Jason Tuley, the consulting chef behind the opening of West Hollywood's The Churchill, is now presiding over his own dream restaurant on State Street in his hometown of Santa Barbara. Anchor Woodfire Kitchen opened earlier this month in the city's Indigo Hotel, a snug dining room with a slim bar and doors swung wide to sidewalk traffic and ocean breezes. Smack in front of the kitchen sits a wood-burning oven, shelves stocked with split logs, marking the heart of Tuley and chef de cuisine Charlie Fredericks' vision.
Consistent with the passions of so many modern chefs, Anchor is focused on bringing simplicity to the table through the power of supreme product. When not doing their own foraging in the surrounding mountains, these chefs covet multiple channels for what they're putting on the plate, with secret sources for super fresh sea urchin, early trips to market, craftsman cheese, organic meats, and dependable relays for fish and Channel Islands abalone. Whatever can be made by the chefs' hands generally is, from plates of salumi shaved to order within sight of the diners, slippery, delicate pastas, and house-baked bread and pastries.
Generally, fine-spun dedication meets intense, vibrant vision here, with bold presentations like a porchetta di testa, laboriously-brined slow-cooked wisps of Niman-raised pork head meat fitted into a fragile, crisply-crusted puck fried in duck fat and layered with a fat globule uni "tongue" in a marsh of salsa verde. Menus include pizzas thickly layered with paper-thin, house-cured prosciutto di parma and local mushrooms, potted salt cod, and rabbit sausage grilled on oak with punchy currants, balsamic, and pine nuts.
A steady selection of entrees hinges on simple wood-grilled selections of organic meat, including Mary's Chicken, a dry-aged rib-eye alla Fiorentina, local lobster, and whole fish, while market-procured, vegetable-based dishes sing brightly in side plates of Thumbelina carrots in cumin, coriander, and orange, and roasted cauliflower with bottarga, lemon, and chilies.
Flavors in these early days can occasionally be on the side of too subtle, sometimes to the point where a certain depth of flavor and complexity feels noticeably absent from a few of the recipes, while the padded pizzas are neither thin nor crisp enough to make our top twenty.
Still, this is California product and wood-driven heat speaking for itself, with two talented, precise chefs orchestrating incredible textural compositions, as in a squid ink tagliatelle slick with dainty cuts of squid set off by the soft crunch of a shower of breadcrumbs. The sum of the parts certainly marks one of the more potential-packed openings to come to this seaside town in recent memory.
Tuley's Anchor Woodfire Kitchen is in its infancy, but already eying possible expansion to locations in Northern California and West Hollywood. Judging from the packed house on a Saturday afternoon, that plan entirely feels like a real possibility at this point.
Anchor Woodfire Kitchen, 119 State St. Santa Barbara; 805-845-0989.