provided an amazing contrast. The caviar and shallots stood out to me the most because it was so different from the creamy filling of the deviled eggs. These deviled eggs were packed with flavor and simply an amazing way to set to the mood for the rest of my experience at Stella Mare’s.

Winnie Lam / Daily Nexus

For my entree, I ordered the pan-seared Atlantic salmon from the specialty menu. The chef prepared a perfectly seared piece of salmon surround by black truffle froth, peas, edamame and sprouts. This is the best piece of salmon I have ever had. It was a little crispy on the outside and very juicy and flavorful on the inside. The truffle froth was a perfect combination with the salmon and made the meal savory yet light at the same time. The vegetables that came with the dish were also very tasty. Overall, this salmon dish was delicious, and I really liked how it wasn’t too heavy.

My boyfriend ordered the coq au vin, which is a French braise of chicken with red wine, lardons, pearl onions, bacon, mushrooms, green peas, garlic, carrots and mashed potatoes.

Winnie Lam / Daily Nexus

According to my boyfriend, it tasted “a bit sweet and had a [homey] flavor to it, especially with the mashed potatoes and sauce.”

I tried some of his chicken and it was extremely tender and sweet, but I definitely think my salmon was better.

Winnie Lam / Daily Nexus

After finishing our entrees, we both still had room for dessert, so we decided to order the classic vanilla bean crème brûlée. The top was perfectly caramelized and the inside had a terrific vanilla flavor and a pudding-like texture. The thing that actually surprised me the most about the dessert was the dollop of whipped cream it came with. It tasted like it was actually freshly whipped right there at the restaurant. It wasn’t too sweet, so it was the perfect pairing with the sweet crème brûlée.

Overall, this was one of the best restaurants I’ve eaten at since I came to UCSB. Everything I had at Stella Mare’s was delicious, and I could tell that the ingredients were very fresh, which made all the dishes so flavorful. Although it was pricey, the quality of the food and the ambiance of the entire restaurant made it worth it, and I would definitely come back here for a special occasion.

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