It was everyone’s favorite restaurant that they never went to. People saved up the prospect of dining at Downey’s as they would lock away a gold coin – something shiny and wonderful to enjoy in the future. But, alas, they waited too long because after thirty-five years as a beacon to fine dining on Santa Barbara’s State Street, chef John Downey and his wife, Liz, have served their last slice of Millefeuille.
I rhapsodize often about restaurants in Manhattan or wherever else we happen to alight, but there’s nary a peep in these pages about hometown dining. Because, truth be told – with a few happy exceptions – the restaurant scene in Santa Barbara is mostly meh. Blah. Sometimes really awful.
Downey’s, though, was different. Gabe Saglia lovingly detailed the restaurant’s history in this swan song recently published in the Santa Barbara News-Press, but I’m just here to talk about the duck. Twice a year we would make a pilgrimage all the way downtown (about a ten minute drive…) so that I could order the Mary’s Farm Duck served with Exotic Grains.
Baby turnips were the traditional accompaniment, although by the time we enjoyed our “last supper” as things wound down last week, the turnip truck had apparently stopped delivering so instead there were, disappointingly, a few slices of pluots on the plate where the turnips would have, should have been.
And there were no more half bottles of the excellent Crossbarn by Paul Hobbs’ Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon to savor along with the duck. Cue Joni Mitchell: “Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone?”
Most else was as it should be, however. There was the incredible fresh-baked Irish soda bread in its homely little basket:
And there was the Santa Rosa Island Crab and Papaya Salad with Fresh Ginger-Lime Dressing. You could set your watch by the two tiny, tart lime segments on the edge of the plate – how will we go on without them?
After the duck, the ritual demanded a taste of the Stilton with fig and tomato jam:
And the finale, from which we never wavered (despite the allure of a Chocolate Marquise and a Peach Melba) was the aforementioned Millefeuille. Lusciously thick white chocolate buttercream studded with fresh raspberries and encased in divinely crisp layers of puff pastry. Luckily, the recipe has been preserved for posterity at thetrailofcrumbs.com.
A new restaurant is slated to open soon at the Downey’s address and we can only hope they might include a few legacy items on their menu. Like all of them, maybe?