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Santa Barbara

It’s been a while since I’ve visited California — the last time was a wonderful new year’s weekend in San Francisco in 2000 — so I was really looking forward to accompanying my husband on business to Santa Barbara. I’m not a huge fan of Southern California, but my friends assured me Santa Barbara was beautiful, relaxing, paradisical; in short, nothing like LA. Well, except for celebrities who have homes there — Kirk Douglas was on our plane, flying coach like everyone else since our little puddle-jumper didn’t have a first-class cabin.

I’m disappointed to say that catching a glimpse of the venerable Mr. Douglas has been the most exciting part of this trip so far. Santa Barbara is one of the more boring places I’ve visited, better than Gatlinburg, Tennessee but south of Baltimore. Sure, it’s beautiful — who doesn’t like palm trees — but the water is unswimmable, the downtown shops are no different than ones in any decent suburban mall, and pretty much everything shuts down around 9 pm.

There’s a surprising lack of interesting places to eat around here, which is odd since it’s smack in the middle of its eponymous wine country. Food and Wine magazine recommended L’Ombretta, a Venetian wine bar that sounded promising, but when we got there we discovered it was boarded up. Perhaps there’s not much demand for Italian wine here.

I decided to try Wine Cask instead, a highly regarded restaurant/wine bar/wine shop with an all-local wine list. I opted for the cafĂ© as opposed to the more formal restaurant, and had a smoked turkey club, truffle fries, and a glass of a pinot noir/merlot blend. (I forgot to take notes and the name completely escapes me.) The food was good and solid and the wine was soft, fruit-forward, and easy-drinking. A pleasant meal, overall; nothing earth-shattering, but that’s not the point of casual bistro fare.

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