What used to be true about the Santa Ynez Valley in general and Solvang in specific is that when you wanted to relax after a hard day of shopping and have cool drink, there didn’t used to be many choices. In fact, outside of generic beer, you were out of luck. Quality breweries like Figueroa Mountain Brewery and Firestone-Walker Barrelworks have changed that. However, as much as he’d like to, man can’t survive on just beer. As luck would have it, there is now an emerging food and burgeoning cocktail scene growing in Solvang. A beacon of light in these growing areas is The Landsby.
Never heard of The Landsby? I hadn’t either until they invited Alice and I to come visit. You might know it by its former name: The Petersen Village Inn.
As a kid, when we’d go to visit Solvang for prolonged trips, we never had a specific hotel where we stayed. That’s not to say we didn’t know where the fanciest and nicest was, it was The Petersen Village Inn. Following that same trend, the best dinner in town? You guessed it, The Petersen Village Inn — the only slight caveat being that in order to eat there, you had to stay there. At the time, I didn’t care much for cocktails (save the occasional aquavit my mother would give me, but that’s our secret), but I’m sure that’s where the best cocktails were too.
Those days are gone. Not gone dead and dusted gone; gone and had a rebirth like a phoenix gone. It’s officially now The Landsby.
Like a phoenix? Oh yes, like a glorious, glittering, Scandinavian phoenix. Not too glittering though, I’d say it’s more of a refined, cool, modern Scandinavian one — but still, you get the idea.
There is no bigger example of the changing nature of Solvang than The Landsby.
Originally opened in the ’80s, The Peterson Village Inn was perfectly suited for the time. It was dark, plush, felt significant, but also a little heavy. If you’d have picked it up and transported it to Scotland or the northern reaches of Denmark, it would have fit right in with the motif.
The dark, heaviness is gone. While the bones of the building remain largely unchanged, they have fully revitalized the interior. Gone are the dark overtones of green and brown, replaced with refreshing lighter, brighter, whites, greys and modern accents. That’s not to say it’s lost its heritage or cultural significance, that’s to say it’s improved it and reimagined it for a modern time.
What’s this have to do with cocktails and food? Good question. Here’s your good answer: they implemented this same care and attention updating both their drinks and food as they did with the building itself.
During our time there, we had the pleasure of chatting with Seth Nathan, the executive chef at Mad & Vin, The Landsby’s restaurant, and got his thinking behind both the food and cocktails.
The first thing that he clued us into was what exactly went into updating the hotel. Even though they hired a quality design firm, the owner was quite hands on in everything that went into and onto the property. She wanted to ensure that everything met her vision for the hotel, but remained true to the area.
This same attention to detail went into the food and drink. She hired Seth because she trusted his food, his style and knew that they could work together.
For example, when the owner came to Seth and said, “Have you tried shrubs [vinegar based elixirs]? I think we should work with those for our cocktails.”
Seth, one who never shirks from a challenge, was up to it with his bar manager, Sean Pantazi.
How do I know that Seth is always up for a challenge? You know the standard, “backpacking through Europe, getting a Europass and having a great time” trope? If no, that’s a thing (seriously, people talk about it all the time), if yes, he did that. He set about to experience life and see new things. It was all about travel and new places.
That was right up until he got to San Sebastian.
He realized that San Sebastian was the destination that he didn’t know he was searching to find. Immediately upon getting off the train, he walked directly to where he was staying and out into the town. Without looking at a map. Without having ever been there before.
He had found where he was supposed to be, tore up his return ticket and stayed there for five years, picking up some serious restaurant skills along the way.
This vision shines through in both his food and the cocktail program that they have.
Gone are the old classics and in are things like cured salmon, both with a nod to Seth’s Jewish heritage and accenting Scandinavian flavors. There are rich dishes, like the croquettes, done with a rich, creamed béchamel sauce and ham, deep-fried, but served with house-cured olives.
For each of the foods on the plate, he provides accent pieces, allowing the diner to direct their own meal.
It’s the same with the shrub cocktails. You get the brightness of the vinegar, but it doesn’t overpower the other flavors. They work together and accent everything.
Seth and Sean have worked hard to revitalize the kitchen and bar to celebrate local flavors, farmers and growers, while also expanding and challenging diners and themselves to experiment with new, wonderful things.
The Landsby is certainly emblematic of the changing nature of both Solvang and the Santa Ynez Valley.
Don’t take my word for it though — go check it out for yourself and chat with all of the locals there. Yes indeed, these days it’s packed because they have a great happy hour and you don’t even need to stay there to enjoy the food.