Cream of the Crop
Caruso’s plant-based menu is upscale and down-to-earth.
Written by Emma McDonnell | Photographs by Silas Fallstich
Many look to Rosewood Miramar Beach for a seaside getaway. But for those of us who live in Santa Barbara and seek a one-night culinary experience on the coast; enter Caruso’s. I teeter across the Rosewood’s train track crossing, step down the white stairs and edge closer to the ocean. I meet my dinner date for a 7 p.m. reservation and we are seated on the beachfront patio as the sun dips into the ocean, leaving us with a picturesque view of the Pacific.
The minute we sit down, I feel as though I am embarking on a culinary voyage. Our waiter comes over, presents menus and suggests the plant-based tasting menu accompanied by wine pairings. Some tend to associate plant-based with earthy, mundane dishes with little to no flavor. Yet this wellness trend is gaining momentum, as it’s credited with numerous health benefits, and is constantly being reinvented in innovative ways. As a vegetarian myself, this is a no brainer. No contemplation necessary as the menu is already perfectly thought out!
Before the first dish arrives, we are brought a sampler of beets and a glass of Prosecco to begin the night. The beets, rich and fresh in their burgundy color, melt in my mouth as the airy bubbles of the Prosecco sparkle in the candlelight; a wonderful precursor to our meal.
The Antipasto arrives: Salsify Velluta composed of mint, almond, lemon, and topped with polenta croutons. I take my first bite and immediately, the polenta croutons are engulfed by the rich and creamy soup. The tangy lemon seeps through and tingles my tastebuds. This dish is paired with a delicious 2018 Les Roi des Pierres from Sancerre, Loire Valley, France whose citrus undertones complement the lemon in the Salsify Velluta.
Finishing up my last spoonfuls of the creamy delight, I take in my surroundings. Elegance radiates from the rich decor as staff in sharp attire attend to the guests; reminiscent of a scene straight out of a sophisticated Old Hollywood movie. It’s a full house tonight and the atmosphere is electric. Each table is outfitted with florals and a tea-light, adding to the eloquent, intimate ambiance.
Next, the Insalata arrives; Pixie Tangerine and Treviso. Placed in front of me is a plate full of color which embodies the upcoming, fruitful summer. The dish is incredibly refreshing as the tangy sherry balsamic vinaigrette soothes the crunch of the walnuts and apple butter. It’s paired with a 2017 Tatomer “Paragon” from San Luis Obispo County and the fruity apple and peach notes appeal the bite of the dressing.
I can't wait for the next course as I was eagerly eyeing the Mushroom Tortelli Cacio e Pepe on the menu; I am obsessed with the simple yet flavorful composition of cheese, black pepper and pasta. I have to admit, I’m a bit skeptical of how this dish would take an alternative approach to such a classic, established recipe. Rather than incorporating dairy, Chef Masimo’s plant-based approach uses house cultured cashew cheese, leaving me absolutely speechless and unable to tell the difference between this alternative cheese and the real thing. My dinner date agrees, the dish tastes completely like real cheese! We sip our 2017 Flowers Chardonnay from Sonoma Country which has a lovely creaminess and balances the flavors of the pasta.
Chef Massimo comes over to our table right before dessert to see how our experience has been so far. We discuss how he is approaching his 70th day of a purely vegan diet, which he credits to making him feel great. I too agree, there are countless benefits to a plant-based diet and reducing one’s meat consumption. Following some banter, his departure brings the arrival of Coconut Panna Cotta. The accompanying icy sorbet and the pink grapefruit melt the meringue in each bite, leaving a cool aftertaste which is coupled with fruity hints of honey and peach in the 2013 Royal Tokaji 5 Puttonyos, Tokaji Aszu from Hungary.
Last, but certainly not least, our final bites are brought out; two rounds consisting of dates and Mexican chocolate. These small yet decadent delights are a sweet end-note to my seaside getaway. As I look out across the ocean, the sea glistens in the moonlight and I reflect on my luscious meal. Caruso’s captures plant-based cuisine in an innovative and noteworthy way. As an avid seeker of plant-based alternatives, I leave feeling pleasantly surprised. I never imagined that a plant-based tasting menu could exist. Yet, Caruso’s challenges conventional perspectives around fine dining, proving that plant-based can be luxurious, elevated, and classy.