For the food lovers among us, Top Chef Phillip Frankland Lee’s newest culinary venture, the intimate, eight-seat Silver Bough, located in Southern California’s historic Montecito Inn, is an utterly unforgettable experience. Without a doubt, this is no ordinary restaurant and no ordinary dinner. It is more like an academy award winning event by peak performing actors doing what they love, for those who love to eat.
The evening starts at 6:30 with a relaxing cocktail or glass of champagne in the hotel lobby. Shortly thereafter, guests are brought into a small room surrounded by deep red velvet floor-to-ceiling drapes in the center of which is a carved bough. Strategically placed and nearly camouflaged amid shiny large pebbles, are the evening’s canapés explained by the host. The evening I attended canapés were Wagyu tartare with black truffles, rye mousse with candied lemon peel and salmon roe within a sea green colored Matcha sponge cake.
As I was marveling over the culinary prelude’s unusual presentation, the velvet curtains dramatically opened to the big reveal: the smiling faces of Chef Lee, his wife Pastry Chef Margarita Lee, and Chefs Melissa Esposito, Danielle Van Steen and Sam Nuckols, all standing behind a gorgeous 16-foot slab counter of storm cloud colored Brazilian Quartzite, backed by Italian Carrera marble, accessorized with Michael Aram cutlery and kitchen accouterments.
We then embarked on what can best be described as a journey of delectable performance art, traveling with experts involved from start to finish, commencing with the sea, going next to land, then ending with lightly sweet.
Appetizers of sturgeon caviar with hazelnut cream and smoked eel paired with a Wenzlau Blanc de Blanc and spiny lobster tartare with sea urchin and puffed quinoa served with an outstanding Shiratake Junmai Daiginjo Sake beautifully set the stage for the feat to follow.
Lightly warmed Golden Eye Snapper with fermented Matsutake mushrooms had a firm, yet silky texture that exploded in a combustion of ginger and lime.
Ending the sea portion of the dining experience, grilled king crab served with gooseberries and sea urchin emulsion was delicately balanced by microscopic sourdough breadcrumbs and fresh local dill. Pairing it with a 2013 Val de Mer Grand Cru Chablis was perfection.
While the first several courses had both sea urchin and lobster components, nothing was remotely repetitive despite having the same constituent elements. Each course was unique and deliciously stood alone.
The land portion started with venison tenderloin seared with butter-roasted chanterelles. This was placed next to a pigeon egg and black truffles, then doused with a rich pigeon ‘tea.’ Accompanied by a 2013 Pelissero Barbaresco, this divine venison dish obliterated my childhood aversion to all things relative to Bambi.
The Santa Barbara King Squab breast with pistachio crust and roasted beet was another marvel, complimented by a 2014 Bruno Clair Premier Cru La Dominode. Wanting more, happily Chef Lee offered guests a squab leg with black truffles.
Next came the deliciously earthy venison loin with blue foot mushrooms and Tokyo turnips. The long cherry after notes of the 2015 Georges Vernay Cote-Rotie suited the dish to a tee.
Wagyu sashimi with pink pepper skins debuted just before the mouthwatering Wagyu Ribeye with more black truffles, served amid a tiny dollop of creamy, pureed potatoes. And since as Chef Lee reminded us, “No Ribeye can be served without a salad,” he presented us with a small place of gem lettuce and candied pecans. The violet, chocolaty tones of the 2015 Larkmead Cabernet were an ideal match.
Then it was Chef Margarita Lee’s turn. Starting with a citrus tea emulsion, followed by a duck liver mousse and strawberry granita, a Chamomile custard was served with candied bee pollen and cocoa butter sprinkled with 24-carat gold leaf. Ending the culinary extravaganza were miniature sweets beautifully presented in a glass box.
The evening lasted a delightful four hours where not a beat was skipped. As the portions were small and married to libations that complemented each course, the evening literally flew by.
To be sure, innovative food paired with great wines was the order of the evening in a uniquely intimate and comfortable setting. Because Chef Lee and his talented crew are passionately present, participatory and engaging, the experience feels less restaurant-like and more as if one had the great fortune to be invited into their personal creative space. Most wonderful, at the end of the experience, Chef Lee will have a drink with you and share stories, just as if you were in fact at his home.
Within walking distance of the boutiques along Coast Village Drive and nearby beaches of Santa Barbara, the location of the Montecito Inn is great. Built in 1928 by the legendary Charlie Chaplin with the help of some investors, the property has been renovated, yet retains its old charm.
Rooms and bathrooms are Euro-sized and typical of the era when originally built. High-count linen and top quality bedding makes for a comfortable rest. Having only to walk up a flight of stairs following a remarkable meal at The Silver Bough is hard to pass up. 800-843-2017.
If looking to improve your tennis game, or simply get a great tennis workout before or the day after you dine, you’d be hard pressed to find better coaches in the area than Jay Campbell or his terrific colleague, Jake Cryan. 805-452-4676, firstname.lastname@example.org.
The lesson Learned
Foodies and wanna-be foodies interested in a truly remarkable experience will delight in the food, the wine pairings and the principled passion that Chef Lee and his team literally bring to the table.
Tickets for the Silver Bough are released on the first of every month for the following month. Tickets are $550 per person, including pre-dinner cocktails or champagne, all wine pairings, taxes, and gratuities. Patrons can purchase one ticket or the entire eight for the scheduled evening. For guests staying at the Montecito Inn, tickets can be purchased a year in advance when hotel reservations are made.
Julie L. Kessler is MoneyInc’s Travel & Luxury Editor and writes travel stories for various major media outlets. She is also an attorney and legal columnist based in Los Angeles and the author of the award-winning book “Fifty-Fifty: The Clarity of Hindsight.” She can be reached at Julie@VagabondLawyer.com