Why Dinner at This Tiny Santa Barbara Restaurant Costs $550
When we first hear that a $550-per-person restaurant is about to open in Santa Barbara, we immediately have a question: What makes The Silver Bough, which debuts on January 31 at the Montecito Inn, worth the price?
We also have a second question. It turns out that $550 is all-inclusive: The ticketed dinners include a meal served in “three acts,” a beverage pairing, tax, tip, and the option of staying for after-dinner drinks. There are no supplements to increase the price. We wonder: Is the $550 price meant to attract attention? There are many fine-dining restaurants in California where the bill at the end can easily surpass $550 per person with wine, but The Silver Bough gives you all the sticker shock upfront.
So we ask executive chef/owner Phillip Frankland Lee about this.
“It’s not for attention,” Lee says of the price. “It’s actually completely the opposite. The dinner follows a storyline. The reason we’re ticketing it is the same reason we’re making it inclusive. There’s no opportunity at any point to order anything. You can’t even order an expensive bottle of wine. However, the entire meal is paired.”
According to a press release, the pairing includes “some of the world’s greatest wines, finest spirits, craft cocktails, and tinctures made by the chefs themselves.” If you don’t want booze, there’s a $450 option with a non-alcoholic pairing.
“Right now, we’re fermenting a kombucha that’s made with wild honey and black truffle,” Lee says.
We ask Lee to explain why dinner at The Silver Bough is worth the price.
“You’re just getting the most ridiculous ingredients,” he says. “It’s tons of caviars, tons of truffles. There’s Kobe. There’s wagyu.”
True Japanese Kobe and Japanese wagyu?
“Yes,” Lee says. “It’s basically the most expensive food money can buy throughout the entire menu.”
The Silver Bough will serve up to eight guests a night. After Act I’s six small bites like smoked cultured butter with whipped caviar, eaten at a table in the middle of a dark room with red velvet curtains, it’s time for the main event. Act II takes place at a chef’s counter. This, according to the press release, is where Lee and his team will lead guests “through nine courses of luxury, with rich flavor combinations resulting in a true exercise in opulence. The story, based on Irish mythology, represents the entry into the Celtic otherworld, a place believed to offer everlasting youth, beauty, health, and joy. The hidden world was rich with only the finest resources, a paradise of delights, where food was ever abundant and where travelers were treated as kings and queens by the gods themselves.”
Lee thinks the signature dish will probably be locally raised Toulouse goose from Ojai.
“It’s goose foie gras stuffed inside of a goose ballotine served over a marmalade of figs and goose fat,” Lee says.
The sauce for the goose will be speckled because it will include 24-karat gold.
Lee is also excited about a tartare dish. He’s using live Maine lobster, live Santa Barbara spot prawns, and live Santa Barbara uni. The tartare will be “covered, covered in Siberian caviar,” he says.
He’s also planning a dish with about four ounces of Kobe rib eye accompanied by white truffles, black truffles, and lobster claws. For another dish, he will turn wagyu rib eye cap into a nori-crusted carpaccio with raw Japanese geoduck and black truffles.
Act III will include four desserts from Lee’s wife, pastry chef Margarita Kallas-Lee. The first dessert will be an “egg” made with milky mousse and a passion-fruit “yolk.”
“When you crack into it, the textures are actually like a ramen egg,” Kallas-Lee says.
The egg will sit in a bed of kaffir-lime cotton candy in a kaffir-lime nest. Without getting into how the magic happens, Kallas-Lee says that “it’s going to start snowing” when you eat this dessert. “The snow,” she adds, “is going to be pine-flavored snow.”
Another dessert will be a chamomile-and-wild-honey egg custard with shaved white truffles, 24-karat gold, bee pollen, and white chocolate.
“I feel like the menu gave me a lot of opportunity to come back to my roots and where I’m from and really portray the vision that I’ve always had for food,” says Kallas-Lee, who grew up in Latvia.
Without revealing the surprise, we’ll tell you that Kallas-Lee will have a riff on pumpernickel toast where what appears to be bread isn’t bread and what appears to be cheese isn’t cheese.
“It fucks with your head a little bit,” she says.
The Silver Bough will have a staff of eight, including sous chefs Danielle Van Steen and Robert Sandberg, working one seating a night at the eight-seat counter. Van Steen cooked at Church & State in L.A. and most recently ran the Crossroads food truck in Austin with her husband, Wayne, who is now chef de cuisine at Lee’s The Monarch at the Montecito Inn. Sandberg is a rising star who’s cooked at Frantzen, Noma, and Maaemo. He’s got more than 440,000 Instagram followers and has recently been posting photos of meals he’s eaten with his girlfriend, Instagram sensation Mia Khalifa, at fine-dining restaurants like Atelier Crenn. There are a lot of storylines at The Silver Bough.
This is a restaurant the 31-year-old Lee has been thinking about for more than a decade. He shows us one presentation for it that he finished in 2009 after he had been honing the idea for a while but well before he had even opened his first restaurant, Scratch Bar, in 2013.
Lee is a tremendously ambitious chef. He told us last year that he planned to open seven restaurants in seven months. He didn’t quite get there, and he’s closed a couple outposts of his Frankland’s Crab & Co. seafood restaurant, but The Silver Bough will be his sixth restaurant overall: three in Encino, three at the Montecito Inn. And Lee continues to point out that he isn’t someone who shoots for goals that are easy to achieve.
“I want to get two [Michelin] stars at Scratch Bar,” he says. “I want to get two stars at Sushi Bar. The Silver Bough is designed to be a three-star restaurant. That’s what we want. If we get one star, I will probably burst into tears. But three is what we’re shooting for.”
This leads to another question. There are rumors that the Michelin Guide is returning to L.A., but will that include restaurants in Santa Barbara?
“For whatever it’s worth, the rumors are they’re going to Santa Barbara,” Lee says. “And if they’re going to L.A. and not to Santa Barbara, we want to bring them to Santa Barbara. I feel that we could open this in L.A. and be another Scratch Bar, Somni, Dialogue, or Vespertine, or we can go to Santa Barbara and be in an area where there is a lot of affluence and a lot of demand for something like this and absolutely no other options in this tier.”
Tickets for the first month of dinners at The Silver Bough, which will be open Thursdays through Sundays, are live. Lee will typically sell tickets one month at a time, but guests who stay at the Montecito Inn have the option of purchasing seats a year in advance. He says that he and Kallas-Lee will be cooking at every single dinner here in the foreseeable future as they turn this longtime dream of a restaurant into a reality.
Guests are invited to show up at 6:30 p.m. for champagne in the lobby. Then dinner, which will last about two hours and also include ingredients like local box crab, Tasmanian ocean trout, wild-caught Spanish bluefin toro, and aged New Zealand venison, will start at 7. After that, you can hang out with the staff as they pour digestifs like Cognac and Calvados.
“A restaurant like that is not designed to put our grandkids through college,” Lee says. “A restaurant like that is designed to just be something specifically opulent. We’re telling a story through food. It takes you into this other world. It was the world of the gods, the world of everlasting joy and youth and over-the-top opulence. When you eat there, you’re going to be, like, wow, this should be more expensive.”
The Silver Bough, 1295 Coast Village Road, Santa Barbara