Whether you’re looking for a table for two, a place to bring your parents or a classic lunch spot, let On the Menu transport you to the city of lights with every delicious bite from these local French restaurants.
Pop the Cork
9 W. Victoria St.
Located just off State Street, Bouchon offers a quiet, cozy and romantic setting for classic French cuisine with a regional twist. With both an intimate indoor dining room and enclosed garden patio, this restaurant is a favorite of local wine lovers and is known as one of Santa Barbara’s best settings for a classy date. The eatery is celebrating its 10-year anniversary in Santa Barbara this Bastille Day – June 14 – making Bouchon a revolutionary choice.
The menu changes seasonally as ingredients are available, although the restaurant’s signature dish, a bourbon and maple-sautéed duck served with a succotash of applewood-smoked bacon, butternut squash and fava beans, is available year-round. According to manager Jennifer Brodt, Bouchon’s focus on sustainable, seasonable fare is a big part of what attracts the restaurant’s regular clientele, and that Bouchon also takes pride in its use of local, sustainable produce.
“We try to do everything as local and organic as possible, and the chef goes to the farmers’ market three or four times a week,” Brodt said.
As befits the romantic setting, appropriate for a restaurant whose name is French for “wine cork,” Bouchon maintains a list of over 100 wines, all sourced exclusively from wineries located in Santa Barbara County. Although the restaurant has no bar and offers only beer and wine, the staff specializes in the subtle, delicate pairing of a particular wine to each dish.
Brodt said the menu emphasizes the importance of a balance between the flavors on the plate and the perfect vintage.
“The whole menu is based around wine pairings, so we don’t use a lot of spices,” Brodt said.
The wine list received Wine Spectator magazine’s 2007 Award of Excellence for its regional focus. According to owner and UCSB alumnus Mitchell Sjerven, the approach presents an exclusively Santa Barbara dining experience, which is in line with his view that great food should reflect the character and qualities of the region that produced it.
“[It’s] constructed with a California Wine Country experience in mind,” Sjerven said.
Despite the focus on wines, Sjerven, a graduate of UCSB’s class of 1991, said Bouchon is always student-friendly.
“We see a lot of students come in here when parents are in town,” he said. “It’s a great opportunity to experience fine cuisine without a pretentious or stuffy atmosphere. There’s no dress code, so come as casually as you like.”
Bouchon offers its flavorful meals and delicious wines Sunday through Thursday from 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m., and Friday and Saturday from 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m.
More Champagne, S’il Vous Plaît!
2700 De la Vina St.
Price: $10 – $20
Mimosa, another popular date destination, serves French cuisine with a Californian influence in a soft atmosphere. Located on a bustling corner of De la Vina Street, its relaxed and unstressed atmosphere is an important quality Mimosa’s staff and management strives to cultivate.
Mimosa’s menu of “French Casual Cuisine” incorporates traditional French cooking and ingredients into the influence of Californian produce and sensibility. Hearty French dishes like bouillabaisse, duck and rack of lamb are the most popular choices, and a $25 three-course dinner is the restaurant’s biggest draw. Other dishes can’t help but show a little Californian flair, like the spinach and duck confit salad, which includes tomatoes, mandarin oranges, almonds and crustini. The grilled chicken sandwich, which is complemented by flavorful portabello mushrooms, caramelized onions, Swiss cheese, lettuce and sun-dried tomato aoli, is another option that embraces the Golden State-style.
The menu also includes a few options that change daily or weekly.
Derrick Melton, who is Mimosa’s executive chef since 2000 and a co-owner of the restaurant since 2005, said that the Friday special is very popular and usually draws a crowd ready to celebrate the beginning of the weekend.
“We have a fish special every day, and on Fridays we do what we call Frog Leg Fridays, which is a small plates menu,” said Melton.
Also popular are Mimosa’s desserts, made by pastry chef and co-owner Chris Melton.
Mimosa’s fully stocked bar is only one of this eatery’s draws. The restaurant offers unhurried service after the traditional European manner, so customers should plan to linger over their meals for as much as two hours. Derrick Melton said the relaxing ambience and spacious dining room are some of the top reasons to choose Mimosa for a romantic evening.
“We have good acoustics – the tables are spaced far enough apart for quiet conversation,” he said. “It’s a great date spot – French cuisine at a reasonable price, and the full bar is definitely a plus.”
For a truly French experience, head to Mimosa for a midday meal Monday through Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., or for dinner all week from 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Let Them Eat Cake!
705 Anacapa St.
Price: $10 – $20
For a meal stuffed with French flavor, try Pacific Crêpes, near the corner of Anacapa and Ortega Streets. This local restaurant specializes in crêpes Bretagnes – thin, light pancakes stuffed with savory or sweet toppings and originally created in the Brittany region of northern France.
Owner Yvan Morin said he came to Santa Barbara and started Pacific Crêpes 10 years ago, and the restaurant has been a family affair ever since. Steadily gaining popularity over the past decade, Morin said Pacific Crêpes has gained a following with locals as the area’s only place to go for crepes.
“I opened it myself and then my parents came here to help,” Morin said. “We’ve been here for 10 years, so the name has become well known, and it’s always good for the price.”
The restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, and offers patrons a wide selection of crêpes, sandwiches, salads, and Morin’s own French onion soup as well as a soup of the day. There is also the option for customers to create an individualized treat, starting with the plain crêpe for $2 and adding a choice of toppings, including several types of cheeses, meats, vegetables and even fresh salmon. All options are $4 each or less, and a crêpe with four or more toppings comes with a salad. For $20, the lunch and dinner specials include an appetizer, a crepe with three toppings and a dessert. À la carte, the crêpes, sandwiches and salads each cost between $7 and $14, and many vegetarian options are available for those patrons looking to skip the meat fillings.
According to Morin, local French culture is alive and well at Pacific Crêpes.
“Wednesday nights from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. we have a French conversation group that comes to practice speaking French,” he said.
The establishment is also a popular place for UCSB and SBCC students looking for a quick but tasty lunch away from campus. “We have a lot of students come for sandwiches and dessert,” Morin said, referring to the selection of dessert crêpes with toppings like Nutella, chocolate and lemon.
Morin said there were no definite plans afoot to fête the restaurant on its 10-year anniversary, but said that “we might do something.” In any case, one of Pacific Crêpes’ delicious savory crêpes or sweet dessert crêpes is sure to cause a celebration among taste buds across the board.
Make some time to sandwich Pacific Crêpes in your day Sunday and Monday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., and Tuesday through Saturday from 5:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.
So if you find yourself daydreaming in lecture of soaking up the Mediterranean sun in Nice, accepting that well-deserved Palm d’Or at the Festival de Cannes or finishing a great novel at a Parisian sidewalk café, it might be time to drop by one of Santa Barbara’s excellent, fresh and friendly French eateries. Whether it’s a craving for crepes or a special occasion to wine and dine, the local Gallic gastronomists have concocted something suitable.