After my less-than-stellar banh mi experience last week, ducked into LINCOLN DELI for a refresher course. Actually, I went twice, but the first time made the mistake of going at 12:05 on a weekday. Line was out the door. Homie don’t play that. So went the next day and oh boy oh boy oh boy that thing is SOOOOO worth it. Perfect tasty juicy finely-pulled pork, lots of pickles and cilantro, and even a stray jalapeno slice if you don’t watch out. Imma gonna havta go revisit Lotus soon. Do either of the two new Viet (pho) spots in Santa Maria make banh mi? YES THE H GOES AFTER THE N
Speaking of bad experiences, anyone been to BLONDE lately? I went shortly after they opened and mentioned on these pages it was lackluster, if sufficient. I recall sticking to the basics of the dinner menu that time–meat & potatoes–and went away bored, but not repulsed. I returned yesterday for a late-afternoon cruise through the center of their all-very-good-and-high-brow-sounding menu after scanning their HORRIBLE winelist. A glass of J bubbles was literally the ONLY thing I can drink on that list. I love J. The lobby/dining room is quite majestic, and the service professional and mature–just awesome AWESOME service. Then the food started coming. A very nice preparation of artichoke hearts–quartered and fried–but tasting horribly of fish. It was accompanied by a viscous mayonnaise-base of sweet pickle relish and garlic affectionately called aioli, but a far closer relative of tartar sauce. Nice, fluffily-battered tubes & tentacles arrived on cute butter-lettuce cups covered in–you guessed it–the same sauce. Cauliflower Tots sounded interesting, but tasted like electrical fire and wet phone book and were nestled in a thick bed of–are you ready for this?–THE SAME SAUCE. Anyone have the Sysco catalog number for this stuff? I’m gonna send them a 5-gal bucket for Christmas. I was quite surprised how much of the menu was vegetarian–considering the demographic–and HAD to try the Grilled Cheese sandwich stuffed with spinach and mushrooms. Again, the expectation and description far out-shone the reality. Slimy and bland–accompanied by nicely-prepared fries–I managed a few bites. Perhaps it should have had some of the magic aioli inside? Remember me mentioning last week the rumor of Cider Bar SLO’s French-trained chef moving to BLONDE? Well, I CERTAINLY did not expect fabulous bistro food to materialize instantly, but I DID have my hopes up. But remember: this is the Bakersfield Biscuits & Gravy demographic. This food is inedible.
Across the street, HOAGIES has been on my radar for a year or so. There’s a bunch of restaurants down in this quadrant of Pismo I’ve never heard of in my life, owing to the fact–as all locals know–NO ONE goes down here. Puffer’s and Central Coast Meat Market is as CLOSE to this dreadful strip of strollers, sparkly jeans and shades-perched-on-baseball-caps as I get. But when I heard of Hoagies a while back, I was intrigued, and snuck down on a quiet weekday with the intention of trying a legit hoagie. What a cute place! Appears almost-completely family run, and when I saw the “BBQ” side-notation and the amount of care being put into their pulled pork, I easily changed my choice to their Cubano. Served on a soft, delicately-crusted French roll–something you would naturally expect a place named *Hoagies* to have down perfect–it is not pressed as is the norm. Swaddled in tin-foil, it is ooey-gooey crammed with juicy smoked pork, beautiful ham, melted cheese, and–like the maker’s mark of the banh mi: pickles. Perfectly-done curly-fries came alongside, and either someone in the kitchen knew of my aversion to seasoning salt or it just doesn’t come with the Cubano, as they were plain-salted while surrounding tables had the Lawry’s.
OK rapid-fire small business: Thomas Drahos is the new chef at NORMAN at Skyview in Los Alamos. CASS HOUSE GRILL has hired Stacey Bareng. Michael Avila is now at NOVO, and Richard Pfaff will be interesting to watch at LIDO. A complete re-gut of a downtown stalwart–without a chef announcement–is a little young to announce but it will shock you. Work continues on the former Foremost location for the transition to MISTURA, ditto for Spikes next door becoming BEAR AND THE WREN. Speaking of Creamery Marketplace, JOLIENE BAKERY has opened in the corner where the vintage clothing boutique was,and they have pain au chocolat and baguettes and croissants and everything! There’s actually a new coffee shop next door that looks pretty cool that I hadn’t realized had opened called WITHCO COFFEE so eck t out. Nice little corner they’ve got down there now. Popped into FARMHOUSE CORNER MARKET today and it is shaping up nicely with a June opening. TACO TEMPLE has opened south of town. And way out west, the HALFWAY STATION on 41 between Paso and Morro Bay has finally opened. This probably has me more intrigued than any gossip in this column this week.PRESQUILE WINERY‘s annual tri-tip cookoff is May 18 and is almost sold out.Have you heard of JIMMY WONG? His microscopic 4-top apartment restaurant, DENCH is pretty much closed in anticipation of graduation. Not accepting reservations. He is graduating, his cookbook is nearly 200% funded on Kickstarter and he is moving back to Hong Kong, where his new restaurant will most likely attract Michelin-star gossip. Never got to eat Jimmy Wong’s food? Well I have great news for you. As exclusive and un-obtainable as a spot at his table was, you have ONE MORE CHANCE to experience Jimmy Wong. He is the featured chef for the Kreuzberg DEVOUR series of chef pop-ups in June. If you have been following this chef even remotely, get your LAST CHANCE at his food HERE.Popped into MONTEREY STREET MARKET a couple days ago to snoop around. No significant changes yet, but stay tuned for the re-vamping.
TAQUERIA SANTA CRUZ opened a new place out in the Foothill Freshman Strip called EXPRESS and I’m a little confused. I ate at their anchor location in NoMo shortly after it opened and found the tacos barely edible, with dry, horrid meat and uncaring tortillas. Their score on my TAQUERIA LIST reflected this mediocrity. This past week I forced myself to try the satellite, and lo-and-behold a shiny new al pastor rotisserie crammed with pork and pineapple stands front-and-center. While the tortillas did not improve, the meat filling exponentially did, and the horchata and salsa also did not suck.
One memo to SLO taco-joint: (and YES this has ONLY happened to me EVER in the lily-white Mexican wasteland of SLO) If I am ordering tacos *for here* and a loaded salsa bar is perched a few feet behind me, and you hand me a plate of tacos with salsa on them, you get an AUTOMATIC F. You just ruined my entire lunch. How does this even happen?
Had another beautiful dinner at BELL’S in Los Alamos. Holy wow, people: you NEED to eat here. There are two legit French restaurants on the Central Coast, and they are 100 miles apart: Bell’s and BL Brasserie. One is new–one is old. One has white table-cloths, one is luxe-bistro. One is in a strip of a tiny town PACKED with fabulous restaurants, and one is the reigning queen: the best restaurant in an entire wine-country town.A new burger place has opened in Oceano in the former Beach Burger (Laguna Grill) spot from a central valley micro-chain: ADAM’S BURGERS. By the way, BEACH BURGERS has moved to Morro Bay in the the old Hof Brau/Destasio’s spot on the bay. While we’re talking about the north strand, SKIPPERS has closed in Cayucos, causing distress to about half the population and relief from the remainder.Way south, the return of Santa Maria’s only real restaurant in the history of Santa Maria is still not open. CHEF RICK’S we are patiently waiting.Oh, did something new and exciting come up on your radar this week and you can’t believe I didn’t write about it? That’s because I wrote about it LAST WEEK.Here’s your event schedule:May 15 MINT + CRAFT’s Open Table community supper series and this is serious bang-for-your-buck with only 20 seats available and under 50 bucks. Get your tickets HERE
JUNE 7 Kreuzberg DEVOUR chef pop-up seris with Jimmy Wong
JUNE 8 The Mac & Cheese Fest in Avila. Quite possibly the most under-the-radar local wine tasting EVER. Yes, it is allegedly a food festival. But it’s actually a huge wine event.
JUNE 9 OJAI WINE FESTIVAL at Lake Casitas, an oddball, out-of-the-way event in a gorgeous setting and quite a different vibe than some of the major running wine festivals. This event signals the beginning of summer for me and is the OLDEST RUNNING wine event in the area (yes, and it was even before Central Coast Wine Classic stopped)
JUNE 21-23 LIVE OAK MUSIC FESTIVAL right here in SLO at Cuesta Park an NOT on Father’s Day weekend (finally).I had two Margherita pizzas this week. One at TIN CANTEEN and one at OCEAN GRILL. Chef Mathers’ is better. It’s the crust. It needs salt. And the tomatoes. Just an over-all mouthfeel. But the winelist at Tin Canteen is way better, I have to say that.Figured out the perfect midweek light dinner situation at THE SPOON TRADE in Grover Beach. There’s a little gold box over on the side of the menu with all the side dishes in it. Order everything straight down the list. There’s your dinner. The waiter may look at you a little funny, but when you have Jacobs chonky little fries, the crispy polenta, a bowl of pickles, a sunny side up egg and a slab of duck bacon in front of you you’ll thank me. Oh and next time you’re there, order the LOVE YOU BUNCHES sangiovese from Stolpman. You’re welcome.OK, that’s it for this week. Not because I’m out of material, but because it’s a school-night. Go to bed.