Downey’s: Best Restaurant in Santa Barbara?

Carol w/ Liz Downey

John Downey knew that he wanted to become a chef at the age of 12 in his native England.

By the time he was 16, John was attending cooking school and working in local restaurants. At 19 he was cooking for Britain’s Queen Elizabeth aboard her namesake ocean liner QE2 while seeing the world. In 1972 John settled down in New York and learned the finer points of classic French cuisine while working at one of that city’s best restaurants; Lafayette.

An invitation to join the “New American” food movement put him working under the advisory of James Beard at the World Trade Center’s “Market Dining Rooms”. Freshness was key. It was very good food. A passion was ignited in New York and Chef Downey was compelled to travel to California where so much of that good food was produced.

Arriving in Santa Barbara in 1978, John brought his years of experience; English, French Nouvelle, New American and commenced a seachange of fine dining in Santa Barbara.

Downey’s Restaurant: #1 Zagat Rated for Food in Santa Barbara

Twenty-nine years later, Chef Downey’s cuisine is consistently rated #1 by Zagat with an “extraordinary to perfection” rating!

We arrived at Downey’s Restaurant on a Tuesday night to a packed house.  The restaurant was intimate and inviting with the walls ornamented by Liz Downey’s beautiful plein-aire paintings of local Santa Barbara scenes.  There’s clearly a lot of talent in the Downey household.

Liz made us comfortable and throughout the night she was a welcomed companion and host to everyone in the restaurant.  We really like it when the owner’s personal touch is present.  It adds a wonderful and completely different element to the experience.

We asked Liz to take care of our wine parrings throughout the night, and for our appetizers she brought us Fresh Local Crab Salad (hawaiian papaya, pine nuts, and ginger-lime dressing) and Lobster & Angelhair Salad (asparagus, sundried tomatoes, olives, basil).  Wow! What a wonderful start to our evening.  Both were outstanding!

For our second courses, Carol enjoyed a Watercress, Spinach & Endive Salad (tom’s strawberries & roasted hazelnuts), while I greatly, and I mean greatly reveled in the refreshing tastes of Chilled “Early Girl” Tomato Soup (two basils).

It has only been of late that I have learned to appreciate the distinctly different delicacy that a chilled soup can bring to the palette.  Clearly, many of my early unfortunate experiences with chilled soups were not prepared with the skills of Chef John.  It’s nearing lunchtime here in Arizona, and my mouth is now watering for another bowl.

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Note:  click on photographs for large versions and available slideshow.

We were now ready for main courses.  We had a difficult time choosing from the wonderful options available, but Carol chose Natural Veal Loin (with oyster, mushrooms, sundried tomatoes, and fettuccini with spinach).   Gadzooks!  Carol was stabbing me with her fork as I was continually invading her space with my fork!  Bravo!

Now, lest you are tempted to feel sorry for me, please know that I ordered Chef Downey’s signature Colorado Lamb Loin (with shiitakes, tom’s green beans, roast potatoes and rosemary).  Oh. My. Word! What a sublime thing it is to luxuriate one’s taste buds in the hands of a master.  Tender. Savory, Perfection.  I want more.

I wish it were possible to email another plate to me here in Scottsdale.   Smile

As we sat back in our chairs to relish the last few sips of our local rhone varietals, away went our plates, and out came our waitress with a knowing smile on her face with a cheese plate with Manchego (a spanish cheese made w/ sheep’s milk) and Stilton (a strong, rich cheese originally from england).  Now parred with white wines, our palates went on another completely different savory journey.  What fun and complete yumminess!

As our waistlines were beginning to communicate finality to our gastronomical journey.  However, Liz let us know that there was no way we were taking flight without sampling their famous French Milles-Feuilles (puff pastry, white chocolate, cream cheese, raspberries).

Oh, the glories of a fulfilled sweet-tooth.  And, oh the glories of such a delicate pastry with a piping-hot cup of espresso!

The absolute perfect encore to an absolutely perfect gastronomical experience.



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Disclosure: our wonderful dining experience was provided by the kind folks at the Downey’s Restaurant.  Thanks! 

4 Responses to “Downey’s: Best Restaurant in Santa Barbara?”
  1. Julian says:

    Place is really good, but not the best in Santa Barbara, but definitely in the top 5.

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  1. […] Downey’s Restaurant – consistently tops with Zagat.  We loved it! […]

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