entertainingFood & Drink

Spring Dinner Party + Grilled Fish Recipe

by Amy Azzarito

Santa Barbara Photographer Nancy Neil’s home has remained one of my favorite peeks I’ve ever worked on. There was just something about the rustic family home that tugged at my heart strings. As a frequent wedding photographer, Nancy works with a group of talented Santa Barbara folks. She and chef Ayda Robana decided to create a lakeside dinner party to ring in spring. Ayda created a well thought-out menu that centered around local seafood and farm-to-table ingredients. After creating the party, the group spent the evening talking about their big dreams for the season while eating and sipping passion fruit cocktails. If you’re inspired to host  your own springtime dinner, we have the grilled fish recipe and the floral how-to after the jump!   –Amy Azzarito

See the grilled fish recipe and flower arranging tips after the jump!

Party Credits:

Styled and photographed by: Nancy Neil
Flowers: Kelly Oshiro
Hand-dipped beeswax candles: The Lower Lodge
Leather candle sticks: Make Smith
Aprons by Finery
Dishes/carafe/salt dish by Botanik

Image above: Linens by Heather Taylor Home

Floral designer Kelly Oshiro created a bright, spring-inspired, low arrangement (so as not to interfere with any dinner table conversation) that utilizes a mix of citrus.

3 bunches of lemon leaf
2 bunches of white lilac
3 bunches of light pink ranunculus
2 bunches dark pink ranunculus
1 bunch light pink clematis
3 blocks floral foam (or enough to cover the bottom of your container)>
10 cut citrus branches (a mix of lemon and orange)
trash bag or plastic liner
floral shears & pruner
shallow oval bowl (or this)

To arrange:

  1. Begin by using a shallow oval bowl
  2. Soak three floral foam blocks in water
  3. Line the bowl with plastic or a trash bag (assuming your container is wood)
  4. Place the 3 blocks of floral foam in the container
  5. Begin creating a base for the arrangement using lemon leaf to completely cover the foam
  6. Make sure you rotate your arrangement periodically to make sure the shape looks good from all angels
  7. Begin placing your citrus branches, use a pruner to cut branches to desired length (regular floral shears won’t be strong enough to cut through the branches)
  8. Cut lilac with pruners to desired length and place in the arrangement
  9. Cut the two colors of ranunculus and place in arrangement
  10. Finish by layering clematis on top of all the other floral elements

Grilled Local Fish
The centerpiece of the meal was grilled local red Sheepshead fish with olive oil, Maldon salt, garlic, and fresh lemon juice.

To prepare the fish:

  • 1 fresh California Sheepshead* fish, cleaned
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • 6 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • 2-3 tablespoons olive oil
  • Generous sprinkle of Maldon salt

*could be substituted for Red Snapper or similar fish

To stuff the belly cavity:

  • fresh bay leaves
  • fennel fronds
  • rosemary sprigs
  • flatleaf parsley
  • 1 lemon, sliced


  1. Season fish inside and out with lemon juice, garlic, and olive oil. Finish with salt.
  2. Stuff all herbs and lemon slices inside fish’s belly cavity.
  3. Transfer fish to an oiled grilling basket (as shown in photos) or use skewers to close belly for grilling.
  4. Grill over medium high heat for 5-7 minutes on each side, or until fish is cooked through.
  5. Garnish with additional flatleaf parsley, baby octopus and a squeeze of lemon juice.
  6. Serve immediately and enjoy!

Image above: aprons by Finery

Image above: Ayda’s Santa Barbara Sunset Cocktail (Ketel One vodka, passion fruit juice, lychee juice, fresh passion fruit (Goodland Farm), sparkling water, sparkling limeade, fresh-squeezed lime juice. Garnished w/ a caviar lime (Goodland Farm).) Leather candle holders by Make Smith

Image above: Local Hope Ranch oysters on the half shell w/ white ponzu, watermelon radish (Earthrine Farms), caviar limes (Good Land Organics), chives and Kale salad: Tuscan kale (Domingo Farms), purple kale (Roots Farm), white & purple carrots (Roots Farm), candy-stripe beets (Roots Farm), candied kumquat, toasted pine nuts, golden raisins soaked in balsamic vinegar. Dressed with a vinaigrette of apple cider vinegar, whole grain mustard, garlic, fig jam, olive oil.


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