Coast Range in downtown Solvang employs an all-star team of culinary artists
Drilling and hammering noises bled into my Zoom call with Santa Ynez chef Anthony Carron before prompting a change of scenery.
“It’s hard to find a quiet place at a construction site,” Carron said while stepping outside of a vacant building in downtown Solvang. The large space, currently being remodeled, was once home to The Mandarin Touch Chinese Restaurant, which closed its doors last year.
“The building has great bones, a beautiful layout,” Carron said. “When this site became available, I knew right away this was the perfect place.”
The perfect place for Coast Range, that is—an upcoming steakhouse and seafood eatery, which will also house a full cocktail bar and daytime pastry cafe. The restaurant is expected to open in 2021.
“The bar and the patio would open around February if we’re allowed to have outdoor seating,” Carron, one of the restaurant’s co-founders, said. “When restrictions ease up and we can go back to indoor dining, we’ll open the steakhouse proper. Who knows what the restrictions are going to be when the time comes.”
As part of the restaurant’s first phase, in terms of opening to the public, the Vaquero Bar will offer a wide selection of cocktails, craft beer, and local wine from producers throughout the region. The bar will also have its own food menu, separate from the restaurant’s dinner selection, which is described as “elevated yet casual.”
The philosophy behind both menus is to showcase simple, approachable cuisine, “but made with the best ingredients,” Carron said.
“We don’t want to do that kind of tweezer food, that over-manipulated stuff you see in a lot of fine dining restaurants,” the restaurateur explained.
But at the same time, guests will sense something heightened about even the most casual dishes, he added.
“You don’t need to be a connoisseur to know that this tastes different and fresh and sweet and delicious, versus the inside of a can,” Carron said. “It’s all coming down to ingredients.”
Keeping it local, Coast Range will rely on Central Coast ranches for steak and will serve seafood taken directly from the Santa Barbara wharves.
“Those two are my day jobs, this is my passion project,” he said of the new venture.
“We’re doing this out of love for this place and this community and a desire to work together,” added Carron, describing Coast Range as a long-awaited collaboration between him and two longtime colleagues—Lincoln Carson and Steven Fretz.
Carron first met Carson and Fretz more than a decade ago, while all were working for celebrity chef Michael Mina out of San Francisco. At the time, Carron was Mina’s executive chef, while Carson was Mina’s corporate pastry chef, and Fretz ran a handful of Mina’s restaurants.
And it’s no coincidence, Carron added, that each of them ended up living in the Santa Ynez Valley.
“I moved here with my wife five years ago, and I’ve been recruiting these guys to come up here ever since,” he said. “It’s a friendship first and foremost, we’ve all just been great friends for so long.”
Camaraderie outside of the kitchen aside, what keeps these three chefs from spoiling the broth when it comes to strictly business?
“It’s that shared history I think,” Carron said. “We came up working for the same people, so we have kind of the same vocabulary and the same vernacular; similar approaches to cooking amongst each other. We’ve all been working together for 15 years, off and on.”
In 2013, Carron and Fretz co-founded the aforementioned sandwich chain, Top Round, which branched off from its original Los Angeles location to other cities in California, Texas, and Florida.
“There’s a million ‘better’ burger places, but there was no ‘better’ Arby’s, that just didn’t exist,” Carron said, reflecting on why he and Fretz opted to take the roast beef sandwich route rather than start a burger chain.
Meanwhile, Carson was making waves of his own as the chef and owner of Bon Temps in downtown Los Angeles, earning the pastry specialist high praise from Esquire, Food & Wine, the Los Angeles Times, and other publications.
With Carson headlining Coast Range’s daytime pastry and lunch cafe, Carron and Fretz will collaborate on the dinner-only restaurant and Vaquero Bar food offerings.
To curate the perfect list of wines to pair with their dishes, the Coast Range chefs are teaming up with fellow Central Coast resident and James Beard Award-winning winemaker Rajat Parr. The renowned sommelier is planning to highlight a variety of steak- and seafood-friendly wines, including many from regional producers in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties.
Other members of the Coast Range team include Joseph Sabato, the restaurant’s general manager and mixologist, and Hillary Calhoun, who will oversee marketing and catering.
If there was one positive thing to come out of this year, Carron said, it was assembling this group of passionate professionals.
“They say there’s always a silver lining. While 2020 brought challenges, it also allowed us to assemble a world-class team,” Carron said. “And find the perfect space to showcase our talents in a part of the world we love.
“As soon as I moved here, I knew I wanted to open a restaurant at some point,” added Carron, who daydreamed of becoming a chef as a child, specifically as soon as he was “tall enough to see over the stove.”
Would you believe me if I told you he learned how to cook from the CIA?
“The Culinary Institute of America,” he clarified.
Rather than enroll in the school though, Carron purchased one of the CIA’s textbooks and studied it independently. He ended up cooking every recipe in the book, from cover to cover, for dinner, night after night after night. His roommates at the time had little to complain about.
“They ate very well. And that’s how I got my training,” Carron said. “It was a lot cheaper than going to culinary school.
“I still have that dog-eared book,” he added fondly, “with stains on every page.”
Send well-loved comments to Arts Editor Caleb Wiseblood at [email protected].