WILLOW Pismo Beach is now WILLOW KITCHEN & COCKTAILS which definitely has a nice ring to it. Finally got back in for a follow-up to my initial grand-opening let-down. Still an odd place–full and airy and quite battleship grey with lots of juxtapositioning vibes going on. But it’s cheery and busy and has a nice hum to it. Winelist has several new tweaks to it and the retail section out front has some interesting items. An Alexander Valley Cab by-the-glass is not something you see every day on the Central Coast. Wait-service was exemplary, food-and-drink-service had a few snags (yes, they were different people). Working off the bar menu, the fish tacos came wrapped in a coarse, under-cooked, pepper-infused house-made tortilla and were stuffed with KFC-looking fish, dry and crunchy. The hamburger was a plain old diner burger, which is somewhat of an anomaly in California these days. Plain bun, cheese the only option, no weird sauces, bacon, avocado, NOTHING, just a normal hamburger à la In-N-Out or Garlands. I’m not necessarily complaining: I like my burgers simple and it is a very good burger–but it doesn’t make the $15-burger playing field very level.

CENTRALLY GROWN Cambria. Have enjoyed many drinks and appetizers over the stunning view many times, but never got in for a full-on sit-down meal. What an odd place. Quite interesting winelist–dreadful BTG options–and a $15 burger far more the grand-dining norm and basically the opposite of the one described above. Crammed with all kinds of frou-frou stuff on a tough artisanal bun, literally one of the worst burgers I’ve had in my life. The 3″ tall pile of arugula constituting the $17 salad was a treasure-hunt for something substantial. Methodical and aloof service makes this somewhat of a *hmmmmm* experience.

FARMSTEAD KITCHEN Paso Robles. My ranting and raving about his new restaurant in the old Panolivo location is moderated a bit following my second visit. My first visit was a world-class fine dinner experience, so popped in for a far more casual bar-dinner to see if it held up. Ended up ordering almost exclusively seafood–which may seem odd for Paso Robles–and everything from the fried Calamari through the chilled soup of the day to the Cioppino-esque seafood stew over-achieved. Still my favorite restaurant in Paso. Wine-list serviceable.

LA ESQUINA TAQUERIA San Luis Obispo. I haven’t eaten here yet. Been really dragging my feet. First of all, I don’t eat tacos for dinner but most importantly: Do I want this restaurant on THE TAQUERIA LIST? So torn. Walked by a few times… Menu promises real rotisserie al Pastor ($7/pair) served on “corn, flour, or crispy-fried tortillas” which makes me retch, so I’m actually considering going in for a full-on mexican dinner sans tacos and leave the restaurant in the hands of my *general* restaurant criticism and not open the “taqueria” can of worms. Then again, I have Luna Red’s al pastor on my taco list, so we’ll see. Horrible winelist, just dreadful and $20 corkage–which those in the back rows will see as an interesting contrast to the flagship establishment.

LE PETIT PARIS (no website) from LOTUS: On the subject of walking in and not eating, this will probably be my final post on this subject. I know many of you are tired of me constantly mentioning the exciting potential opening of what was billed as a *French Bakery* and now it is finally open and a complete non-event. Excuse me for being myopic, but when Vietnamese open French restaurants, I get excited.  (WIKI that one, millennials, we’ll wait. Take all the time you need).  Apparently, Eclairs, Macarons, Madelines and Quiche are what the owners consider a “French Bakery”, with an odd-looking Croque-Monsieur being produced from a combination of cold-line and salamander. I just wanted a baguette et un café or maybe a banh mi on perfect bread. I don’t ever need to eat here. Your pho sucks since you moved downtown, now your bakery sucks, and I can’t wait for the Mongolian Barbeque to open. NOT.

SEABREEZE CUPCAKES Creamery, San Luis Obispo. This will conclude my somewhat catty *popped in, looked around, didn’t eat* trifecta. I’m not a crazy dessert-person, so not sure quite what to expect inside a highly-touted *cupcake shop*. I guess I was expecting a case of beautiful delights for purchase like ECLAIR in Arroyo Grande or PARDON MY FRENCH in Grover Beach or hell, even the above-mentioned LE PETIT PARIS disappointment. No. That is not here. And it was only slightly after noon on a Saturday, so I suppose sold out… maybe? I saw a lot of advertisement for wedding cakes and such so maybe that’s just what they do. I was promised cupcakes. *stomps foot*

CIDER BAR Oh boy oh boy oh boy! Let’s get into something EXCITING. Many of you have read my vitriol over the stark and almost unanimous contrast between the BEER LIST at wine-places and the WINELIST at beer places. That stops RIGHT HERE. I never intended to go to this place–not being a huge cider fan–but when I saw they had an interesting FRENCH menu, decided to give it a try. Shruggingly asked the keep if they had any wine, and he tosses a four-page typewritten masterpiece over the bar. This is literally THE BEST WINE LIST in San Luis Obispo County period end of conversation. The vast majority French, with fairly well-chosen locals popping up between. This is like somebody took PICO’s list and chopped it in half. This is like somebody took LIDO’s list, cut it 75% and removed the Isosceles vertical. And then the food. The tiny cold-kitchen and young chef from Las Vegas crank out an amazing array of tiny bistro-favorites, all balancing a solid French foundation against a bright California theme. Think: pickles, paté, jambon panini, gruyère tart, cold shaved beef, aioli, endive, smoked salmon and tzatziki, poached eggs and OMG get the CHEESE PUFFS. This is my new favorite restaurant in San Luis Obispo. Oh yeah, they have cider too.

Hey, I finally got into SCONOS in Arroyo Grande. That didn’t go *quite* as well as above, but was interesting. It’s a weird sophomore feeling inside, like a second album the critics really want to like, and everybody worked really hard on, and is technically sound, but lacking any magic. A part 2 movie with vaguely familiar characters and re-worked themes but soul-less. Lovely meatballs served sans pasta in a plate-licking ragu. A very well-dressed (if you know me, “well-dressed” means minimal acid) citrus-themed salad with roasted quinoa crunch. Teensy little agnolotti’s stuffed with goodness and surrounded in an English pea bath so fresh you can literally taste the garden. The dryest, most blandest quail I have ever had in a smoked paprika and mushroom presentation. An embarrassing winelist–with over half the bottles not available. Odd closures and abbreviated hours which confound with their associated dramatic explanations. I look forward to trying this place after the training wheels are off.

On the taco front: visited BONI’S TACOS two-table brick & mortar in Cambria. This one too is hampered by posted hours which deviate from reality. They were good tacos. I’d eat them again. Nothing even close to the top examples of al pastor in Oceano and Santa Maria (and now San Luis Obispo at Tacos El Tizon) but quite serviceable. The fresh salsa is an odd color and texture, but INCREDIBLE.

Oh and if you’re still paying attention, MINT + CRAFT is having another of their amazing community dinners THIS WEDNESDAY at  7PM and this one’s VEGAN. Probably soldout (22 seats) but worth a shot.  And by all means GET ON THE LIST for next month’s.  These are the best pop-ups in SLO right now.

Follow me on instagram @eatdrinkCA and @soif for the daily food & wine porn.


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