According to the golden rule of the modern world: if it can’t be found on Yelp or Google Maps, it doesn’t exist. However, a friend and I somehow managed to defy the fundamental laws of time and space by eating dinner at the elusive Sublime, a restaurant that recently opened at 901 N. Milpas Street in Santa Barbara.
Sublime had a soft opening at one of the more intriguing architectural feats of Santa Barbara, the old McConnell’s location which features a giant ceramic green and gold graffitied cow on the rooftop in plain view and fits roughly 50 people. Otherwise, the decor was modern, but essentially generic. Flames in tall, stylish space heaters and strings of lights tastefully tangled in small shrubbery lit a wide patio, encircled by a low metal fence. Inside, high blank walls were adorned with a couple stock paintings. All 15 or so square black tables were empty.
The hostess, a friendly twenty-something, seemed surprised to see us. She led us to a table outside, close to the street, and handed us thin, white paper menus with black print. Again, I was struck by the lack of decor, theme or color. While the menu featured predominantly Italian cuisine, it offered a variety of American, Indian and Mexican dishes as well. The appetizers varied from Naan bread with shaved parmesan and sea salt to nachos or deviled eggs.
As a broke, struggling college student, I was immediately turned off by the prices. Unable to find a website, a listed phone number or even a menu posted, I walked into the restaurant blind and without expectations. Naturally, I was disappointed to see the nacho appetizer listed at $14, or even the hot wings with ranch and organic celery listed for $9. While these prices are appropriate at a trendy French bistro on State Street, or a restaurant on the pier with a great ocean view, they were out of place on Milpas Street. The patio, far from secluded, opened up to random commercial businesses and an empty intersection. The decor, in my opinion, just did not compensate for the average location or justify the steep prices.
Remaining optimistic, I hoped the prices reflected the quality of the food. After all, the majority of the plates seemed to be healthy twists on classic dishes. For example, Sublime offered organic chips served with black beans, avocado, salsa and sour cream, and tortilla soup made with free-range chicken. At the top of the menu, there was a list of guaranteed organic ingredients featured in many of their dishes, such as milk, cherry tomatoes and strawberries. Additionally, the back of the menu offered an extensive list of wines and local craft beers.
A young, bubbly server greeted us at our table. Per our server’s recommendation, my friend and I decided to split the bruschetta appetizer ($11) and the sage chicken entrée ($22). The server assured us that the sage chicken was their largest plate, and would be more than enough food. She returned promptly with water, coffee and the small plate of bruschetta.
The presentation was elegant and simple. Six pieces of toasted bread were topped with diced tomato, garlic and organic basil, then drizzled with olive oil and aged balsamic vinegar. Biting into the bruschetta, I was instantly flooded with the powerful, almost spicy flavor of the aged balsamic. Crunchy, chewy and juicy, the bruschetta was texturally dynamic and delicious. The tomatoes and basil tasted fresh and flavorful. We quickly devoured the appetizer.
The server attentively cleared our plate and chatted amiably with us while she refilled our coffee and water. After, she disappeared to attend to another couple that had sat inside. We waited around 30 minutes until our server returned with our entrée.
Again, the presentation was tasteful and classic. Mozzarella and prosciutto were baked into a contour of a golden brown, boneless chicken breast garnished with a sprig of sage beside a mound of organic mashed potatoes, seasoned with garlic and sage. As promised, the serving was fairly large. The chicken was cooked extremely well; it was savory and tender. The flavor of sage, while apparent, wasn’t overpowering. The sharply salty and juicy mozzarella and prosciutto added a boost of flavor every few notes, and complemented the chicken’s subtle taste. The organic mashed potatoes were excellent as well. Their thin, creamy viscosity and delicate garlic flavor made for a light, delicious side to a hearty entrée.
While the diversity of organic offerings held promise for a dynamic meal rich with flavors from different cuisines, Sublime failed to present a cohesive vibe that unified the very different foods. The food and service were excellent, but the steep prices and mediocre location detracted from the experience. Hopefully with time this young restaurant can flourish through the sheer force of their delicious, diverse and organic cuisine.