Dinner at Toma – May 5, 2014

Toma is pretty new to the Santa Barbara culinary scene. It’s got all the bells and whistles of a promised staple in this great dining area. Savor these exquisite Italian and Mediterranean dishes from Santa Barbara’s seasonal bounty. With its nice wharf views and romantic atmosphere; it is a real treat for your senses.

Toma Restaurant and Bar is the new waterfront bistro in the former location of Emilio’s, located along Santa Barbara’s picturesque Cabrillo Blvd. There is something special about this place you can’t put your finger on. It’s something remarkable yet innocent. The flavors, the attention to detail, the fine locally sourced ingredients all make you feel like you have experienced something truly remarkable.

There is great art on every wall by master painter America Martin from Los Angeles that compliments this bright interior. The light fixtures are Art Nouveau style, and the tables are lined with formal white tablecloths. The space is filled with a sense of romance, perfect for a special date night.

Here’s what I tried:

Grilled Octopus- Romanesco, Fregola, Smoked Tomato, Salmon Roe. The Octopus was very tender and huge. It was very good.

Steamed Clams- Chorizo, butter beans, sofrito, black kale, Harissa Aioli and crostini. Kind of a Portuguese dish, but with a Mediterranean kick.

Squash Blossoms- Goat Cheese, Preserved lemon, and pine nut stuffed, citronette and peas. This is absolutely a cut above similar squash blossom dishes. It’s not deep-fried and it has so much more flavor this way.

Flat Bread
House Smoked Guanciale – Burrata, Balsamic caramelized onion, soft egg, arugula and olive oil. Smoldering hints of pork, guanciale is after all cured pigs jowl. The melting of all these glorious elements and the egg on top is very non-traditional for flat bread but it really works.

Gnocchi- Rock Shrimp, dried tomato fava bean, roasted garlic, black truffle butter. I always want to try Gnocchi when I do these tastings and this one did not disappoint.

Lasagne- Braised beef and pork ragu, spinach fresh ricotta and mozzarella, Parmesan. It’s so much more then your typical lasagna. There are so many layers and it is piled very high. This is definitely a true keeper.

Capellini- Garlic grilled white prawns “Scampi Style” Heirloom tomato, basil, Olive oil. This is another one of my favorites. These are huge prawns, and they are introduced with the capellini in a very special way.

Cioppino- Fresh Fish, crab, prawns, scallop, Calamari, mussels, clams, saffron, tomato broth. This is a great rendition of an Italian staple. The fish is right off the boat and the sauce is yummy.

Braised Short Rib- Whipped potato, red onion confit, natural jus, and arugula and lemon oil. This is the best dish that I tasted. It is so rich and heavy, but the short rib just falls right off the bone.

Lobster Roe Ricotta Dumplings- Rock shrimp, garlic, basil, ramps, and tendrils. This is a very different dish. Not what you’d expect. There is no lobster to see, but instead the roe is mixed in with the dumpling batter making this a very good dish. Nice gentle textures will swim in your palate and make you feel something you never felt in your mouth before.

Duck- Pan roasted spiced breast, pea tendril, black lentils, light jus raspberry puree. It’s kind of sweet; the duck was cooked with the utmost care and is truly a different take on traditional duck.

Specialty Cocktails

Toma Martini- Tito’s American vodka, classic style served with a toma cheese stuffed olive. This is a great rendition of my all time stand by.

Tuscan Pear- Grey Goose La Poire, Ventura limoncello king’s ginger liqueur, orange juice and mint. Refreshing, but bold. It’s pinched with an elegant touch, with all of these great ingredients in one drink.

The Local- Square One Cucumber Vodka, strawberries, basil leaves, agave nectar, drizzle balsamic reduction. They serve this in a proper martini glass and the balsamic looks like coral you would find in the ocean, It’s an art piece in itself.

White Wines
Sauvignon Blanc – Brander, “Mesa Verde Vineyard”, Santa Ynez Valley 2012. This is a very fruity and light Sauvignon Blanc. It went well with the Burrata.

Chardonnay – Sanford “Flor De Campo”, Santa Barbara County 2010. I like this wine with the meaty Octopus; it has just enough floral flavors to match well with this dish.

Chardonnay – Lafond, Sta Rita Hills, Santa Barbara County 2012. I would drink this wine with the Cioppino and the great seafood in it.

Chardonnay – River Bench Estate, Santa Maria Valley, 2012, smooth with a nice buttery taste. I would pair this one with the Cappellini and prawns.

Toscana – Antinori, Le Maestrelle Italy 2012. I liked this wine with the Portuguese and clams, just the right amount of zest to match this lovely dish.

Pinot Noir – Babcock, Sta Rita Hills, Santa Barbara County 2012

Pinot Noir – Cargasacchi, Jalama Estate Vineyard, Santa Barbara County, 2011. I would try this one with
Pinot Noir; it just blended the nice rich characteristics of the wine.

Cabernet Sauvignon – Justin, Paso Robles. No questions asked, just order this one with the Short Rib. You will thank me!

Syrah – Jaffurs, Santa Barbara County 2011. Do this one with the duck, it’s bold and has great cherry taste, the duck is sweet, and the one goes perfectly with the sweet nuances.

Owners Tom and Vicki have created a friendly, fun, mouth-watering experience that will surprise almost all local Santa Barbara foodies. Vicky came from the hotel industry working at The Four Seasons as a food and beverage manager, while Tom worked at Emilio’s. A lot of the employees came from the previous long standing restaurant Emilio’s that was housed in the same space. You can tell that everyone down to the bus boys are eager to please and have lots of past restaurant experience. I felt coddled and in the lap of all the luxury that Toma has offered me.

Their clientele is very interesting. In the summer they have sixty percent tourists, and in the winter they have sixty percent locals. Lots of couples, dates, and families were enjoying their great meals.

Chef Nat Ely, from the Seattle area worked at Emilio’s in the early 90s. He also worked at The Los Olivos Café during the “Sideways” movie explosion, as well as some jobs for Wolfgang Puck. His genius is in every little detail and melding of all of the lovely ingredients.

My fantastic waiter David started as a busser so he is so knowledgeable about the wine list and the preparation of all of the menu items. He told me I had to try a half bottle of the most amazing Pinot Noir on the planet, a 5 generation Colama Carcasacchi Pinot Noir, which totally stole the wine tasting show. It worked with every dish and was amazing! My Pinot Noir taste buds will never be the same!!

All of the food was outstanding! There was not one thing that I did not like and I would highly recommend this sparkling gem up there with all of the romantic standards in the Santa Barbara region.

Toma Restaurant & Bar
324 West Cabrillo Blvd.
Santa Barbara, CA 93101


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