Santa Barbara’s modern Mediterranean eatery

Hotel Californian’s Blackbird restaurant flies slightly outside of the overall Moorish and Moroccan design of the property to provide a more art deco feel to your dining experience.Blackbird soars with its colorful takes on Mediterranean fare. The establishment’s essential culinary philosophy — what grows together, fits together — incorporates mainly local ingredients.

Given that the Pacific Ocean and Santa Barbara Harbor with its fleet of fishing vessels is merely a block away, seafood is understandably the focus. Chef Alexander La Motte (formerly of The French Laundry and Per Se) changes his menu daily to reflect the best of the season’s bounty, with a few exceptions — steadfast staples like heritage chicken are almost always on offer.

Pastry chef Benjamin Kunert is responsible for the tasty confections found at Blackbird and its onsite sister café, Goat Tree. His handiwork can be tasted in Goat Tree’s fresh-baked croissants to Blackbird’s decadent dark chocolate mousse.

Our Inspector's Highlights

  • You’ll want to save room for dessert at this Mediterranean restaurant. Kunert turned out treats in some of Germany and France’s most highly acclaimed restaurants before landing at Blackbird.
  • Executive chef Alexander La Motte also boasts an impressive resume, having worked under some of the world’s most renowned toques, including Thomas Keller and Daniel Boulud.
  • Blackbird’s menu focuses on hyper-local fare, meaning that most of the ingredients were sourced from less than 100 miles from the Santa Barbara restaurant.
  • Dishes are artfully presented on dark plates, emphasizing the vibrant, seasonal ingredients. You’ll find that most of the dishes are layered rather than spread across the plate, encouraging you to taste your meal in one well-orchestrated bite.
  • Start with the charcuterie — a visually appealing array of smoked and cured local fish — to enjoy a riff on the traditional meat plate with a Santa Barbara twist.

Things to Know

  • Reservations are a good idea given Blackbird’s intimate 70-seat capacity.
  • Choose to dine on the small outdoor patio, inside the stylish dining room or at the communal table next to the open kitchen.
  • If you want a taste of the Santa Barbara venue, but aren’t hungry enough for a full meal, pony up to the bar to enjoy craft cocktails and a few flavorful appetizers — the counter stays open a little later than the dining room.
  • A full 75 percent of the restaurant’s seafood is sustainably harvested, most of which has been fished from the local waters off the Santa Barbara coast.
  • Moody lighting, creative cocktails and spectacular sunset views make this an ideal date-night spot.

The Food

  • Heritage chicken is one of the chef’s signature dishes. He began to toy with the recipe when he was only in second grade after accidentally using cinnamon as a key spice when he meant to use paprika.
  • With an emphasis on local Santa Barbara ingredients, the menu offers a wide range of seafood-focused dishes. Offerings might include whole roasted branzino with chorizo and chicory, big eye tuna sashimi with uni and rhubarb, or king salmon served with an “everything spice” quinoa and preserved lemon.
  • Meals are structured to reflect a harmonious blend of flavors, not just the traditional protein and two sides. For example, a dish might contain three iterations of kale or two different preparations of apricot or potato.
  • The restaurant’s signature dessert is a hay semifreddo and nettle ice cream encased in white chocolate and topped with strawberries. The playful dish is meant to recall Kunert’s childhood memories of picking the fresh fruit.

The Look

  • The dark walls, Mad Men-style chairs and retro light fixtures of the art-deco-inspired space evoke Old Hollywood.
  • The overall black and red theme (clearly visible in the tile work and cabernet-colored club chairs) is balanced against oil-rubbed bronze fixtures, such as the barstools.
  • A quirky picture of Alfred Hitchcock (with a bird on each shoulder) hangs above the bar as subtle nod to his influence on the Santa Barbara restaurant’s name.

Gluten-free options
Outdoor seating
Reservations recommended
Resort casual
Valet parking
Vegetarian options
Getting There
36 State Street, Santa Barbara, CA 93101
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