Dinner at Blue Tavern – May 4, 2014 & Dinner at Picca – May 22, 2014

Santa Barbara is not aware of what a wonderful culinary addition they have in Blue Tavern, modern Peruvian cuisine. This restaurant is new to Santa Barbara with three sister restaurants in Los Angeles. This is by far the best new dining experience that Santa Barbara has seen in a very long time. Lots of restaurants in this area come and go, but Blue Tavern is here to stay.

At the helm of new eating-place Blue Tavern is renowned Chef Ricardo Zarate. Chef Zarate also owns Picca, Mo-Chica, Picca, and now Blue Tavern. Chef Ricardo Zarate serves as an ambassador of Peruvian cuisine in the U.S. and has earned praise from critics across the country for his inventive dishes that highlight the country’s multicultural influences, such as their signature Japanese flavors. The 2011 Food & Wine magazine called chef Zarate “Best New Chef.” “I feel privileged that I’ve been able to introduce Americans to Peruvian food,” he says. “I’ve found what excites guests the most about my food are the flavor profiles: spicy and sour, savory and sweet, new and familiar—all at the same time.”

As one of 13 siblings, he first started cooking at his childhood home in Lima, Peru where he learned cooking techniques from his mother and grandmother. He went on to attend his hometown’s top culinary school, Instituto de las Américas, after which he headed to London to practice his craft. Zarate worked in London for 12 years with various positions at top restaurants and hotels, including One Aldwych, Gordon Ramsey Pengelly’s, and noted Japanese restaurant Zuma. It was at the latter that Zarate perfected his style of integrating French and Japanese techniques and products with the flavors from his native country.

In 2009 Zarate opened Mo-Chica in Downtown Los Angeles at Mercado la Paloma. A year later, he launched his pop-up restaurant, Test Kitchen. In 2011, Zarate introduced the Peruvian-Japanese restaurant Picca, which got recognized as one of GQ’s “Best New Restaurants” and a Condé Nast Traveler “Hot Table,” all within its first year of operation. In 2012 he moved Mo-chica to its current location in the heart of downtown Los Angeles. In spring 2013, Zarate opened his third restaurant Paiche in Marina del Rey. Then in 2013 Zarate branched outside of Los Angeles for the first time, where he opened his fourth restaurant Blue Tavern, a Cali-Peruvian style cuisine that blends traditional Peruvian ingredients with California based dishes located right in the heart of downtown Santa Barbara. Chef Ricardo Zarate is also a Three-Time James Beard Nominee.

The interior is reminiscent of a New England chowder bar, and it’s close proximity to the beach serves as the perfect backdrop to the restaurant. The Blue Tavern is sprinkled with very clean linen with blue accents featuring Latin inspired music that helps create a casual fun atmosphere.

Here’s what I tried:

Seared Albacore, Rocoto Leche De Tigre, Ponzu, Sesame Oil, Crispy Quinoa. What a wonderful way to get your taste buds engaged, this will make all of your senses pop.

Yellowtail Tiradito, Aji Amarillo Soy Dressing, Sesame Sauce, Sweet Potato. You would never think of this combination working, but miraculously it does, especially the sweet potatoes.

Diver Scallop Salad, Aioli, Wasabi Peas, Wild Arugula, Granny Smith Apples, Walnuts. Well what can I say; scallops all gussied up with all these creative ingredients, oh my goodness! It’s all of my favorite ingredients in one dish. The Scallop Salad scallops are plump yet tender and the apples just makes the dish all the more special. What an accomplishment.

Seafood Risotto, Tomato Aji Panca, Carnaroli Rice, Cilantro. The risotto is very fragrant, and the seafood is so fresh and perfect, a great example of how good risotto can be.

Grilled Half Mary’s Chicken with French fries, iceberg lettuce salad. The chicken has the most amazing seasoning, very Latin but would work great for anyone.

Grilled Rib Eye Steak, anticucho marinated, potato tarte tatin, iceberg lettuce. The marinade is so special; the steak served is another fantastic choice. For the vegetarian this would become that special craving that you will want again and again.

The Dessert I tried:

Chocolate Molten Cake oozes with a fruit filling along side their divine homemade ice cream is so good you’ll want to cry.

Here are the drinks that I tried:

Pisco Sour, this drink is very popular now, it goes great with the Peruvian experience.

Palma Fizz is nice and fizzy and very light, a great way to get the party going.

Chardonnay – Summerland, Select Vintners, Santa Maria, California 2012. The sweet potatoes with the yellow tail are the way to go with this light, bright Chardonnay.

Chardonnay – Solomon Hills, Santa Maria Valley, California 2011. I would try this wine with scallops; it’s a real treat.

Syrah – Qupe, Central Coast, California 2011. No questions asked pair this one with the rib eye.

Malbec – Catena, Mendoza, Argentina 2011. I just love a good Malbec, and this is right up there. Try this with the rib eye as well.

Pinot Noir – Extraction, Santa Barbara County, California, 2012. This is the perfect wine with the Mary’s chicken; it lends itself to the bright flavors and pert seasonings.

Pinot Noir – Summerland, Bien Nacido Vineyard, Santa Maria Valley. This wine went well with grilled rib eye as well as the chicken.

Manager Eric Terry is from Leon France and is only 25 years young. For his tender age he has had lots of culinary experience. His career began at 14 in Leon France as a dishwasher at one of Leon’s famous restaurants. He has been at Blue Tavern for the past 5 months and says he misses Los Angeles a lot. Eric started at Paiche and worked from the bottom up. When he came to the Blue Tavern he did a reorganization of the staff and cleaned up what was someone else’s mess before him. He made a 360 degree turn around for the restaurant, and is now promising to be one of Santa Barbara newest hot spots. Eric and Chef Zarates relationship is flourishing. Eric says that Chef Zarate has commented on how great of a manager he is and how much he trusts him. He is also responsible for the great wine list here at Blue Tavern.

Executive Chef Alex Carrasco is 28 years young and has a beautiful 9 month old baby that I got to meet. He has only been in Santa Barbra for 9 months, and also worked at Paiche in Marina Del Rey. Before that he had some pretty high profile jobs one of which was at Bouchon with Thomas Keller. He says that no one has been doing the California-Peruvian style cooking. He says that they are not here to compete with other Santa Barbara restaurants; they want to be a part of the Santa Barbara culinary experience.

All of this lovely inspiration makes me want to get in my car and drive there for dinner right now. You will be hooked. What else can I say? Try Blue Tavern on your next visit to the lovely beach side paradise.

Blue Tavern
119 State Street,
Santa Barbara, CA 93101
(T) 805 845 0989.

Dinner at Picca – May 22, 2014

So after dining at Blue Tavern I called Picca, and marketing director Rachel gladly invited me to doing another tasting at their sister restaurant. Although it’s the same chef, Picca has more of a Japanese slant on the food. You could tell by the unique presentation that everything had an Asian twist to it.

Here’s what I tried:

Causa Bar:
Snow Crab: Huancaina sauce, avocado moussa. This is Peruvian sushi, with a potato mound replacing the rice, all I can say is WOW!

Crispy Ceviche Causa: sea bass, rocoto leche de tigre, Japanese cucumbers. So with this menu item the potato is deep fried, you get this great crispy texture and the cold raw sea bass, what a great combination.

Anticucho Corazon: Beef heart, rocoto-walnut pesto. Not for the faint of heart, but it’s pretty delicious all the same.

Costillitas, baby back ribs, rocoto-chancaca BBQ, and coleslaw rustic. It was such a unique take on a very popular dish. The ribs were so soft they melted in your mouth and came right off the bone.

Uni Scallop Tiradito: diver scallop, sea urchin leche de tigre. The scallops pop in your mouth with just the right amount of everything, perfectly balanced.

Salmon Tiradito: rocoto ponzu, spicy orange miso, crispy quinoa, Japanese cucumbers. The salmon is fresh from the ocean, and the sauce is a little on the sweet side, one of my favorites.

Anticucho Black Cod: Miso anitchucho, crispy sweet potato. This was served on a stick with a nice tangy twist and had really great consistent flavor throughout.


Oysters a La Chalaca: pan-fried oysters, salso criolla, rocoto leche de tigre. The presentation is enough to make you cry tears of joy, and the there is a nice freshness to the oysters.

Arroz Con Erizo: Peruvian paella, seafood medley, sea urchin sauce. The overall flavor is fishy, but once you find out that it’s a sea urchin sauce you are awestruck. This is a creative and brilliant showstopper.

Vanilla Bean Pisco Flan, creamy, luscious, a great way to end my glorious meal.

Churros, probably the best Churros you’ll ever eat.

Here are the wines and cocktails that I liked:

Fillaboa, Albarino, Rias Baixas, Spain 2012. Light and sort of sparkly, it paired great with any of the raw fish dishes.

Siete Fincas, Sauvignon Blanc, Mendoza, Argentina 2013. This wine went great with the oysters; it enhanced the sweet and sour flavors.

Errazuirz, Chardonnay “wild ferment,” Casablance Valley, Chile 2011. I liked this Chardonnay style wine with the paella, it went great with all of the fish driven flavors.

Ritual: Pinot Noir, Casablanca Valley, Chile 2012. This wine complimented the sweetness in the Salmon.

Lo Nuevo: Tempranillo, Castilla y Leon, Spain 2010. This is a bazaar combination, but I would do it with the Cod.

A.R. Guentota: Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina 2010. Hands down the beef hearts worked the best with this glorious nectar.

Capcanes “Vall Del Calas”: Tempranillo, Garnacha, Merlot, Montsant, Spain 2009. Another weird choice but I liked this wine with the scallops, what can I say to each his own.

Enrique Foster: Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina 2008. Not a hard choice, again with the beef heart.

Here are the Cocktails that I tried:

Beets by J: citrus, beets, agave, tequila, and smoked salt. Not what you would expect, for me. I don’t particularly like beets, but this cocktail took my breath away. Sweet with a hint of beet flavor, I could drink this everyday.

Mr. Green (In the Garden with the Wrench): lemon, simple celery, grape spirit, and salt air. A little too herbal for my tastes, someone may like this.

Boots With the Fur: Oro Italia, Apple Jack, apple juice, Falernum, ginger, lemon, orgeat. This is a very fun drink with a great premise.

The Zarate Kid Part II (Curse of the Cobra Kai): egg white, lemon, blackbeery-serrano demi, Rum JM Blanc, yellow chartreuse, angostura. Light and lively, a good start to what promises to be an outstanding evening.

The Avocado Project with Banks 5 Island Rum, lime, agave, vitamin C, avocado. Very thick and heavy, with a hint of banana flavor even though it’s not part of the ingredient list.

Pisco Sour: Macchu Pisco, citrus, cane sugar, egg white, Angostura. I liked this cocktail the best. It is presented with a stamp of a big P in the surface, the logo for the restaurant and is very drinkable.

The staff is very friendly and you can tell they all love their jobs. The crowd features families, people on dates, and business colleagues. It was an attractive clean-cut city crowd, dressing up for their night out. There is an upstairs dining area, with an open kitchen. The chalkboard overhead gives you the specials as well as little correlated drawings. It is woodsy and rustic, but has an industrial urban vibe, with vintage light fixtures from the 60s.

At 7:30 the place was packed. The music is very ambient, highlighted with guitar instrumental, as well as Peruvian modern styles.

My Waitress Stephanie worked at Pink Taco and The Smith House. She has an infectious smile that lights up the whole room. Stephanie is an actress and has a Microsoft commercial running as we speak.

Whether you’re going to try Blue Tavern or stay close to home, try Picca. You will be in for an exciting new food experience. Go in with an open mind and try all of Picca’s beautiful bounty!

9575 W Pico Blvd,
Los Angeles, CA, US, 90035
(310) 277-0133


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