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Hungry Cat (Santa Barbara)

I asked Michelle to dinner on Friday but (luckily) she was busy seeing Shrek The Third. This all for the best because tonight both her and Nick were free so we went to try the new restaurant at 1134 Chapala in downtown Santa Barbara – The Hungry Cat. Earlier this year, around the middle of February, my friend Karen emailed me the following:

Subject: OMG

Body: The Hungry Cat is going to open in SB! And before you ask, I’ll tell you what it is…..it’s an absolutely fantastic restaurant brought to you by Suzanne Goin (A.O.C a tapas place and Luques also good, especially the prix fixe Sunday dinners) and David Lentz (her hubby, who also cooked at Campanile and Opaline among others). The first location is out near the Arc Light Cinemas…..your location will be at Anapamu and Chapala and it should open around the end of March. Go try it!

During our French Laundry roadtrip I quizzed Karen on all things culinary and I was thoroughly convinced and impresed by her foodie knowledge. She schooled me a few times as well so I trust this girl.

I got there at 6:30 and Nick and Michelle had already put their names down. It was about a 20 minute wait altogether which was OK. It was a Sunday night but you have to take into consideration the small size of the place and the fact that it’s brand new and it had quite the reputation from the Los Angeles location. The hostess was very nice and seated us at a table near the window, on one end of the bar. The manager or owner (not sure which), gave us a thorough explanation of the specialty cocktail of the night (black/blue? berry infused Plymouth Gin). Michelle ordered the special, Nick had a citrusy margarita, and I had the Greyhound Proper which is described as containing Plymouth gin, grapefruit juice, and candied grapefruit. All were really really good. We started out with half a dozen oysters (mix of two types). Then followed it up with another order.

For our main course, Nick and I had (2 orders) braised claims, chorizo, sofrito and grilled bread. I think there was dollop of bechamel sauce on the bread. Michelle had the fish stew with garbanzos, fennel, garlic, and poached duck egg. They ordered another round of drinks (same one for Michelle and Nick had a cucumber martini he absolutely hated. They later traded) and I had a ginger beer from Australia which was so yummy. For dessert we had the chocolate bread and butter pudding which tastes nothing like a bread pudding. It tasted like a sweet souffle and was very subtle. The dark chocolate bottom was definitely needed or else it would have been too bland.

We came at an odd time because the sun was still really bright; in fact, I had to squint when it started setting. Toward the end of our meal, it got dark and they switched on the mood light. The place is very small and intimate and as you’d expect, loud. But it’s not too loud and they don’t play the music very loud either. I really like the decor and the setting. It screams of Hollywood and the trendy restaurants you hear or read about in magazines. The prices are about what you’d expect ($9 for cocktails, $20 for entrees) but they are very deceptive and it all adds up very quickly.

I thought the service was really good when it was there. The only peeve was the time it took us to get our first order of oysters (about 15-20 minutes). I don’t see why it takes so long to open some shells. They are raw afterall. Also, they gave 3 pieces of bread and no plates to eat them on. Nick and I agreed our dishes were on the salty side. Maybe more bread would have worked. All and all, I am really glad we went. We all had an awesome time and will be returning.

Thanks Karen!

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