Minor tremors this week when I worked up the nerve to go to POPEYE’S LUISIANA KITCHEN, which I merely thought was Popeye’s Chicken but apparently this is full-on Southern food, something I probably know the LEAST about than any cuisine on the planet. (a few paragraphs from here, you will discover I really don’t know what people eat in Peru either, so there’s that). It was… um… good? I guess? Nice breading, not too crunchy or thick or over-seasoned or trying too hard–breast RIDICULOUSLY moist. Beans very nice, mashed potatoes & gravy tasted like plastic, biscuit crumbly and steamy. I haven’t been to KFC in almost 30 years, maybe I should re-visit.
I think fried chicken is a good segue to BBQ, and yesterday I helped judge the 4th annual Tri-Tip BBQ Competition at PRESQUILE WINERY. So much meat. Quality ran from barely edible to other-worldly, sides were all OVER the place, and tasted a couple sauces I would love to buy by the bottle. ROLLIN’ OAK BBQ in Santa Maria took top honors in Classic for literally THE BEST tri-tip beef bbq I have ever tasted in my life–just PERFECT seasoning and sear and doneness and tenderness. He didn’t even serve any sides. Didn’t need any. Nothing to get in the way. Original Interpretation went to THE PAIRING KNIFE for good meat and presentation with vegan beans, classic salsa, and all dolled up with a hoisin-tinged sauce.
Noticed all the paper off the windows, everything re-painted and cleaned up and looking nice down in Pismo Beach at the corner there where ROSA’S took over the short-lived MATTIES or MADDIES or whatever was. REALLY looks like they’re pushing hard for SOON. Probably want to be open for Car Show weekend? Smart move. Do we know what this is going to be called or what style of food? Up the street Bitchin Bisquits next to PUFFER’S still not open.
NEW TIMES is apparently still looking for a replacement food-writer following Hayley Cain’s resignation. It’s gotta be just the right voice, though. It would be really really interesting to see the exact demo of that paper–it its even measurable. I mean–on one hand, it’s another free college-town rag, so we assume college kids read it, right? So New Times is clearly looking for a hip young voice, right? I think it is way more complicated than that. Who do I see reading the paper? Liberal Boomer academia for politics and events, shadowy Gen-Xers for regular features, art and entertainment they probably won’t go to, and Millennials for Woodstock’s coupons and live bar music. So, who’s voice should be the restaurant column?!?!?
1865 CRAFT HOUSE & KITCHEN is doing some softs, *official* opening May 19. I don’t have to tell you where 1865 is, right? Y’all lived here long enough. Or is that too old for who’s reading this? Am I the only one who is is looking at the hotel and going, “But wait: there’s already The Monterey Hotel in Monterey.” I stay there all the time. It’s the only place I’ll stay in Monterey. Not to mention up the street the incredible–and unfortunately now closed–1833 Restaurant. Just a little weird, that’s all. Monterey Hotel–Monterey Hotel. 1865–1833. Carry on… nothing to see here. Just my little brain working overtime.
Out by the airport, FARMHOUSE CORNER MARKET opens Saturday, June 1st. Popped my head in the other day. They’re gonna need to be some busy-ass bees to make THAT happen.
So…. all the wailing and gnashing of teeth over SKIPPERS in Cayucos closing last week. One of those, what, 5 or 6 restaurants in Cayucos NOBODY who lives in a 50-mile radius has ever eaten at or even heard of? Kinda like Morro Bay–just miles of ridiculously forgettable fish & chips. Well, SLO BREW bought it. Didn’t see THAT one comin! This will be interesting to watch. And I don’t think I have to tell you SLO Brew’s kinda got their plate full right now. OTTER ROCK in Morro Bay? Not open yet.
After what, 10 years and many awards I finally ate at PALO MESA PIZZA. I have suffered over the years from a combination of strip-mall aversion and honestly thinking they were take-out only–ESPECIALLY in the location I decided to visit: the little flower-shop kiosk in the village of Arroyo Grande. I was SO wrong. There’s a comfy little kitchen with a glowing wood-fired oven heating the place up [RE: my previous rants about cold restaurants], a rather spacious dining room, and behind the counter a one-man band so professional and comfortable and efficient–the three marks of good restaurant help. Oh boy I think I just found my new lazy-weeknight pizza joint. They have 3 locations in AG and one in SLO. Practically world domination.
Closing rumors–SHEESH! These things spread like WILDFIRE!–neither BLUE MOON OVER AVILA or NAUTICAL COWBOY are closed. Moon merely did some spring cleaning for a couple days and Cowpoke just had some schedule lapses around private parties. But you know what the best part is? I always wanted to get these two restaurants–literally the two worst-named restaurants in history–together in the same paragraph. And now I did. If only I had some news about BLUE HERON BAYWOOD, the trifecta would be complete, but unfortunately only rumors about that one–no news. But seriously, I think Nautical’s days are extremely numbered, while Moon is expanding into the space next door for “something a little different but still thematically joined to the restaurant”. I’ve heard wine-bar, tapas, even jazz rumors.
Down in SLO, if you read this page regularly, you have no doubt absorbed the ramping-down of my excitement over CIDER BAR SLO. It looks as though the management is feeling this lack-of-enthusiasm too. Speaking of weird names: I don’t think “Cider Bar” is a horrible name, but it was a horrible name for WHAT IT WAS. An incredible French bistro with awesome from-scratch food from a great chef, run by a somm with hands-down the best winelist in town and let’s call it “Cider Bar”. I’m sorry, this restaurant suffers from *image disjoinery* which is a serious marketing term I just made up.
Around the corner MISTURA is open! He banged that thing out FAST. I may actually eat at Mistura now–now that it is in town and not way out in the boondocks in Paso. Been wanting to eat there for-EVER, just there was no way I was going way out there to experience it. Oh I DEFINITELY am going to Mistura now. It’s Peruvian, ya now? So… kinda next door to Argentina–who are recognized as the beef-pros of the world. And I’m sure a great list of South American wines. I don’t even know what Peruvians eat, but I’m guessing lots of lamb and beef and floury things. Do we eat llamas and alpacas? They have those, right?
Don’t forget there’s a new French bakery in The Creamery too. JOLIENE BAKERY isn’t a donut-shop, either. Something it seems every other bakery in the area aspires to be.
Oh and MESTIZA is doing softs too. Paper still up on all the windows and everything and the inside reeks of paint, but they are testing their menu and bar a couple times a week for word-of-mouth associates and interested parties. Yes, it’s another Compass Health restaurant, which you can go ahead and hate on–they don’t care–they’ll just make more. And it is BEAUTIFUL inside. Luxe-Oaxacan. Now you all know my favorite taquerias are Oaxacan (and not because I TOWER over them) so this will be interesting. Several people have said the cocktail programme–emphasis on mezcal–is just crazy-good. Still absolutely NO media at all: no www, no IG, FB, no nothin.
After last week’s excursion to BLONDE in Pismo inside Inn at the Pier, I allowed myself to be talked into trying ROOFTOP just a (passcard-protected) elevator ride away. The place is gorgeous, and the views amazing, but be warned: it is a restaurant, not a bar–as most of the literature emphasizes. So there is a small pool and CHILDREN. LOTS of children. It also joins another Central Coast establishment–Schooner’s in Cayucos–in the category of: Fun to drink, DO NOT EAT. Like I laid out in last week’s column about the restaurant downstairs, the food looks fabulous on paper. And then it arrives and you’re just, like, WTF. Exactly like Blonde. Hamachi Crudo a large pile of fishy-smelling and gamy-tasting random-sized chunks–literally everything from pea-sized to golf-ball-sized–looking like cutting room scraps off the floor, nestled under sprouts and radish slices on a bed of bland green stuff of questionable content and ZERO complement. ‘Street-style’ roasted corn cut into short cobs and covered in some sort of creamy chipotle and queso, it LOOKED appetizing enough, but HOW DO YOU EAT IT??? Remember, this is a luxe rooftop bar at a resort–we were dressed between events–am I supposed to pick this up with my hands and cram it into my face? Actually, I anticipated this situation and asked the waitress before-hand how the corn was served. “Breezy” didn’t know. Has pre-service been done away with? I hadn’t seen Prosciutto-wrapped melon on a menu for quite a while (1995 called… no no no I’m not even complaining–I rather like this dish and miss it) and Rooftop’s Serrano version was a must-order. I actually prefer Serrano to Prosciutto, the texture and flavor is better–and of course it is far cheaper. This was an odd little hurriedly-prepared salad with another vague liquid puddle under it, more sprouts–errrr MICRO GREENS I’M SORRY–topped with 3 globules of what I am hoping was burrata, awkward and uncomplimentary to the dish. I ate all the melon. Shortly after our food arrived, the waitress appeared and bluntly announced, “I’m going home. Can I close you out?” Now, we’ve all been through shift changes and places requiring a close-out at the bar before dining–but any place worth its salt finds a way to work around it. This situation should NEVER happen at a luxe resort. Downstairs at BLONDE, I had awesome professional service. Upstairs… not so much. I’ve been nothing short of thrilled with cocktail quality and presentation in my 3 visits to this property, but a couple of minor notes: If you notice, beers flow out of the bar and all across the room at a ratio of about 6:1 mixed drinks, and Ocean Spray & black pepper does NOT a craft Bloody Mary make.
Remember Daniel’s closing in Atascadero? DON Q’S has opened in its place. Stopped in and glanced through the menu. Very very interesting. All OVER the place. There’s a huge vegetarian & vegan section and some pretty seriously Mexican- or Spanish-inspired dishes and poke and sandwiches and salads but also a big selection of steak–with various preparations. Place looks really nice–cleaned up spiffy–but a really odd location.
Down the street, I’ve decided I’m not eating at GARCIA’S anymore. I finally caught them BEFORE they buried my al pastor in the automatic guacamole, so I really got to compare the look and feel of these things fairly to all the other places on THE TACO LIST. This is literally more adobada than pastor, with massive amounts of long grilled onion strings in the completely over-stuffed tacos among the slimy meat. So, they don’t come with raw onions on them–and only a smattering of cilantro–and neither ingredient is in the salsa bar. Like a LOT of gringo places, if you want cilantro & onion, you must administer some of the always-plentiful pico de gallo, which ruins a taco. Without the guac, I also got to gain full appreciation for their other 2 salsas, a hab-looking one labelled “Medium” and a nice thick rojo marked “Hot”. NEITHER approached even medium. With Daniel’s gone, the acceptable-taco-field narrowed quite a bit, and with TAQUERIA DON JOSE just a couple blocks down the street, there’s literally NO reason to put yourself through the mediocrity of Garcia’s.
June 7 Friday: Local cooking sensation Jimmy Wonk cooks for Kreuzberg’s DEVOUR Chef Series. This event seats 100+ and there are less than 15 tickets left: www.kreuzbergcalifornia.com/collections/pop-up-dinners/products/devour-jimmy-wong
June 8 Saturday: MAC & CHEESE FEST Avila Beach
June 9 Sunday: The 33rd OJAI WINE FEST
June 21-23: LIVE OAK MUSIC FEST right here in SLO and NOT on Father’s Day!
OK, I’m gonna leave you with the CUSTOM HOUSE version of Avocado Toast. I ordered the vegan, gluten-free, lactose-intolerant version, of course–and it did not disappoint.