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Simple, Fresh Ingredients Are Transformed into Luscious Dishes at the Wine Cask

By Marina I. Jokic

Debuting in 1981 as a quaint wine shop, Wine Cask expanded over time to include a sandwich shop, a café, and finally a fine dining restaurant by the mid-1990s.

"Wine Cask grew very organically, responding to the perceived desires of the community and demands of the marketplace," co-owner and food connoisseur Mitchell Sjerven said.

The addition of the Intermezzo Bar Café was the tipping point for the small business, significantly growing the menu while retaining the casual, 'no-reservations-needed' setting.

"By the end of the nineties, our goals had grown larger along with the restaurant, including becoming the top destination restaurant in Santa Barbara and having one of the best wine lists in the state," Sjerven said.

Wine Cask was one of the first establishments to pioneer the farm-to-table concept of fresh, local ingredients and spirits, and to focus on the origin of the foods they were serving to their customers.

Located in the historic El Paseo complex in the Presidio neighborhood, Wine Cask is surrounded by a many other restaurants yet, it stands out with its attention to detail, and the independent and entrepreneurial spirit of its owners, who are very hands-on in their approach. They like to be present and enjoy working with their team. Together, they have created a truly innovative and epicurean menu.

For starters, their lunch menu features crispy calamari in roasted garlic cloves and cilantro-lime aioli, ahi tartar with avocado and lemon, and sweet potato fries in sweet chili barbecue sauce. The farmer's market tomato soup is topped with basil oil and parmesan crisps, and the roots farms mixed greens combine shaved seasonal fruit, toasted pistachios, and charred scallion vinaigrette. Everything is fresh and made to order.

Wine Cask offers a wide variety of salads, but one of the most interesting on the menu is the Salade Nicoise with herbs de provence-crusted and seared Ahi tuna, arugula, cherry tomatoes, fingerlings, and shaved fennel among other ingredients. The kale with market beets, toasted hazelnuts, and yogurt dressing is also quite popular and unusual.

"We do change our menu quite frequently, so no one item becomes a 'favorite' but if I had to choose I would pick the steak as we purchase?American Wagyu from Snake River Farms in Idaho," Sjerven said.

They offer only one cut of beef on their menu, so choosing the best quality meat was paramount in designing a truly memorable dish. Customers rave about the braised beef short rib on the dinner menu, served with Thumbelina carrots, baby turnips, parmesan scallion grits, and crispy garlic.

Seafood choices include miso glazed local black cod with julienned market vegetables, jasmine rice, and star anise broth and the octopus with chorizo, potatoes, piquillo, and salsa macha. If you are in the mood for something heavier than seafood, the braised pork belly with fig, frisee, chive potato rosti, and fig jus will sate your appetite. Finish your evening with one of their exquisite desserts like the lavender crème brulee or the bread pudding with bourbon-salted caramel.

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