The Willows at the Chumash Casino is one of those very special dining experiences. One would think the restaurant would have the same bustle and environment of a gambler’s paradise, being located in the casino. 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 as I have. Being a group of four, we were able to try many options on the menu, all of which were artistically presented by
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 heart’s 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 are an artichoke, spinach, roasted garlic, and a chive spread. All were equally tasty.
For our first course, I ordered the most interesting and colorful dish. It was a Beet Salad with baby Chioggia 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 kohlrabi, 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. The pìece de résistance, the Mousse, which combined white and dark chocolate with Chambord, and 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. I am looking forward to returning and trying other menu choices as the season changes.
The Willows Restaurant
Chumash Casino Resort
3400 East Highway 246
Santa Ynez, CA 93460
If you enjoyed the collage in this article, check out the photography of Tenley Fohl visit www.TenleyFohlPhotography.com