Having mastered several subsets of Chinese cuisine, the chefs at China Pavilion couldn't fit all their entrees onto a single menu. So they created three: one with America's popular staples, one brimming with traditional platters, and one showcasing chef specialties. The first lines up dishes that are now familiar—sweet 'n' sour chicken and mongolian beef—as well as recognizable feasts served in new ways, such as the peking duck wrapped in crepes. More traditional and exotic options abound on the Chinese menu, such as pickled cabbage and pork noodle soup, or spicy king crabmeat sprinkled with basil and served in a clay pot. The chefs’ selections, meanwhile, range from classic to experimental: strips of Angus beef sizzle in oyster sauce, and garlic-pepper salt coats Alaskan halibut in a wok. China Pavilion’s full cocktail bar balances meals with citrusy sips of sour plum martinis, and on weekends, visitors can drop by for a dim-sum brunch that leaves tongues more satisfied than an astronaut wearing Moon Boots.
When Don Disraeli and his wife, Randee, turned their attention to seafood retail in 1983, they considered more than their love of tasty fish. Drawing upon his PhD in Biology and her stint as a Scripps Institute of Oceanography researcher, the duo worked to ensure that each aspect of their business would be environmentally sustainable. Those standards are still upheld today, as Kanaloa Seafood remains one of the only North American and European seafood companies environmentally certified by the International Organization of Standardization.
Environmentally responsible fisheries supply the Disraelis with sushi-grade fish, which cutters clean and slice behind large viewing windows at Kanaloa Seafood’s Santa Barbara and Napa storefronts. The succulent cuts are then sustainably packaged inside recyclable corrugated boxes. Every Monday to Friday, guests can procure fish ranging from wild-caught black cod to Hawaiian ahi tuna. Patrons who are unsure of what to pick from the vast assortment will be greeted by a knowledgable staff member who will assist in picking out an ideal choice. Kanaloa Seafood also distributes a variety of marinades, rubs, oils, and sauces, as well as prepared dishes from the staff chef.
At Zagat-rated Seagrass, chef Robért Perez prepares coastal cuisine with seafood sustainably fished from the Pacific Ocean. Top-shelf ingredients get a creative twist in entrees such as jumbo diver scallops with apple-smoked bacon, wilted rainbow chard, and a vanilla-and-cardamom-infused sauce. At times, Perez creates a fresh culinary experience by fusing cooking methods. The Muscovy duck breast, for example, is both seared and smoked, and the black cod is sautéed before being poached in butter. An abundant wine list, representative of Santa Barbara's diverse wine country, keeps pairing from becoming a tiresome chore like washing the dishes or organizing all the kids’ sweaters by mouthfeel. Inside the dining room, the eponymous seagrass covers the walls, and vaulted ceilings soften conversational sounds.
Given its proximity to East Beach and Stearns Wharf, it’s no surprise that Santa Barbara FisHouse often serves up local, seasonal seafood. When its available, diners can order locally acquired crustaceans such as spiny lobster or Dungeness crab, or sample the imported flavor of certified Maine lobster. The regular menu touts fish transformed by inventive ingredients—macadamia nuts and creamy pineapple sauce envelop baked halibut, and sesame seeds and crispy wontons encrust a cut of Hawaiian mahi mahi. Patrons can choose to take their meals in the dining room or grab a table on the outdoor patio, which is warmed by an open fire pit and the hungry exhalations of jealous passersby.
From its perch at the end of Stearns Wharf, Santa Barbara Shellfish Company looks over the rolling ocean waters where much of its menu originates. Established more than three decades ago as a buying station for locally caught seafood and a rumor mill for the whereabouts of the kraken, the restaurant was a natural outgrowth of the market. Today, chefs turn the sea’s bounty into specialties that range from ceviche and oysters rockefeller to cioppino—a medley of crab legs, shrimp, scallops, clams, and mussels in a bread bowl. The culinary explorers also embrace the seasonality of aquatic life, filling their menu with timely dishes of local delicacies, such as spiny lobster and dungeness crab, as well as catches shipped from afar, such as Alaskan king crab and Maine lobster.