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BEST BITES

October 11, 1990

The following are capsule reviews of some of the better restaurants recently visited by our critics:

You can go to Santa Barbara's Crown Jewel, the Biltmore Hotel, for more than just the atmosphere or the Sunday brunch buffet. The kitchen is now among the best in town, turning out wonderful dishes from lobster sausages to a bittersweet chocolate soufflee. Better at dinner than at lunch. Either the indoor La Marina or the sparkling, outdoor Patio make for romantic dining. The Four Seasons Biltmore is at 1260 Channel Drive, Santa Barbara; 969-2261. Serving in the Patio weekdays 6:30 a.m.-10 p.m., weekends 6:30 a.m.-11 p.m. Serving in La Marina weekdays 6-10 p.m., weekends 6-11 p.m. Lunch for two, food only, $30-48. Dinner for two, food only, $50-$70.

The pub at Victoria Pub and Restaurant is a lively gathering place for English expatriates and pub lovers alike. It stays open until everyone goes home, and the dart games never stop. The more subdued restaurant serves an English menu, complete with steak and kidney pie, fish and chips and Cornish pasties. The soups, which change daily, are excellent. The lamb steak is excellent, and you don't even have to be British to appreciate the desserts. The crumble of the day with hot fruit, sweet crumble and cream is particularly good. Victoria Pub and Restaurant is located at 1413F S. Victoria Ave., Ventura; (805) 650-0060. Lunch is served every day from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Dinner is served from 5 to 9:30 p.m. and the pub is open until 2 a.m. Dinner for two, food only, $25 to $60.

The flowing hot springs at Wheeler have drawn people to their therapeutic ambiance since the early 1800s. Today you can enjoy them along with a massage and a fine dinner. The menu changes every week and the vegetables and herbs come from the restaurant's own gardens. The Restaurant at Wheeler Hot Springs is located at 16825 Maricopa Highway; (805) 646-8131. Dinner is served 5 to 9:30 p.m. Thursday through Sunday, and Sunday brunch is 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Dinner for two, food only, $52 to $68.

The Sportsman Restaurant and Cocktail Lounge is a throwback to the 1950s and '60s when it was one of the "special occasion" restaurants in Ventura. Although its prices might have changed with the times, the quality of its steaks and chops has not. The Sportsman is at 53 S. California St., Ventura; 643-2851. Open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. for breakfast and lunch, and 5 to 10 p.m. for dinner Sunday. Lunch for two, food only, $12-$20. Dinner for two, food only, $25-$46.

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