The Willows at the Chumash Casino Resort in Santa Ynez is one of those very special dining experiences. Being located in the casino one would think the restaurant would have the same bustle and environment of a gamblers paradise. Contrary, the Willows Restaurant does not; it is Santa Ynez Valley’s best-kept secret.
Named for the willow trees located around the property, the restaurant has a quiet ambiance with décor in soft muted colors, perfect for those wanting a romantic dinner or just a peaceful atmosphere after a day of wine tasting in the Santa Ynez Valley. The cuisine is excellent, featuring flavorful and fresh ingredients from local farms, gardens and ranches. The wine list is outstanding. The charming Chef Sergio Renteria takes all the care to make sure you enjoy your meal, especially if you have dietary restrictions like I have. Being a group of four we were able to try many options on the menu all of which were artistically presented by Chef Sergio.
Our dining experience at The Willows started with our friendly server Greg. I highly recommend you request Greg as you will be wined and dined to your hearts content.
We started our meal with a bottle of Fiddlehead Cellars 2010 Sauvignon Blanc. It was crisp and slightly oaked with hints of apples giving the wine a tart yet smooth finish.
Our starters were Semolina Crusted Fried Oysters with cream sauce, white wine and shallots. For me the Oyster was sautéed with spinach, white wine, shallots and topped with micro greens.
In between courses make sure to try the spreads for the bread. There is an artichoke and spinach, roasted garlic and a chive spread. All were equally tasty.
For our first course I ordered a most interesting and colorful dish. It was a Beet Salad with baby chioga beets, golden beets, shaved fennel, chives, red onions, goat cheese and oranges with a citrus vinaigrette dressing. It was the oranges that added just the right tang to this wonderful salad. Our group also enjoyed the Wedge, a salad of petite iceberg lettuce, tomato, pancetta and Maytag Gorgonzola bleu cheese and the Caprese Salad with heirloom tomato, roasted eggplant, basil and buffalo mozzarella, with a white balsamic vinaigrette.
The Willows Restaurant is known for prime steaks and seafood. The steaks were tender and superbly cooked to perfection. We opted for the Certified Angus Filet Mignon and the Snake River Farms Flat Iron Steak. You can elect to have peppercorn, Gorgonzola, red wine demi-glace or Béarnaise sauce. One of the specialties of the evening was a Colorado Lamb with fingerling potato, purple kohirabi, chanterelle and a mint demi-glace. This too was delicious. We also ordered a side of the Diver Scallops with pesto whipped potatoes, roasted corn relish and chive buerre blanc. The scallops melted in your mouth.
There is a nice offering of yummy side dishes. We chose a selection of succotash, a blend of corn, fava beans, baby carrots, toybox tomatoes, yellow wax beans and celery along with asparagus and a scalloped potato dish with white cheddar cheese, garlic and garden herbs.
With our entrees we savored a well-balanced very drinkable 2009 Three Saints Cabernet Sauvignon from Happy Canyon.
You cannot depart The Willows Restaurant without trying their desserts, which are a must so leave room for a real treat. We devoured the Brioche Bread Pudding with crème anglaise, caramel, brandy and vanilla gelato, the Crème brulee with Tahitian vanilla and caramelized brown sugar and the pìece de résistance was the Mousse, which combined white and dark chocolate with Chambord, was placed in a chocolate cup and topped with raspberries.
Our dining experience was extremely satisfying. I can easily say it exceeded our expectations for the evening. Looking forward to returning and trying other menu choices as the seasons change.
3400 East Highway 246
Santa Ynez, CA 93460
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