DINING: Local Legends
Written by Anna Constantino
The scent of California red oak and floral notes permeate a garden oasis, adorned with vines and string lights. Dusk settles over Barbareño Restaurant as I sip on an apple jasmine hard kombucha and decide on my evening’s tastings. Each dish on the menu is astoundingly unique, as they are known for playing with and fusing flavors.
I opt for the Market Crudo to start; a visually-stunning rainbow of bluefin tuna, avocado, watermelon radish, and garlic foam, finished with a garnish of sprouts and their signature yellow flower petal. A green gazpacho dotted with chili oil is delicately poured over the crudo adding a refreshing touch. I disassemble the perfectly layered pieces and go in for a bite, resulting in an explosion of flavor. The buttery tuna combined with the tang and spice of the gazpacho, along with the fixings, makes for an outstanding starter.
Next, two halves of an avocado are placed before me, filled with ponzu, dusted with shaved horseradish and avocado salt, and smeared with a yuzu mousse. Truthfully, I did not know what to expect from the Grilled Avocado, but it did not disappoint. The charring of red oak paired with the citrus and salty elements of yuzu and ponzu, respectively, make for an exceptional bite evoking East Asian influence. The house-made sourdough fresh out the oven immediately follows, to which my server playfully comments, “In California, you can’t eat avocado without toast.” I scrape the crusty bread through the yuzu and ponzu collecting every last drop.
I venture onto the Acorn Tagliatelle, a homage to the culinary significance of acorns, an important staple in the native Chumash diet. The pasta is a classic tagliatelle with a twist, using ground acorn producing a nutty flavor and rich brown color. The dish incorporates wild mushrooms, charred onions and asparagus, and herbs, brought together by a charred oak broth. Chef Julian Martinez has achieved the perfect balance of a dish that is hearty and abundant while maintaining a light freshness.
My plates are swept away and traded for the finale of the evening: the Baked California, a striking play on a baked Alaska. The deviation? The torched meringue is infused with OG Kush terpenes, making for an extra relaxing end to my meal. A tower of hop cake, mango and basil semifreddo, and meringue sit on a bed of citrus, sprinkled with candied lavender pine nuts. The seeds are a floral dream, adding a juxtaposing crunch to the creamy baked dessert. Before the semifreddo has a chance to melt, the dish is devoured.
I sip on my post-dinner Vermouth, and relish in the soothing atmosphere of the patio. Barbareño’s thoughtful attention to detail, in flavor and in presentation, truly makes for an unforgettable dining experience. They redefine California fare with exceptional flare, all the while incorporating local ingredients and traditional techniques.