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Sunday, March 24 , 2019, 9:08 pm | Fair 56º

 
 
 
 

Chef Spencer Johnston Marks New Era for Wine Cask Restaurant

He plans to serve up a fresh take on the classic menus of the Anacapa Street eatery

The South Coast’s premiere deal-making restaurant, the Wine Cask at 813 Anacapa St. in Santa Barbara, has a new top chef — Spencer Johnston — to provide the cuisine over which many business discussions will take place.

Spencer Johnston
Spencer Johnston is the new top chef at the Wine Cask on Anacapa Street in Santa Barbara. (Wine Cask courtesy photo)

“Not only is Wine Cask known for its exceptional American Riviera cuisine, it has a reputation for being an important deal-making restaurant, where people in the Santa Barbara business community can come for lunch or dinner and count on a comfortable venue with excellent service, which makes it an ideal location to discuss important business,” Johnston said. “I’m honored to be continuing the tradition, and welcoming back the local movers and shakers, making deals while enjoying my cooking.”

Owners Doug Margerum and Mitchell Sjerven said their mission to bring back the Wine Cask has been a labor of love. Margerum’s family acquired the restaurant in 1981.

In February 2009, the Wine Cask, a Wine Spectator Grand Award-winning restaurant since the mid-1970s, was shut down less than two years after Margerum sold the business to health-care magnate and restaurateur Bernard Rosenson. But in late 2009, Margerum tried to get the Wine Cask going again. The new chef is his latest move.

Born and raised in San Luis Obispo, Johnston combines the sensibilities acquired from being raised on the Central Coast with a decade of experience working in the Southern California food scene, delivering a fresh take on the classic menus of the Wine Cask.

The adjacent Intermezzo Bar and Café again has returned as a favorite local spot, offering small plates and comfort food from Johnston’s kitchen.

Johnston said he advocates cooking with the freshest, most sustainable, locally sourced ingredients that represent the bounty the region has to offer. Most recently he served as the top chef at the Pearl Hotel in San Diego. Before that, he worked with Chef Antonio Friscia at Stingaree and Chef Christian Graves at Jsix, both in San Diego.

“Being back on the Central Coast has been amazing — our access to the freshest ingredients from local farms and purveyors is unbeatable, and I’m lucky enough to be able to hit the farmers markets just a block from my new kitchen,” Johnston said. “At the Wine Cask, we describe our style as ‘American Riviera Cuisine,’ because Santa Barbara is a very special place that deserves its own label … much like ‘Provencal cooking’ or ‘Tuscan Cuisine’ warrant recognition, local chefs are gravitating toward a style here that is putting Santa Barbara on the culinary map.”

With Johnston at the helm, the Wine Cask’s menu will include roasted heirloom beets and baby carrots salad with goat cheese, herbs and a tarragon vinaigrette, goat cheese-stuffed tempura squash blossoms with romesco and pesto sauces, and pasilla and rock shrimp mac and cheese white cheddar fondue, bread crumbs for starters.

Other entrees include oven-roasted whitefish with Spanish chorizo and Manila clams, seared sea scallops with fava beans, pancetta, mint and shaved fennel salad. The Cask Burger is served on a toasted focaccia bun with white cheddar, caramelized onions and house aioli, served with fries and house pickles.

Johnston is creating a line of flatbreads for treats such as the “Thai-One-On” with fresh local rock shrimp and Thai coconut sauce and “Nectar of the Gods” with nectarines and St. Andre triple cream.

The restaurant is open Monday through Saturday for dinner at 5:30 p.m. and Monday through Friday for lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. The adjacent Intermezzo Bar Café opens nightly at 5 p.m. And, next to that, Margerum’s Wine Tasting Room is open daily from noon to 6 p.m.

Noozhawk business writer Ray Estrada can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk or @NoozhawkNews.

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