August 14, 2007

My First Restaurant Review (Finally): Hungry Cat, Santa Barbara

Oh my goodness gracious. Fresh abalone with cucumber puree, pickled celery root and bitter greens.

After pondering what it is I like so much about Hungry Cat SB, it is this: every time I go there I get to try something entirely new. To me, that is saying a lot. HC does have a small menu, about 6 starters and the same number of entrees. They have an awesome kitchen crew there that works together very well in a *tiny* space and will recognize you after a few visits and introduce themselves while working the line expertly.

M. Pants and I have a lot of celebrations during the summer, both of our birthdays and our anniversary, so we've become somewhat regular at the HC. I've visited them 5 times now and each time I've had a different item off the menu and have been delighted with almost everything I've had or stolen off of my dining companions' plates. It is primarily a fish house, with just two items not including seafood, the burger and a noodle dish that changes often. All the fish I've tried are pristine and expertly prepared.

I love how their menu is constantly evolving and consistently contains surprises. The most recent time we were there the hamachi with plums, fresh hearts of palm and chili-ginger vinaigrette was perfectly balanced and the fish was close-my-eyes-in-ecstasy delicious. My first time there I ordered the noodle dish which came with morels and ramps (my first for both!). I was delighted by how many morels were included and by the unexpected addition of the gently garlicky ramps. The noodles had a great bite but the broth was a bit oversalted if eaten alone. The dish as a whole though came together well. I've noticed that the staff has a lighter hand with the salt lately after getting into the groove of the new place.

Their bar is equally awesome with a cucumber-Hendricks concoction and other summer-y cocktails. They infuse their own gin and vodka with the produce we regularly see them buying at the local Farmer's Market(double plus!). They decorate the copper bar with great big bowls of produce that are included in the drinks. Last time we were there, I ordered the sangria, made with rose like I do at home and topped with some prosecco to give it fizz. I was slightly disappointed that it didn't include the peaches and melons that lent their flavors to the drink, but it was tasty, nevertheless.

My quibbles are few. The place is small, and they fit in a lot of tables, which are almost always full. They don't take reservations, which is nice if you just want to pop in but not so nice if you want to be seated and have a nice meal (small space = no waiting area). It can get pretty loud in there, what with all the folks and the hard surfaces. Still, I love it! Since they've only been opened since mid-May, I'm really looking forward to see what fall and winter have to bring HC.

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