Eating Fresh at The Daisy

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The State Street favorite serves up locally sourced, sustainable fare with a wide appeal.

Ever since The Daisy opened the doors in 2019 to its bright inviting contemporary space on State Street, the restaurant has been a locals’ favorite for everything from mezze, fish, and falafel plates to burgers, smoked chicken, and ribs. Even a pandemic-forced closure for 16 months did little to dim the demand for chef Carmen “Daisy” Deforest’s fresh, flavorful dishes. What’s been especially welcome is a sustainability-focused menu that deftly encompasses the diets of vegans, vegetarians, and omnivores alike.

The appeal to vegan foodies goes back to observations Daisy and her husband, Dominic Shiach, made during their first foray into the Santa Barbara food scene in 2013. They moved to the area to decompress and reorient their careers — she was in fashion; he worked in TV and film — by opening Book Ends, a tiny rooftop café in the Antioch University building. Since the place had no kitchen, Daisy prepared everything in a kitchen in the Funk Zone, but among the most asked-for items were her spectacular fresh salads. She’s kindly shared her recipe for a Summer Tomato, Pea, and Feta Salad With Bright Herb Dressing for you to make at home.

“There was a big demand for plant-based food,” says Dominic, “and we realized it was an underserved market.” A key to The Daisy’s continued broad appeal is that the dishes are adaptable, easily incorporating cheese, for example, chicken, or even the house-made bacon. “The proteins we source are sustainable,” he adds. “We recognize a need for the human race to embrace a more plant-based diet — especially those of us in the West.”

We recognize a need for the human race to embrace a more plant-based diet — especially those of us in the West.

– Dominic Shiach

Book Ends was always meant to be a stepping stone, and after they closed it in 2016, the pair took a year to locate their current spot and a couple more to design and construct it. From the beginning, The Daisy had a reputation for deliciously “clean” food. What does that mean? “We use good, fresh ingredients and dress them simply,” says Daisy. That allows the ingredients to “speak for themselves. The menu is based on food we like — California/Mediterranean with some Middle Eastern flavors. Almost everything is from the farmers market.”

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She gets lettuces from Roots Farm and The Garden Of, produce from Milliken Family Farms and Frecker Farms. For tomatoes, kale, cauliflower, and chanterelles, there’s Tutti Frutti Farms. Meats come from Creekstone and Niman Ranch, and fish from the Santa Barbara Fish Market. The restaurant grinds its own combination of chuck and brisket for the hamburgers, and smokes its own ribs, bacon, and hot-smoked salmon.

Also housemade are the soups, sauces, and salad dressings. It’s hardly a surprise that the Little Gems salad with Green Goddess dressing is one of the daytime favorites. And the recent appearance of a market case with the dressings, hummus, and some other offerings — all in to-go containers that are recyclable and/or compostable — has been a busy addition.

To accompany the meals, there’s wine on tap, which both keeps the wine fresher and also demythologizes the ritual of opening bottles, notes Dominic. Plus, the 16 well-curated choices include 13 from California, of which 11 represent local wineries. For die-hard traditionalists there is also a selection of bottled wines.

The Daisy
The Daisy's front patio is a cozy enclave off busy State Street. – Photo by Randi Baird

What’s on the horizon? Daisy is looking forward to summer picnic baskets and family meals to go, while Dominic is thinking about expanding their reach to, say, three iterations of the restaurant, though he acknowledges that would be off in the future. And while the health of the planet is always a consideration, a closer goal is to continue to please a wide range of diners.

“Dining is a convivial activity,” says Dominic. “If you can cater to all appetites, it’s a way to bring people together.”

For more information, visit The Daisy, 1221 State St., Santa Barbara.

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The Daisy Summer Salad served on a plate.

Summer Tomato, Pea, and Feta Salad With Bright Herb Dressing


  • Author: Carmen Deforest
  • Yield: Makes 4 servings 1x

Description

Carmen “Daisy” Deforest is the chef at The Daisy, where she’s adored for her fresh salads and a menu that focuses on sustainability. For this one, she’s taking advantage of beautiful in-season tomatoes. She says, “We get gorgeous heirlooms from Tutti Frutti Farms, but any summer tomato will be delicious here. And it is a very pretty plate.”


Ingredients

Scale

For the dressing:

  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 3/4 cup olive oil
  • 4 sprigs basil, leaves only 
  • 3 sprigs mint, leaves only
  • 2 cups loose packed parsley leaves
  • 2 cloves garlic, grated
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

For the salad:

  • 3 heirloom tomatoes
  • Salt and freshly cracked pepper
  • 12 cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 2 cups podded peas 
  • 8 ounces feta cheese, crumbled 
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Instructions

  1. Add all of the dressing ingredients to a blender (reserve a few basil leaves for later.). Blitz until ingredients are combined and herbs are roughly chopped. Adjust seasoning to taste.  
  2. Slice heirloom tomatoes into thick ¼-inch slabs. Arrange on a platter, and season with salt and freshly cracked pepper, drizzle with a few spoonfuls of dressing.  
  3. Season cherry tomatoes with a little salt. 
  4. Roughly chop peas, and add to a bowl with crumbled feta. Add dressing, and gently mix together. Add pea and feta salad to the sliced tomato platter. 
  5. Scatter cherry tomatoes on top. Drizzle with olive oil and add reserved basil leaves.

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Joan Tapper
Joan Tapper
Adept at getting the most out of words and pictures for readers and clients alike, Joan Tapper has sat on both sides of the publishing desk. She was the founding editor of National Geographic Traveler, the longtime editor of Islands, and has since served as editor for several custom publications. As a freelance writer, she has produced numerous features about people, arts, travel, and culture for magazines that range from Santa Barbara and 805 Living to Robb Report and Westways. Her own books include three in the Thames & Hudson Most Beautiful Villages series with photographer Nik Wheeler, two crafts books with photographer Gale Zucker, and a tongue-in-cheek history travel guide, The Wild West on 5 Bits a Day, among others. She is also a sought-after private editor for writers of nonfiction and fiction.
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