Seafood mecca (February 6, 2009)
Carpinteria’s restaurant row boosted by Sly’s fish dishes
After eight years as chef and general manager at Lucky’s in Montecito, James Sly has moved his traditional array of steak and seafood dishes south. Branded with his own name, Sly’s holds forth at Linden Avenue and Seventh Street in Carpinteria in a handsome historical building lovingly transformed into a pleasant dining space.
Sly likes to stroll through the dining areas to see how guests are enjoying themselves. He talked briefly to our party of three about his move to Linden Avenue — what is becoming Carpinteria’s restaurant row — noting that he’s added an emphasis on seafood at Sly’s.
A glossy Douglas fir bar dominates the entry room. Beyond are cozy dining nooks with the preserved yellow brick of the original building. Sunny yellow walls give the rooms a bright look, and gallery-quality photos by Jesse Alexander depict the European racing scene of the ’50s and ’60s.
Sly’s is a serious entry into the Carpinteria dining scene, with high standards for ingredients and simple but tasty preparations. The unusually detailed sheet of directions for ordering steak shows attention to quality and customers’ preferences.
Sly continues his practice of selecting local providers and quality ingredients, which in addition to the a la carte character of the menu can run up the bill. But there was a large crowd at Sly’s on a Saturday night, with energy and noise levels swelling though our stay, and it was difficult to fit “recession” into the equation when top-quality steaks, fish and vegetables were pouring out of the kitchen.
Not to frighten away those on tighter budgets, Sly’s also offers daily blue-plate specials for $22-$27. On Saturday nights, for example, the blue-plate selection is slow-braised beef short ribs jardiniere, served with mashed potatoes.
The restaurant features local abalone, a specialty of Sly’s since his days at Santa Barbara’s El Encanto Hotel; we decided to sample the delicacy as an appetizer of three pieces cooked to a tender turn and sautéed in chardonnay butter ($28). It was difficult to choose only one appetizer; Sly’s also offers oysters Rockefeller or Kirkpatrick, steamed clams, five styles of steamed mussels, old-fashioned hot appetizers and chilled seafood platters.
Salads beckoned. The most unusual was Fredy’s ($14), featuring iceberg lettuce, blue cheese, bacon and tomato, reminding us of a Cobb salad, but with shrimp instead of chicken. On the conventional side, the Caesar salad ($8) was crisp and refreshing. A salad of greens with baked goat cheese ($10) was balanced well between crisp greens and smooth, tangy cheese.
We ended up concentrating on seafood, despite the multiple options in the steak-and-chop portion of the menu. Sandwiches are available as well, including a Sly hamburger, grilled salmon or steak, plus “small meals” based on steak.
The best seafood entree we ordered was the grilled fillet of local sea bass ($30), from the day’s fresh fish offerings. Simply prepared, with a dash of chardonnay butter, the bass was tender and tasted as if it had just been wrestled from the sea.
Broiled sand dabs ($29), which we selected instead of the sautéed preparation for a possibly healthier take, still came moistened with a butter sauce. A fried prawn platter ($26), with four meaty prawns, included a mound of spiced french fries, which like peanuts were irresistible — you couldn’t taste just one.
Vegetables are available separately, so we added two from the day’s specials to share: sauteed rapini with garlic ($9) and Cauliflower Polonaise ($5). The rapini, a slender variation of broccoli, was delicious served in a buttery sauce, and the cauliflower blossomed under a topping of brown butter and chopped egg.
The obvious dessert choice after a hefty meal at Sly’s is the Really Great Berries “Just Like That,” a combination of seasonal berries in a tulip glass. I couldn’t resist adding the fresh berry shortcake with Chantilly cream, and was happy I did. The shortcake itself was one of the best I’ve had since I left my mother’s kitchen. The Berries “Just Like That” were very good, said the friend who ordered them, but not quite “Really Great.” He allowed that it was his fault for ordering berries in January.
Sly’s wine list is balanced between good selections from California, with some emphasis on the Central Coast, and French wines. We shared a pleasant bottle of Qupe 2006 chardonnay ($34).
Service was exceptionally pleasant, from the young woman who seated us to the servers and Sly himself. But our main server and his support team were not quick at providing new utensils once some had been used for appetizer or salad, and too quick in removing dining plates when others were still enjoying food from the same course.
Valet parking is available, but we found a convenient spot within easy walking distance.
— Rita Moran visits restaurants unannounced and pays for her food. If you know of a new, unusual or just plain good restaurant, please contact her at email@example.com.
Source: Rita Moran, Ventura County Star