I started out to one restaurant but it was booked for a private party. Phone. Click. Read. Walk another block; does anyone remember how we located restaurants in the pre-Google era?
Arts and Letters Cafe does not have any signage from the street and its actually a covered courtyard located within an art gallery which only has a small sign on the door. When I finally did figure out where it was I almost expected the hostess to ask me for the secret code. Marble cafe tables, fresh cuts flowers, filtered light and a fountain; I’d characterize it as a casually sophisticated and secluded environment. While the rest of Santa Barbara seems shorts and hoodie clad, Arts and Letters is a little more dressed up and the clientele more mature.
Regular menu and lunch specials menu. I looked over both but the specials menu hooked me early with Pumpkin Soup. And once again with Egg Fettuccine. The Pumpkin Soup was a beautiful burnt orange color, rich but surprisingly light on cream; I picked up the earthy flavours of roasted pumpkin with a little nutmeg zing and herbal thyme notes. What I didn’t pick up was any trace of chicken stock so likely a veggie stock base.
I know it sounds odd to be excited about egg pasta but I rarely see it anymore with the more trendy whole-wheat and even brown rice and quinoa versions crowding out other entries. Egg pastas, to me, are more flavourful and more silky in texture. This particular version was extraordinary with roasted grape tomatoes, charred asparagus, andouille sausage, fennel, and smoked salmon all tossed in dill-spiked cream sauce. Odd on paper but the smoked salmon and dill immediately paired up in their usual fashion. The sausage was toothy, salty and juicy counter balance to the earthy, crunchy asparagus. Fennel, which I was totally prepared to pick out since it did not seem to belong, actually added a pleasant, bright flavour to the mix. The Egg Fettuccine was definitely the thread weaving together what was my most memorable dish in Santa Barbara.
The service here is very polished. They are not exceptionally personable but they are friendly, knowledgeable and very efficient. Order to delivery was an unhurried 20 minutes and there were two stopbys to gauge my reaction to the meal.
Its a little high but the quality, innovation and service were at a point where I thought it was justified. Soup, pasta, espresso – $35.
Arts and Letters is very close to the Courthouse and Library, if you are doing an architecture afternoon, and its right off State St, which seems the main artery through town.
Lunch: November 2014
Arts and Letters Cafe | 7 E Anapamu | Santa Barbara CA 93101