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Critic's Notebook

At This Pricey Brunch, Good Tastes Rule


Brunch at the Biltmore sounds like the title of a dusty British mystery, one that takes place on a perfect early summer weekend in Santa Barbara. It's a Sunday morning. The birds are chirping. The sun is shining, and the breeze has a crisp, cool edge to it.

It could be paradise. Or the closest thing to it. But even in paradise, you get hungry. Fortunately, on Sundays, there's brunch at the Four Seasons Biltmore. Try to get a table outside with a view of the Pacific, but even inside, you can get a glimpse of the ocean, and catch a gentle breeze from the patio.

The spread is the stuff of a brunch fancier's dreams--which it should be at a whopping $43 per adult. But that includes sparkling wine from the Loire Valley, fresh-squeezed orange juice, and as much of the buffet as you care to sample.

On a recent Sunday guests were markedly polite, stepping aside for the older folk and kids, moving at a leisurely pace through all the stations. Nobody needs to hurry, because the food is never going to run out.

The sheer number of choices is daunting. Sweet, barely cooked shrimp are piled high on a banquet-table-sized mound of ice with a horseradish-spiked cocktail sauce at its feet. A salad station holds at least a dozen examples, everything from a crisp Caesar to a Thai-inspired eggplant salad with peanuts and another of silky glass noodles. There's the requisite omelet chef with a crowd of ingredients in front of him, ready to create a custom omelet in a sizzle of butter.

Another chef stands ready to carve rosy roast beef or a beautiful slab of country ham. But my favorite is the wild mushroom station where the chef throws handfuls of chanterelle, oyster mushrooms, shiitake into his saute pan and serves them directly onto your plate.

Huge silver warmers hold eggs benedict and the lighter eggs florentine, which is English muffin topped with a slice of tomato, steamed spinach, a poached egg and a satiny hollandaise.

Tempted by all this, it's impossible to be disciplined. Especially not when there are Belgian waffles, cheese blintzes and crepes to be tried. Not to mention desserts, designed in miniature portions, the better to try them all.

I couldn't.


* The Patio Restaurant, Four Seasons Biltmore Hotel, 1260 Channel Dr., Santa Barbara; (805) 969-2261. Sunday brunch: Adults $43; children ages 7 to 12 $19; ages 4 to 6 $8; under 3 complimentary. Hours: 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Valet parking.

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