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A Revamped Mattei’s Tavern Brings Serious Food Whimsy to Santa Barbara County

Mattei's Tavern. Photo by Kara Block

Mattei's Tavern. Photo by Kara Block

The town of Los Olivos in Santa Barbara County used to be little more than a stage coach stop — a resting place for cattlemen and miners and cowboys. It still feels that way, in spite of the region’s growing reputation for fine wine. But, thanks to a new restaurant and hotel from Raj Parr’s partner in Sandhi wines, Charles Banks, the town may be well on its way to becoming the wine and food epicenter of the Central Coast.

Parr, the Wine Director for Michael Mina’s restaurant group in San Francisco, has been instrumental in raising the reputation of the wines from Santa Barbara County, specifically the region of Santa Rita Hills, through his Sandhi wine label (which specializes in Burgundian-inspired Pinot Noir and Chardonnay). Now, on the same property as the Sandhi tasting room, a modern restaurant with a rich history is bringing some much-needed hospitality to the Far West outpost.

Built by a Swiss immigrant by the name of Felix Mattei in 1886, Mattei’s Tavern, as it was and still will be called, has been renovated into a 150-seat restaurant and will serve as the center of an estate that will include four renovated cottages and a new 64-room hotel to break ground in 2014.

Emily Perry Wilson, who, along with her husband Chef Robbie Wilson, will run the restaurant as managing partners, says that “since the Tavern feels like a home,” there will be several “distinctly different” dining rooms that will each have their own vibe and aesthetic. “We took what we inherited and put a little salt on it,” adds Robbie.

The same could be said of the cuisine. Chef Wilson researched what people used to eat in the 1800s in Los Olivos— a lot grilled meats and local produce — and made it more refined, technical, and apparently, witty. A seafood platter called “Morro Bay’s Greatest Hits” from the nearby body of water of the same name, will be served on a vintage turntable, while the salumi platter, featuring meat from local ranches, will be presented on clothespins. “It creates a little story for people to share,” says Wilson.

The wine program, which includes both local wines as well their international counterparts with an emphasis and Burgundy and Rhone varietals is being guided by Stephane Colling, formerly of The Modern, Alain Ducasse's Essex House and the San Ysidro Ranch.