This past week I was privileged to receive an invitation to attend a “soft opening” for what is soon to be one of the hottest fine-dining destinations in Santa Barbara: The Arlington Tavern. Located at 21 W. Victoria St., in the heart of Santa Barbara’s fine-dining corridor, The Arlington Tavern offers a winning combination of outstanding food; a comfortable, casual ambiance; and superb service.
As a business consultant and business plan writer, I have worked with hundreds of restaurateurs over the years, learning the dos and don’ts of the restaurant business. I worked with Ron True, the executive chef, and his business partner, Diego Barbieri, the marketing director, to formulate a highly focused, organized and polished business model. My experience at the soft opening confirms that Ron and Diego are highly experienced restaurant professionals and have what it takes to run a successful business.
Ron grew up in Santa Barbara and began his culinary adventure at SOhO Restaurant (which was also located at 21 W. Victoria). Ron eventually traveled to New York, San Francisco, Philadelphia, France, Italy and Spain. In San Francisco, he worked at Zuni Café and, in New York, at Gramercy Tavern and Union Square Café, both owned by renowned restaurateur Danny Meyer.
Ron was accepted to a culinary program at La Varenne, Anne Willian’s cooking school in Bourgogne, France. While abroad, he also worked as a stagier in a Relais & Châteaux hotel in northern Provence. When he returned to New York, Ron worked at the now-closed Juniper Café in Tribeca. Ron then became the executive sous chef at Restaurant Associates’ Café Centro in Midtown Manhattan. Restaurant Associates then asked him to be the chef for the grand opening of Philadelphia’s Cadence Restauran, which, before it closed, was located in the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts, home of the Philadelphia Orchestra.
After cultivating more than 20 years of cooking experience, Ron has created his own culinary approach to cooking. He combines significant influences from his life, like the wonderfully fresh ingredients of California, the techniques of French cuisine and the dramatic presentations of New York. His philosophy includes a solid respect for food and cooking.
Born and raised in Brazil, Diego attended the University of Sinos River, where he studied social communication and advertising. In 2000, he moved to Australia and discovered his passion and natural talent for the hospitality industry. After three years, he moved to New Zealand as headwaiter for one of the most established fine dining restaurants in Auckland, Tony’s Steakhouse.
At the end of 2004, Diego moved to Santa Barbara, where he started as a server at Andersen’s Danish Bakery & Restaurant, 1106 State St. He quickly advanced his career by becoming floor manager of Epiphany Restaurant & Bar, where he met Ron. In 2008, Diego began working as a manager for Santa Barbara Shellfish Company. I met him at Gracie Barra Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, 1014 State St., a few years ago. As is typical with most Brazilians, Diego makes you feel like a close friend from the moment you meet him.
Most would say that the menu is the most important aspect of any restaurant. The Arlington Tavern has this requirement well covered, offering a focused, single-page menu, while still providing a “something for everyone” range of choices. Starters include a Caesar salad, mac & cheese, chopped liver on toast, and salmon tartar, while entrees include filet mignon, halibut, fried chicken, ribs and more. Sides include mashed potatoes and gravy, asparagus, fingerling potatoes and several others. I had the Caesar, halibut and a lemon pudding for dessert; all were superb. The Caesar’s lettuce was fresh, crisp enough to cut with my fork, and had just the right amount of dressing. The halibut was cooked to perfection — soft and tender, lightly flaky without being dry. The presentation was impressive: the fish was surrounded by fennel, tiny chunks of bacon, finely diced onions, beans and a few other things I couldn’t quite place, drizzled with balsamic vinegar. The pudding was fabulous — a lemon pudding that was very tart, but also with sweet blueberry sauce, light, delicate and satisfying.
The front-of-house operations fall to Diego and he has done a masterful job of preparing his staff. Service was outstanding. We were greeted and seated quickly, with all staff members smiling and pleasant. Our waiter was highly attentive, professional and knowledgeable about the menu. We felt as if we were his only table, without feeling smothered. The pace of service felt just right — comfortable, not rushed, but progressing through the meal, keeping us engaged in the experience.
I had a chance to visit the space during build-out and I can tell you that the interior was in rough condition. A few weeks ago when Diego mentioned that they were planning their soft opening within weeks, I was shocked. There seemed to be so much work that still needed to be done, and I just didn’t see how they would make it. I can only imagine the number of hours that were invested in that process, but I am sure there were many long days and sleepless nights involved.
The results of all of the hard work were evident during the soft opening. The décor is casual but decidedly upscale, with lots of warm wood, stone and brick. The bar area is spacious, with plenty of seating for those who want to drop in for a cocktail or glass of wine, or perhaps an appetizer. There is a separate bar menu that will be available throughout the restaurant. Table placement is cozy, with seating for intimate parties of two, or larger groups for parties or events. The restaurant also offers a private dining room for couples or small groups with personalized service and customized menu options.
My overall experience at The Arlington Tavern was very positive and enjoyable. The restaurant is now officially open and I am certain they will draw a full house. Stop by (starting at 5 p.m.) and say hello to Ron and Diego, grab a drink in the bar, sample the menu and enjoy!
The Arlington Tavern is located at 21 W. Victoria St. Call 805.770.2626 for reservations.