A Bird’s Eye View
The reinvented menu at Finch & Fork is an ode to local regions
Written by Eileen Bettinger | Photographs by Jordan Donohoe
As I’m driving through Hope Ranch during my final weeks in Santa Barbara, the vibrant medley of the Central Coast suddenly reveals itself in clear harmony. This is the sweet spot between surf and countryside, where light-strung patios, blue cliff sides, and curtains of bougainvillea are sewn together along the seam of tide and sand. Above me, eucalyptus trees whir through the frame of my sunroof like a film reel. Patches of light seep through the leafy canopy and with it come uplifted spirits and distilled serenity. Among these recent moments of ephemeral bliss is my visit to Finch & Fork, the reimagined dining concept beaming from the corner of Kimpton Canary Hotel.
Bobbing up and down in a newly upholstered booth, I sip on a poppy-red aperitif while tracing the room with my eyes. Using cascades of summer evening light as a guide, my gaze lingers on the table I shared with my dad four years ago. I swirl around the crushed rose petals in my drink, dubbed the Rosefinch, and try to remember what the space once looked like. Leather benches and red wine come to mind, trailed by dark wood accents and rich decaf coffee for dessert. The memory’s details are fuzzy, to say the least, but it stands out as a fond one, triggering my excitement upon returning for a second meal. The renovated space is strikingly brighter, accentuated by white linen curtains and elegant moulding on the ceiling. Dark finishings have been swapped for brass accents and sage green chairs while a mid-century modern touch maintains sophistication with inviting softness.
In an instant, the scent of truffle oil diffuses around our booth as if to rally the senses of nearby occupants. Blended with cashew cream my first spoonful of the White Sweet Potato Soup is nutty, savory, and sweet all at the same time. Flecks of espelette bring the richer flavors into focus with each sip like an energizing yet nurturing kiss. Paired with our soup is the Kenter Farms Kale Salad. Glistening under a sherry vinaigrette and dusted with fresh parmesan, crunchy leaves are tossed with paper-thin apple slices, manchego, and red onion. The sharpness of these flavors balances that of the soup, rounding off a wonderfully fresh, summer-honoring start to our evening.
We advance our meal with the F&F Deviled Eggs, a dish I recall loving from my last visit and the newer rendition of which I have been anticipating eagerly. When the plate arrives I look down at one of the most colorful presentations I’ve ever seen. Each arrangement consists of bright green chives, pickled shallots, and a small maple pork belly pad cushioned by the yellow filling. All of this is cradled in a festive pink half moon, which I’m told is created by marinating the eggs in beet juice. The eggs are pretty enough to order over and over again, even if they only tasted like average Fourth of July hors d'oeuvres. I’m delighted to report, however, that they taste as good as they look. A smokey maple glaze paired with the pungent taste of mustard is my favorite moment of synergy here but the entire bite is how I would define a “burst of flavor.” I would later attempt to recreate the dish at home, even pickling my own shallots, but of course to no avail.
A mini cast iron skillet of buttermilk fried chicken joins the table next to our now empty plate. Nestled together in a bed of potato puree, each piece of meat is drizzled with hot honey sauce and each bite possesses a delicate crispness. Such a dish reflects the eclectic taste of Finch & Fork’s executive chef, Craig Riker whose culinary approach is informed by his world travels. In this recipe, he explains that he wanted to incorporate Southern flavors with locally sourced ingredients, not only highlighting Santa Barbara’s refined harvest but also demonstrating its inventive range. Such a thoughtful addition to the menu exemplifies the way that Finch & Fork celebrates Californian agriculture in an elevated yet approachable fashion. Hope Ranch mussels and a Niman Ranch pork chop are balanced by comforting sides like Mac and Cheese. Enhanced with everything from cajun spices to Japanese chili to coconut curry broth, classic dishes seem to both welcome me home while also acknowledging culturally variant definitions of belonging.
We enter the intermission in dining characterized by radiant repletion. As I await a small serving of churros to top it all off, a patchwork essence of the American Riviera emerges once again. The sentiments of terracotta rooftops and colorful archway murals are summoned by the creative and thoughtful flavor profiles in my meal. There always seems to be music playing wherever I am in Santa Barbara–here a saxophone plays gently outside my window and the Finch’s song calls back in gratitude.