It was Sunday night on Memorial Day weekend, and Pearl had a hankering for seafood. Based on various reviews proclaiming its merits, we took a walk down to Stearns Wharf to try The Harbor Restaurant. My initial impressions were not promising. The decor and atmosphere seemed to match every generic seafood restaurant I’ve been to in California. The great views off the pier certainly gives it an edge, and we enjoyed shooting sunset photos while navigating the crowds. Even though every hotel in town was sold out, we were quickly seated, and the restaurant was half empty. This should have been a warning.
Being Santa Barbara, you’d expect a good wine list, and they didn’t disappoint. I found a very extensive selection, primarily of California wines, to be encouraging, and not representative of most restaurants like this. Unfortunately, we didn’t go in for a full bottle, and the wines offered by the glass were mostly limited to a couple of generics found in almost every restaurant, with 2 exceptions: Flying Goat Pinot Noir (which we had tasted the day before at the winery) and EOS Zinfandel. I went for the Zin, and thought it very enjoyable, the highlight of my meal.
We started with some raw oysters on the half shell. There were 3 different varieties on the normal menu, but a special added a fourth. The waiter didn’t know anything about them, which should have been a warning. I found them tasting too much like a bay under a pier and lacking in fresh ocean taste. I also found lots of bits of shell in each, and unseparated meat, indicating poor shucking technique.
For our main courses, Pearl selected a whole Maine lobster and thoroughly enjoyed it. Granted, it was lobster with a ton of butter, and served with a side of corn-on-the-cob, both of which she finds impossible to pass up. But there certainly wasn’t anything spectacular about the lobster and the corn was bland.
I’m not much of a seafood fan, and almost half of the menu was steaks and sandwiches, including a prime rib dinner. This seemed promising, instead of the usual single filet mignon or strip steak entry found at seafood restaurants. Since the previous night was heavy on the steak, I opted for something a little lighter and chose the prime rib french dip sandwich. I was very disappointed. The meat was well-done, and clearly not made from their prime rib dinner. It was dry and flavorless, and had the texture of boiled or steamed beef. The bread was nice and fluffy with a light crispy crust, just like you’d find at Philipe’s in LA, but the the dipping sauce was generic, salty, thick, and tasted like it came out of a packet mix or can. Again, clearly not made with the pan drippings from a ribeye roast supposedly being prepared in-house. I didn’t even finish the sandwich.
So, overall verdict, if you want good, but generic seafood with great views, this is worth a stop. But if you want something new, or have terrestrial eaters in your party, keep looking.