New eatery replaces historic Buellton restaurant
Originally a tavern and restaurant built by James Buell, whose family founded the town of Buellton, The Tavern at Zaca Creek is being resurrected after two decades of dormancy.
Chelsea Rushing and her husband, Stephen Villa, are owners, along with a collaboration of longtime Santa Ynez Valley locals, of the new eatery, which is just one part of the Zaca Creek property on Jonata Road in Buellton.
An expansive event center, inn and all-inclusive wine country destination resort will be opening in phases in the coming months.
“The focus now is on the restaurant, which features whimsically named appetizers like Drunken Mushrooms, vegetable-based dishes like Flowers and Peppers and dinner items like Beasts and Barnacles and Fin and Feathers,” said Ms. Rushing during a phone interview with Mr. Villa.
In keeping with the historic roots of the property, the couple are highlighting the best produce and proteins being harvested and raised by California Central Coast farmers, ranchers and fishermen, as well as global selections to match the caliber of the locally sourced foodie finds.
“We wanted to find the highest-end meat for our menus, which is Fullblood Wagyu Beef, a rarity in the United States. Imagine our surprise when we found it is available at the Luke Branquinho’s ranch, located only 10 minutes from the Tavern,” said Ms. Rushing.
“Our executive chef, Kaitlyn Paul, has created a menu which centers on her search for the finest resources for each dish and her whole beef program is being built around 100% American Fullblood Wagyu cattle.”
A Buellton native, Chef Paul has returned home after more than a decade working in kitchens along the Central Coast and most recently in Jackson Hole, Wyo., with the Fine Dining Restaurant Group.
Mr. Villa, Zaca Creek’s general manager and wine director, was born and raised in Santa Barbara County. He has spent the past 14 years in the cellars and vineyards of the region’s wine country.
“I have worked alongside some of the most inspirational winemakers in California, learning the craft and developing my own palate which continues to drive my beverage program picks,” he said. “The Tavern offers a rotating cocktail menu with signature drinks and variations on classics.”
Among the cocktail creations are “Camaleao,” “Negroni D’Or,” “Mosaic” and “Coraggio.”
The venue also offers wine flights, mezcal tastings and vertical-style tastings from the top-shelf spirits programs limited-production inventory.
Mr. Villa added that his industry background allows him access to collectible bottles that the public normally would not be able to obtain.
“As much as we want to highlight local beverages, we also want to showcase spirits that are hard to find in limited quantities,” he said.
Prominently featured on both lunch and dinner menus are “carefully curated” caviars and vodkas.
“Two seasonal types of caviars rotate, each paired with two different vodkas. Featured selections might include rarely tasted roe varieties such as pearlescent white escargot or sapphire blue scampi in addition to the more traditional sturgeon,” said Mr. Villa.
Lunch and dinner menus include desserts such as goat cheese cheesecake with a gluten-free graham cracker crust and a chocolate bundt cake with vegan chocolate ganache.
“Currently, the restaurant can seat approximately 56 diners on its enclosed and covered 1,000 square-foot outdoor patio with all COVID-19 safety and sanitation measures in place,” said Ms. Rushing. “Once the indoor dining room and main bar can seat customers, another 46 guests may be added to the mix. Soon, we’ll be adding 3,000 square feet of deck space, where we’ll be serving lunches and Sunday brunches.”