Oh wow. Spring is here and so much going on. Sorry I skipped last week, but was doing my taxes–YES AT THE LAST MINUTE–and the restaurant blog lost the toss.
Happy Passover, first-off, and last night’s seder at SALLY LOO’S in SLO. Chef Spencer Johnston’s new Turntable Supper Club is the hottest new pop-up, and last night’s meal was my first experience with Jewish food. With the exception of a couple of odd things like matzo balls, everything was quite normal, scrumptious, hearty middle-eastern food, with hummus, cucumber salad, potato or chick-pea starch creations, figs, dates, olives and everything in between. Next Turntable Supper Club is May 10 and will be Spanish Tapas. There’s no real website, there’s no FB page, there is an Instagram, but the best way get info is to just follow the chef or me and you’ll get plenty of warning before the next one sells out. (BTW, *turntable* has little to do with records and mostly because it is in the Railroad District… turntable? get it? Turn-table??? Raise your hand if you’re old enough to understand).
I took The ‘Italian Experiment’ to LA LOCANDA last week. For those of you who haven’t been paying attention, this is where I go to one of our expensive local Italian places and order the cheapest pasta on the menu and the cheapest bottle of wine on the list that isn’t Chianti. [Several have queried why I make this distinction–it is NOT because I dislike Chianti or Sangiovese but only for the sake of this experiment: the cheapest Italian wine on a menu and the cheapest Chianti on a menu are usually WORLDS apart in quality. Cheap Italian wine is usually exemplary–cheap Chianti is ROTGUT. There’s your wine-lesson for the day.] This has been such an interesting project. And here’s the thing about La Locanda: I’m really torn on this restaurant. This is the third time I have eaten there. The first time I had a wonderful meal and penciled it in as one of the area’s finest white-table-cloth Italian joints. The pasta was perfect and the sauces and fillings and meats beautiful and invigorating. Service was attentive and wine professional. The second time I had literally some of the worst food ever. The duck tasted like electrical fire and the ossobuco was a soggy, mushy coloring-book version. Wine-service was awkward and poorly-paced. I’ve since heard equal sides of good and bad from many people. So, I kinda drug myself back–prepared for the worse–and was blown away. The lasagna was very little cheese and tomato and all bechamel and Bolognese. If you don’t know food, that sounds horrible; if you know food, you know what I’m talking about. I want carrots falling out of my lasagna, OKAY? Instead of a normal pasta, I ordered plain old mushroom risotto, which–again–you know this is not a simple dish, but priced down there with the pasta favorites. Risotto typically shows up as a side or bedding to many of the meat dishes around town, but here it stands gloriously alone–just a deep plate brimming with perfect rice, gooey and sticky and shimmering with texture and flavor. Found a beautiful little Barbera d’Asti on the list for 30 bucks. So I guess I’m going to have to go back for a tie-breaker. Wish me luck.
PIEDMONTES DELI up in NoMo has been transferred to the children of the owners and is re-branding as MONTEREY STREET MARKET and going to be less focused on strict Italian wares and more on a wide range of products and casual dining. Minor interior modifications are underway and Grand Opening is planned for this month. They are open during the transition. I’ve gone on record several times stating this my favorite deli in town, and from conversations with the owners, no changes are significant enough to merit backing away from that statement. The owners also own THREE ON THE TREE (ok, railroad turntable was bad enough, raise BOTH hands if you get 3-on-the-tree). Have you seen these little trucks around town? There’s the Metro Van, the Beer Truck, and–wait for it–THE BUBBLY BAR CART, which is EXACTLY what you think it is. SHUT UP AND TAKE MY MONEY.
Further up Monterey, 1865 and The Monterey Hotel (what are they going to do about The Monterey Hotel in Monterey???) is taking shape along with the other two big hotel projects. Holy wow, how many luxury hotels does downtown San Luis Obispo need? Apparently, THREE. The Monterey Hotel is actually supposed to open AHEAD of the other two, HOTEL SAN LUIS OBISPO (in Chinatown), and HOTEL CERA in the old SLObrew spot. Interesting to note the latter recently changed all their marketing from “Hotel Serra”. Wonder if the Catholic church sent them a C&D? But this column isn’t about hotels, it is about restaurants, and apparently, “1865” might be resurrected for the NoMo property, I have mentioned BRASSERIE SLO’s projected opening in June several times, and HOTEL SLO has announced two restaurants on-site, PIADINA and OX+ANCHOR. If the + turns out to be crossed arrows, I’m going to throw up in my mouth a little bit. Interesting to note the new chefs for HOTEL SLO and HOTEL CERA are both from the peninsula.
Same owners of Monterey Hotel: 1122 in Paso Robles–the secret-handshake speakeasy you know? Oh you don’t know? Oh yeah: it’s a secret. Well, I expect it to become less of a secret as they abolished their reservations-only policy and have gone to first-come-first-served, which has naturally incensed the regulars and excited the unwashed. Not sure how this will affect their ‘Cocktail Club’ members.
Speaking of C&D, most of you know of my receiving one from Soif Wine Bar And Merchants in Santa Cruz and of my transitioning all my social media platforms away from this–apparently sacred and trademarked–French word for ‘thirst’. My metrics didn’t take to much of a hit, and if you are reading this, you probably have transitioned along with me. But yeah, those in the back rows will notice the wineblog is wine1er.com now and this page is eatdrink101.com and the Instagram and Twitter and ello and Medium and tumblr and Pinterest and FB have all moved slowly away from the no-no word: Soif. Hell, nobody could pronounce it anyway.
Hey, I popped in to HOUSE OF THE RISING BUNS in Pismo Beach and bought one of his thick rustic loaves of sourdough. This is where the old Moose Deli was. He’s making sandwiches there too, of course. If you want to buy bread, GO EARLY. He sells out daily. He makes three breads to sell: A country white slicing bread, a coarse brown sourdough, and hamburger buns.
I’ve been working a bit up the coast so had some time to kill in Cayucos. That whole block there on N. Ocean at the south edge of downtown has changed completely–and it’s all food. Full Moon of course became BEACH BUMS BEVS & BITES (wow what a name) and has changed significantly inside. Downstairs, CAYUCOS SAUSAGE COMPANY is selling all their fresh sausages, and sandwiches along with meat (yes, raw meat–beef and pork and such–as in a butcher shop) and prepared dishes to eat there or take home. Next door, HONEY GIRL CAFE has taken the old Top Dog ice-cream-and-coffee spot and turned it into a charming little sandwich, healthy-plate, smoothie and coffee spot. A fabulous place for lunch. But there’s more. SWEET HABITS CREATIONS have brought their handcrafted confections and chocolates to a brick & mortar next door. THIS WHOLE CENTER IS FOOD NOW!!!
And what about further down in Cayucos? Had a little re-visit this week to both LUNADA GARDEN BISTRO and CASS HOUSE GRILL. Cass House for reasons obvious to those paying attention (and it will come up in conversation later here), and Lunada because it is LITERALLY the ONLY luxe-dining option for lunch now in town, as Cass House has cut hours. Both went extremely well. Part of my Lunada fear/attraction is just the feeling of sitting in that warm yellow room and being quiet. Long-time locals understand. Nothing’s changed. It’s basically identical. Wine list is deep with interesting locals, service is succinct and professional, the vibe is calm and actually quite a bit the same. At Cass House I had a salad it looked like they were practically picking out of the back yard to make, and at Lunada I decided to try their Apple Pie Burger. Yes, that’s spiced raisins and baked apple pie filling falling out of it.
Remember the rumors about Sidecar going into the old autobody shop next to British Motor Cars? You know how I always say this column is ‘kinda true’? Well, it is becoming THE PENNY SLO, an event center from the vintage-trailer glamping people at TINKER TIN. Sidecar of course continues work on their new location and gin distillery over on the river. The original SIDECAR SLO remains open. I was there last night.
Had enough hotel talk? There’s another huge one going in down by the pier in Pismo Beach–with a new restaurant, of course. Oh-oh-oh-AND: INN AT THE PIER has hired the chef from Cider Bar SLO to manage BLONDE and ROOFTOP. Now there are chef-transitions and there are chef transitions. And I typically only make special note of them when they involve a person I am especially enamored with. Or, rather: their FOOD, I should say. I mentioned a couple weeks ago dining issues with Cider Bar over two visits. I recently went a third time and my suspicions were confirmed. Chef is gone, and the food is obviously different–size, texture, taste, presentation, everything. The paté is a fat slab of dull loaf, no cornichons, no moutarde; the gougeres are no longer fluffy, airy wonders but are little dense dollops resembling small-dog poops. The wine list remains THE BEST IN SAN LUIS OBISPO period, hands down, bar-none, but deletions on the menu are rife and I suspect a few items the formerly-Robushon chef house-made are no longer. What does this mean? Well, unlike Bidwell’s move from Cass House Grill to Hatch–where Cass house will be FINE and Hatch can only get better–I am predicting this move will go poorly for Cider Bar and be a ridiculous boon for BLONDE and ROOFTOP in Pismo.
In other disappointments, got into TASTE CRAFT EATERY again after a long hiatus, hoping for change. The LAST time I went there, I took a chef friend to lunch–touting it as good–and had nearly inedible calamari, fries in dirty oil, and sliders pedestrian and poorly presented. THAT was embarrassing. So it has been about a year. The wine list has dropped several more of my favorites–a pattern noticeable on the previous visit–from their once-fascinating list, and become quite a challenge to anyone not wanting to drink the usual suspects of local tourist wines. I nearly ordered iced tea. A bacon-Parmesean Mac & Cheese was a flaky, boring affair inside, inattentively cooked and crusted with melted cheese. My former absolute FAVORITE here–the banh mi–was an awkward combination of hurried bun and a huge glomp of bland pulled pork, with sauce barely noticeable and pickles–the SIGNATURE of banh mi–lifeless and un-supportive.
Before we get off the subject of Creamery Marketplace, reiterating last week’s big news: MISTURA is moving to the former Foremost Wine Co location and the clock ticks down quickly for landmark Spike’s next door as BEAR & THE WREN (no pluses or crossed arrows) prepares to anchor their popularity in a brick & mortar downtown. And to put your fears to rest, I talked to some of their people last night and yes, EVERYTHING is going. No more Spikes. So… those of you who remain nostalgic, best get down there and get your precious mug or pin or handle or bartender’s phone number or whatever boy-scout prize you won for drinking 365 beers a year for 20 years.
The Lord taketh away one French restaurant and giveth another… PETIT CANNELLIES or something inches toward opening in Paso Robles. This is Stephan Asseo’s son–of l’Aventure winery, of course. Can’t find any website or anything. But definitely NOT mere gossip.
On the subject of relatives, have you made it into SIDEWALK CAFE in The Village of Arroyo Grande yet? That’s Brian Collins’ brother (EMBER). I got in there last week and was quite impressed. Man oh man what a bright spot that is. I had an excellent garden burger and the seasoned fries were quite nicely done too–and you KNOW how I snob out about fries.
LA FETE DU PINK was a great success out at the brand new LA LOMITA RANCH. Finally, a full-on official rosé festival to kick off the summer. And have you seen La Lomita? This will be THE new spot for fun outdoor events, I promise. You can even stay overnight right there on the property in one of their new rooms carved out of former horse stalls. No, no no, I know that sounds terrible, but trust me–these things are beautiful, modern and the perfect balance of rustic and elegant. You can read about the WINE FESTIVAL HERE.
Did another *research* trip to LA PLACITA MARKET in Nipomo and I am not dreaming: the food has changed horribly and I can no longer stomach their al pastor. Grainy, dry and dog-foody, this is sad because there is now NO good tacos in Nipomo, with one place closed and now this. Oh well, Oceano is close enough–or North Santa Maria. I will edit THE TAQUERIA LIST to reflect these results.
OK, I’m done for the week. I’ll leave you on a good note: kitchen-sink pizza from MISSION PIZZA in Avila Beach, which shares a door and kitchen with Custom House but you can’t order it and have them pass it through to eat at the bar. Such a weird rule. Oh and to all you Chicago and New York people constantly fighting on the facebook: THIS is what real pizza looks like:
Wait. Pizza & Tacos might send the wrong postlude message to some folks, so how about we end on a salad from Passover Dinner:
There, there. Everybody feel healthier?
Remember: Pizza and Tacos are an important part of every nutritious meal.
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