ALDI In Arroyo Grande showing big aesthetic changes to the building shell, meaning they will be opening later rather than sooner. I can’t wait–I’m a total grocery-store junkie and when traveling will often pull off to roam a strange market just to see how things are presented and laid out. I’ve never actually been inside an ALDI, but have seen them in Europe and friends stateside with them nearby speak glowingly. You KNOW it is something along the lines of: Trader Joe’s is one half of the family and Aldi is the other half–with obviously quite different marketing styles but not necessarily demographics. I hope for the Ummmmerican demo they have not dulled it down into just another horrid Von’s/Ralph’s/Albertson’s. At minimum, I expect more aseptic-paks and half-kilo bricks of cheap espresso-grind.
MULLIGANS in Avila Beach at the golf course has a new chef, a baker, Pete Bruton from San Luis Sourdough. I liked the old chef, but like a lot of chefs, he had…. well, I’m just going to stop talking now–I know too many chefs and–you get the idea. Don’t forget Mulligans when in Avila. When there’s huge lines of bikini-clad coeds who somehow can’t manage to find a cover-up to go into a restaurant, or throngs of Harleys or wide-walkers with cameras in town and no parking at the pier, DON’T FORGET MULLIGANS. Unless there’s a concert going on or something, you can almost ALWAYS find a nice quiet table, a good cocktail, decent wine, food on par with anything else at the beach and plenty of free parking. Best-kept secret in Avila.
While we’re talking about Avila, I got a chance (finally) to eat at the completely-refurbished AVILA MARKET on Front Street. So… the KRAVABOWL people bought it and moved that operation from around the corner INTO the market, but also remodeled the inside, created a bunch of new seating, installed a wine & beer bar and somewhat freshened-up and expanded the menu. This was my third attempt to eat there and I went away very pleased. My previous two attempts were thwarted by huge lines, but that was during summer. You can’t blame them–there’s only a certain number of places to eat in Avila and it offers a convenient place to grab something while at the beach. I had a very nicely-put-together burger, some seriously slathered garlic fries and a beautiful salad–all with a glass of wine from their 10 or 15 choices of serviceable–but touristy–local favorites. I would encourage patience with the ordering system, it is very awkward and disjointed, with one person trying to take orders and get all drinks–beer & wine included–and the well-staffed kitchen merely calling out numbers at the opposite end of store. The system works *okay* when there’s 3 people in line, but put 100 beach-visitors in the room and it is chaos. Now that calmer times have arrived here on the Central Coast, give it a shot. It’s quite good–and significantly different from the other 3 dining options on Front Street.
Speaking of Avila, Andy–formerly of Avila Barn–is having a blast at PUFFER’S OF PISMO, and continues to surprise every time I visit–which is probably more times than is healthy in a month… It’s such an easy go-to spot–especially for late dining–and everyone there is practically like family. And the new chef is cranking out surprises DAILY, with house-made sausage, cheese, pickles… ALWAYS something interesting. Tuesday and Wednesday are “soup nights”, but there’s always plenty of Serrano jambon and cheese-plates. And the wine. That goes without saying. The wine is free-flowing, inexpensive, and from interesting spots all over the world.
I ate at 15 DEGREES C in Templeton for the first time. That went reasonably well. It was during Darren Delmore’s (of Tablas Creek and Del’s Pizzeria fame) release party for his own label of wine–of which there are only a couple barrels of each: Pinot and Syrah and is EXCELLENT. Ordered a couple dishes from the bar surrounding their crazy little kitchen. The meat & cheese board was excellent. *Maybe* a little pricey at 28$, but it’s hard to put a value on something which can vary–internally and externally–as much as a meat & cheese plate. I didn’t take a picture of it because the stranger next to me–who I promised could share–tore into it before I had a chance to arrange everything perfectly for Instagram. It had the usual accoutrement of dried fruit, Castellano olives, nuts and fruit (although I did get a horrifically moldy blackberry), hard cheese and soft, crusty oiled baguette, rustic meats, and I particularly like how the chef heated the creamy cheese triangle *just* barely barely to turn the consistency to near-butter proportions. It was still cold–don’t get me wrong: it wasn’t warm–but just had the edge taken off. Take note: It’s the little things. Oh, and the heirloom caprese was delicious.
Bakery Beat: SWEET PEA BAKERY in Arroyo Grande next to EMBER closed temporarily for re-organization. Don’t panic. Everybody stay calm. I told you I got into PARDON MY FRENCH BAKERY in Grover Beach AND GROVER BEACH SOURDOUGH (in Grover Beach duh) recently, right? I think so. The latter has lots of interesting things a bakery should. The former… not so much. Along those lines, I popped into ARROYO GRANDE BAKERY yesterday to buy bread. There’s no bread. It’s been kinda a personal kick I’ve been on lately: Bakeries with bread. Seems like a no-brainer, but it turns out to be quite rare. Speaking of bakeries: LE PETIT PARIS will happen. I promise. We keep waiting… and the new rumors are better than ever. CARLOCKS in Los Osos has no bread. HOUSE OF BREAD in SLO has bread! Hey, you know who has an interesting bakery? You’re not going to believe this. FOOD 4 LESS in San Luis Obispo has a huge bakery in back and makes everything they sell from scratch every day! I’m looking at all these wonderful breads and rolls and desserts and they don’t really have a label and I ask where they get their stuff and she looks at me like I’m retarded and simply turns around and points at the bakery. The bolillos!!! Best ever.
I noticed BAYWOOD TAVERN‘s menu online has greatly expanded from their almost-straight-sandwiches-list after taking over from Baywood Alehouse. I haven’t visited yet, but this could signal their kitchen remodel is completed?
Did someone say “Kitchen remodel complete”?!?! You gotta check out ROSALINA in Santa Margarita. The Range people are seriously having fun with this little place across the street in the old Santa Margarita Tavern locals’ watering-hole. You’ve never seen Mexican quite like this–and all in a spot with SOOO much soul. And the drinks!!! Easily the best Michelada in town, but also try the “Cholo Punch” (red wine and coke) and Stiegl Radler Grapefruit beer with 7Up.
The rumors surrounding SIDECAR in San Luis Obipso have been plethoric the past couple years. Everything from doubling their space with the next door spot to taking the body-shop next to British Motor Cars. Well, it’s semi-official: They are moving the restaurant AND starting a distillery of their own at the troubled upstairs-downstairs double-space formerly Creekside Brew and about 50 other things in the past couple decades. Remember Grappolo?!? I think it’s a really nice fit, and Josh doesn’t mess around. This is gonna be good.
Did you know SLO BREW is also installing a distillery out at their THE ROCK location by the airport? THE most family-friendly restaurant in town, THE most awesome concert venue in town, and soon… a Cocktail Lounge! (did I mention they are showing Rocky Horror Picture Show TWICE on Haloween?!? >>>TIX<<<
Speaking of downtown SLO, the biggest surprise this week in the rumor-dept was a huge brand new restaurant going up for sale. I’m not going to say who it is, because it hasn’t closed, they’re not bankrupt, they’re not going out of business, there’s no sign up, everything continues as usual–it’s just they listed the place with a broker. It is very expensive, but probably worth every penny as it is brand new and very large and professionally done and well-outfitted and basically turn-key–probably liquor-license and all. And in a highly-anticipated location. The rent doesn’t even seem that high–especially compared to rumors of things like CA Pizza Kitchen paying almost 20k/month. Anyway… stay tuned… I will for SURE announce new owners if it sells.
Finally got into THE MARK down at the lower end of Higuera by Kruzeberg and Oasis. The former Marstons and Marty’s in the space Seven Hands beautifully remodeled and gathers a patina of change every time someone new moves in. This is an interesting menu–kinda all over the place, but definitely bar-centric. Something like 10 different tacos–including al pastor, which again, like other gringo places downtown, I am hesitant to both order OR add to THE TACO LIST. I had a couple excellent tri-tip sliders on cute little brioches with good fixins, and with both ceviche and poke on the menu, I fought the mantra of NEVER ORDER FISH DOWNTOWN and ordered the former. It was GOOD! Beautiful fish, perfectly *cooked* and covered with daikon and cucumber refrigerator pickles with a bit of heat on them. Served nicely with house-fried flour tortilla chips which do not shred the roof or your mouth or break teeth. I sampled all over the menu with 3 other industry folks and we all voted we would definitely dine here again. But it’s bar food. Remember that. The drinks were good!
Pulled an impromptu drop-in on the venerable SPOON TRADE in Grover City a couple nights ago after Teri Bayus sent me a message saying the secret menu item was a fat slab of foie gras and Chef was saving me one. Melt-in-your-mouth ecstasy. It’s easy to get into a rut at Spoon Trade because the favorites are SO favorite, but we resisted and pulled a couple of new salad offerings off the menu. The Shaved Vegetable Salad at first glance sounded just a little too vegan for me but it arrived coated in glorious feta and was the star of the show. Brought a bottle of old-world wine to open alongside a bottle from their fabulous list of new-world offerings. A good time was had by all.
Did you see SCONOS is on CraigsList for $1? Speaking of that location, loyal readers know how much I love STAX WINE BAR & BISTRO in Morro Bay ALREADY, but have you been since Kari Zeigler took the helm?!?! The changes are significant and their whole game has been stepped up impressively. Don’t you love it when a restaurant you already love gets better?
Finally ate at SEVEN SISTERS BREWING (there’s actually NINE sisters in the mountain chain, but almost NO ONE acknowledges that fact). It was good. The pulled pork sliders were very nice with good pickles and THE most interesting slaw I have ever had in my life. I HATE COLE SLAW. I HATE COLE SLAW. I just want everyone to understand the depth to which I HATE COLESLAW. I love everything IN it, I just hate the prepared dish. But this stuff! OMG. I want to buy it separately to take home. It is a coarse chopped celery and celeriac doused with a thin, light buttermilk dressing and is really REALLY good. Speaking of micheladas, I decided to try theirs. I couldn’t figure out why it took them 15 minutes to make a stupid michelada–I mean it’s beer and Clamato ferchrissakes–and then it arrived. It is a MEAL. It comes with a grilled cheese sandwich as a garnish along with a near-SALAD of pickled veggies. So be patient. And don’t order it in ADDITION to a full meal. Do NOT go here for wine. And do not be tempted by the rather-positive wine-selection. I was served a warm splash of local Syrah in literally the worst stemless bowl I’ve ever cupped which had been open at LEAST a couple days. So yeah… stick with the beer. Weird vibe there. I dunno… couldn’t quite put my finger on it. I’d go back though.
Don’t forget to give thanks before you eat.