It’s always comforting to see an old face in a new place, so Santa Barbara should be mighty happy with The Monarch, the second of Phillip Frankland Lee and Margarita Kallas-Lee’s four concepts opening throughout 2018 in the Montecito Inn. The managing chef is David Rosner, whom locals know from his time at the Wine Cask, Café Luck, Big Eye, and The Shop and the worldly wise will recognize from stints with Daniel Boulud and Gordon Ramsay.
“My title is managing chef, but I’m the ‘ops guy,’” explained Rosner, who’s managing the kitchen, bar, dining room, and more. “Phillip and Margarita own the restaurant, but I’ll be overseeing the day-to-day of everything they do on the Central Coast.” After all, the Scratch | Restaurant empire is based in Encino, so the Lees have a lot of ground to cover.
After meeting through a mutual friend, Lee and Rosner hit it off immediately. “What he wanted to do was a dream of mine, too,” said Rosner. “It’s the breaking bread idea — people come in to enjoy a feast taking.”
He was also jazzed about the emphasis on regional purveyors: The menu’s back page is a greatest hits of tri-county farms and fisherpeople, and the wine list lasers in on locals (think Tatomer, Tercero, and Tyler, just for the Ts). Said Rosner of such regional pride, “I’ve lived here for almost 10 years now, and it’s become my home.”
As for the food, it’s focused, flavor forward, and gorgeous without being frou-frou. It would be easy to not get past the sea urchin spread (with uni from Stephanie Mutz, of course) — a briny blast tempered just a tad with alpine cheese and olive oil. But then there’s also white sea bass wrapped in kombu that’s almost certainly the best seaweed eating experience you’ll ever have.
And when a kitchen gets to cook in a wood-burning hearth, it can do some amazing things. “The list of what the live fire gives you is endless; it’s a scroll,” Rosner enthused. “Cooking with live fire brings in that home feeling. We spend countless hours at work, and it becomes our home, so we want people to come in and feel as if they’re eating at our houses.” That’s one reason much of the food is run from the open kitchen by the chefs themselves — they want to make that personal connection.
To Rosner, The Monarch is like dining at Grandma’s house. “You knew you were having steak or chicken or fish, but you didn’t know what else would be on that beautiful table,” he said, explaining that the main dishes are accompanied by a bounty of sharable sides that change based on the farmers’ markets. “You weren’t just having that protein but all these sides, and you were feasting together.”
As for the name, it’s not just about the restaurant’s proximity to Butterfly Beach. It comes from something that long-ago Montecito Inn owner Charlie Chaplin once said, now emblazoned on the menu: “In the light of our egos, we are all dethroned monarchs.” But at least for one night, the easy elegance and class of The Monarch allows us all to be treated like royalty.
1295 Coast Village Rd.; 869-0789; themonarchmontecito.com