Life’s a Beach
Beachside Bar Cafe
5905 Sandspit Rd.
Price: $15 to $20
Having lived less than 10 minutes from the ocean for two decades, one might assume the sight of the rolling waves and endless expanse of sand doesn’t spark the same excitement as it once did. Wrong. There are few sights more magnificent than the sea, and Beachside Bar Cafe is the ideal location to celebrate our 20-year relationship. Located just down the path from UCSB off the 217, it’s very convenient to treat myself to a supreme seafood dinner.
The restaurant has been officially known as Beachside Bar Cafe for 23 years, and prides itself on its generous portions for moderate prices, and for evading the tourist trap that so many Santa Barbara eateries have fallen into. Randy Torres, who has worked as a manager at Beachside for about a year, explained that the restaurant’s familiar vibe is a product of regular customers and a tight-knit staff.
“We have a lot of long-term employees here, but that’s complimented by a lot of UCSB students,” Torres said. “It’s a whole community of people who know each other. It’s like a family type of dynamic.”
The friendliness between staff members is translated directly to diners, who are consistently met by welcoming and cheerful employees. In the handful of times I’ve eaten at Beachside, the service has been reliable, efficient and pleasant.
Customers, in addition to receiving top-notch service, are given a bounty of meal options, as Beachside offers three menus: an oyster menu, which offers appetizers, cocktails and desserts; a lunch menu and a dinner menu. Menu inserts offer an impressive list of additional dishes, and vary depending on the day’s catches and the season. For example, this week Beachside is offering its Paella del Mar, which is served with an enormous helping of seafood – shrimp, crab, bay scallops, mussels, clams and calamari – as well as chicken breast and sausage. The meat is laid over a serving of peas and saffron rice, and it is as flavorful as it is satiating. Another daily special, and one that Torres says has proved to be very popular, is the salmon. Charbroiled and topped with cucumbers, bell peppers, oranges, jicama and red peppers, this dish will satisfy all your Omega-3 needs in a truly delicious fashion.
My appetizer of choice from this coastal joint is the ceviche – a mixture of fresh salmon, swordfish, snapper, calamari, mangoes, tomato, cabbage and peppers and marinated in herbs and lemon and lime juices. The dish offers a taste of the freshness of the entrees while leaving your belly enough space to fully enjoy your meal.
For lunch, Torres recommended the ahi tuna salad. Available on both the oyster and lunch menus, this salad is fresh, light and large enough to fill you up comfortably. A bed of baby greens tossed in a balsamic vinaigrette dressing is topped with slices of rare ahi tuna, blackened with Cajun spices and served alongside a parmesan tomato. Healthy and refreshing, the salad is a great example of Beachside’s classy and impressive menu.
Monday through Friday from 3 p.m. until 6 p.m., Beachside offers its happy hour. Between the restaurant’s fully stocked bar and convenient location, the seaside eatery is ideal for legal coeds. According to Torres, the Mai Tai, Campus-Point Lemonade and Beachside Back-bar Margarita are among the most prized cocktails.
“We use high-end liquor for the margarita; our sweet and sour mix is homemade,” Torres said. “The lemonade in the Campus-Point Lemonade – we fresh squeeze that.”
The restaurant offers an extensive wine list, and many of these bottles are selected with the eatery’s dishes in mind.
“Everyday we have a wine special. Sometimes it’s local, sometimes it’s not local, but either way, it’s going to complement seafood,” Torres said.
He went on to explain that for wine to balance fish, it should have a balance between acidity and fruit. Yes, fruit. Most of the daily wine specials are dry with no residual sugar.
“It should be mild,” Torres said. “Not overpowering. Fish has a lot of flavor, and we don’t want the wine to mask that.”
One of the wines, the Santa Rita, is a 2006 Sunstone Syrah Rosé from Casablanca, Chile, and is flavored with tropical grapefruit, vanilla and hazelnut.
At a seafood restaurant where you literally dig through the fish to find the rest of the food, it’s easy to forget to leave room for dessert. For this writer, however, that is simply not an option. The mocha crunch cake, too satisfying to be ignored, has the uncanny ability to satisfy all of my sweet teeth. The mocha cake is filled with whipped cream and ground heath bar, and comes topped with Bavarian mocha frosting and an exquisite crust of crumbled heath bar.
Beachside Bar Cafe is one of the most unique restaurants in the area. With a prime view of our beloved ocean, and the familiar glow of UCSB in sight, this restaurant offers a dining experience not to be missed. Torres agrees.
“Great prices, generous portions and you can’t beat the location,” he said.
For all these reasons and so many more, coast down to Beachside Bar Cafe, Monday through Friday from 11:30 a.m. until 10 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
The Thrill of the Chase
Chase Restaurant & Lounge
1012 State St.
Price: $14 and up
Illuminating Santa Barbara’s Chase Restaurant like fireflies on a summer’s day, white Christmas lights draped over the establishment’s interior add a layer of subtle elegance to the already-intimate ambiance. Single red roses, traditional Italian art sculptures and plush leather seating accompany the restaurant’s lighting stunt in setting the tone for a meal that is characterized by an extravagant environment and an even more impressive menu.
Currently, the Chase Restaurant is adorning the joint with holiday décor, meticulously placing Santa sleighs, snowmen and even a Christmas tree around the establishment.
Cassie Mailheau, the owner’s assistant of Chase, took a break from the decorating to describe the inner workings of the restaurant.
“Sonia Adams, the owner, just loves the whole joy of Christmas, so she really puts in a big effort to decorate for the holidays,” Mailheau said “This has turned into a holiday tradition for a lot of locals; the people seem to really enjoy it.”
“We’re like Santa’s little helpers transforming the Chase restaurant,” she added with a laugh.
Aside from the holiday cheer, the always in-season Chase menu provides a year-round treat for restaurant goers. Even though the restaurant itself is on the smaller side, the offered plates are of magnanimous tastes and justified proportions, proving to be perfect for even the most finicky patron.
The Chase Restaurant & Lounge offers traditional Italian and Mediterranean cuisine, and serves a wide variety of meat and seafood options, including steak, chicken, halibut, calamari, veal and pork.
According to Mailheau, the steaks are the most requested meat item, while conventional Italian pastas are also popular.
“Well, our steaks have grown immensely in popularity because we have the highest quality and freshest steaks available,” she said. “Traditionally, our most popular Italian dishes are the chicken piccata or chicken alfredo.”
Other menu items include the ever-popular chicken Marsala, sautéed in a decadent marsala wine and mushroom sauce; homemade ravioli with a choice of pesto, marinara or alfredo sauce; and the flavorful lasagne alle tre carni, featuring a collaboration of pork, beef and veal cutlets.
In sampling the chicken alfredo, the sauce was found to contain the perfect consistency and flavor combinations, working to highlight the nuances of the freshly grilled chicken and the al dente fettuccine.
Mailheau credited the high quality of the Chase Lounge’s cuisine to the owner’s affinity and appreciation for well-prepared food, as well as her attachment to her culture and family.
“The Chase was an extension of Sonia’s family and her upbringing. It’s an extension of her philosophy of giving people home-style cooking and friendly atmosphere,” Mailheau explained. “Food is a very sacred and spiritual part of her culture and the restaurant was a way for her to give that comfort and healing to the community.”
In keeping with the Chase’s slogan of “where locals are celebrities,” patrons can customize their meals freely and choose from a broad array of vegetarian selections on the menu if they so choose.
For friendly service, a superb meal and an intimate dining experience, visit the Chase Restaurant & Lounge, open for lunch and dinner Sunday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Friday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
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Aldos Italian Restaurant
1031 State St.
Price: $10 and up
You’ve probably seen it on your way from Urban Outfitters to Blue Bee Luxury — Aldo’s Ristorante Italiano, a small restaurant with all the personal service and none of the awkwardness of a typical intimate café. Located in a building that’s been around since 1857, Aldo’s location is an official city landmark in the National Register of Historic Places. It’s spot in the heart of State Street, close to American Apparel, makes it the ideal destination after a long day of shopping. Sit down in its traditionally decorated dining room or its heated courtyard area and get ready to be swept away.
John Molnar, manager of Aldo’s, says he loves working at the restaurant.
“I’m kind of an outgoing person, and it’s nice that I get to come to work and see and talk to different people every day,” he said.
Lunchtime is a great time to stop by. To start off, sample what Aldo’s has to offer with an appetizer of mussels — fresh, local SB mussels, sautéed to perfection in white wine and various herbs and spices — and prepare to be wowed. If you’re in need of something a little more substantial, order the BLT pizza, made with mozzarella cheese, garlic butter, bacon, lettuce and tomato. The ravioli with sage and shrimp — a Portobello-stuffed ravioli in a delicious mixture of garlic butter with sage and shrimp — will also content even the most discerning gourmands.
If you prefer meatless dishes, Aldo’s has one of the best selections in Santa Barbara. The Caprese is a great place to start. Then try moving on to the Raviolo Rosa, which features cheese ravioli, artichoke hearts, olives and sun-dried tomatoes in a tomato cream sauce.
And don’t just go for the food — Aldo’s is doing a variety of things that are good for the environment, the economy, and the less fortunate.
“We try to shop at farmer’s markets as much as possible for local produce,” Molnar said. “We’re using fair-trade coffee; we’re on a pilot program for recycling with the city, so basically we have about one bag of garbage a day… We’re switching to using local water; eliminating our carbon footprint by not importing things from around the world.”
The restaurant also has what it calls its 10-percent Tuesday — almost every month, the owners pick a local, non-profit organization and give 10 percent of what the restaurant makes on every Tuesday of that month to the organization.
The atmosphere of the place is small and classic, but fun: The staff encourages patrons to stare scornfully at people who are talking on their phones in the restaurant. The wait staff and chefs are also very accommodating and cater to all types of people.
“We have one vegan dish,” Molnar said. “It’s the eggplant agroducle, and if people have allergies or things like that, they can just tell us and we can usually accommodate them.”
They are happy to fix meals according to the Atkins no-carb diet, other special low-carb diets or the normal, screw-it-all high-carb diet. There are already many options for vegetarians, but the restaurant can also change an existing dish for you herbivores by simply making it sans meat. Aldo’s also features an extensive wine list for those lucky legals out there.
Whether you’re looking to relax with just a glass of wine after a stressful day of spending all your hard-earned money, wolf down an entire three-course meal or share a coffee and slice of tiramisu with your romantic partner after a movie, Aldo’s is the perfect choice.