Been kinda cruisin through the classics lately because I feel my TOP-5 Restaurant list needs updating. In that intent, ate at BISTRO LAURENT for the second time in about a month. Best restaurant in Paso Robles right now–and has been for some time. Oh wait, my bad: it’s BL BRASSERIE now. STILL the best resty in Paso. Everything nearly perfect from start-to-finish, from the moment they pick up the phone til many hours later exiting sated and happy. The service, the ambiance, the winelist. I only had 2 issues with my latest visit here–things which may seem trite to many but spell almost certain disqualification from a Top-5 list–the French Onion Soup was easily the ugliest I have witnessed, and the texture and flavor of it was dreary, burnt and off. I don’t need piles of bread and mounds of melty cheese, but a black pond with a couple soggy islands falls a bit shy of my marks. Secondly, the fries served with the steak-frites were piss-poor. NOT at all what I expect to arrive alongside the dish. I had nearly the same thing happen to me at CASANOVA in Carmel on my last visit. Beautiful piece of beef, cooked brilliantly, delicate, tender and flavorful, with appropriate or optional sauces done right, and then BOOM: they plonk down fries that make 5-Guys or In-N-Out look delicious. I want a nest of shoestrings. They can be dark and overly-crunchy, they can have sharps and ends and peels, they can be light and fluffy and twice-cooked, any way: but I want to eat them with my fork. I also feel they should come ON the plate. Steak-frites is a DISH. I don’t want a steak with a side of fries. Everything else from my 2 visits here in the past month have been ridiculously, stupidly, perfect in every way, so I will have to wrestle with these seemingly-small items as I think about my list.
EVERYTHING is in softs right now. FARMHOUSE CORNER MARKET across from SBP, MISTIZA in the old THO in SLO, CHEF RICK’S in Orcutt at the old Jetty dump. MISTURA fully open in the old Foremost Wine Co space, 1865 SLO fully open up in NoMo, Activity all over town: New SIDECAR location on Broad St. (the original location a block away also on Broad St. is NOT closed for this transition), BURGER-Something NEW YORK CITY at the old Natural Cafe, ROSA’s into the old Maddie’s in Pismo, FINNEY’s into the old Fordens. BEACHIN BISCUITS not open yet in Pismo.
Did you know there’s a Cuban restaurant in Morro Bay? You do now. MILANES. Apparently, half of the ownership of Thai Bounty likes Cuban food and so there are two menus inside. One Thai and one–much smaller-Cuban. I may just have to try this. Just no plantain chips, man. I could go the rest of my life without ever eating another plantain chip and it would be too soon.
CHEF MUSICAL CHAIRS: Shaun Behrens has left Blue Heron Baywood for LUNA RED. Thomas Drahos is no longer at NORMAN. I swear Skyview Los Alamos has had more chefs than Ocean Grill Avila Beach. CASS HOUSE GRILL hired some woman referred by Julie Simon when she was consulting there last month. Kari Ziegler off to Oregon. Michael Avila to NOVO. Pfaff to LIDO, Cory Bidwell to HATCH, and Nick from Cider Bar or the former Hatch chef to BLONDE/ROOFTOP in Pismo. I haven’t had a positive confirmation of either and don’t care enough to research.
I ate at ROOFTOP last week and BLONDE the week before and I let them both off VERY gently in those two paragraphs. These are not good restaurants. These are embarrassingly bad restaurants. The only thing good I can say about Blonde is, “The service was great.” The only thing good I can say about Rooftop is, well, ummm… I’ll think of something. Maybe. Give me a few minutes.
SLOBBQ out at Marigold is saying June now, OUTRIGGER Morro Bay (the Streetside Alehouse people?) is saying August. BRASSERIE SLO also saying late June now in the new Hotel Cerro (still dying to know why they changed from Serra). Don’t forget the fast-completing HOTEL SLO is getting 2–count’em TWO–new resties on its grounds. WHO is gonna eat at all these new restaurants??? This is all of course while we watch Vegetable Butcher, Cider Bar SLO, Blue Heron, Nautical Cowboy fade away–not to mention a GOOD half-dozen others mired in well-validated rumors of non-solvency. I just SMH, man–and pop some popcorn.
Speaking of BBQ, remember that old dump on 41 between Atascadero and Morro Bay? Well, it is open now as HALFWAY STATION and I visited yesterday and it is no longer BBQ. Everything’s all cleaned up nicely, the atmosphere inside the shop-feeling space leaves a bit to be desired, but they are clearly working on warming it up. They need some art. Any of my artist friends want to hang a restaurant: here’s your chance. They have ACRES of huge white walls, so somebody with big art please. Quite friendly, down-homish service, nice bar and a half-dozen tables. Decent selection of beers and wine. I had a glass of Petite Sirah from a Croad second label I’d never heard of which was fresh and good (fellow wine-people know the risks here with BTG at lunch at an out-of-the-way spot). Was shocked how many vegetarian options there were on the menu. Fried Cheese Curds with home-made BBQ sauce on a bed of arugula with a Maldon dusting? Just: WOW. Coming off my recent toyings with Beda’s Biergarten and The Grillhouse, I opted for the bratwurst sandwich. Head-and-shoulders better than the latter, it was easily on par with Beda’s–I might have even liked it better. Get the BBQ-Korean-whatever cauliflower–a dish we’ve all acclimated ourselves to the variables of at Vegetable Butcher–but here is a new take: fresher and spicier. But not too spicy. I get the vibe this spot is a close-knit family work-in-progress, and it will be fun to experience it all come together. And here’s the best endorsement you can get from me: I WILL eat here again. I have a really good feeling about this place. Remember when I told you about Puffer’s of Pismo back when you could walk in there any night and sit down anywhere you wanted? Remember when I told you about Rosalina’s in Santa Margarita back when you could drop in there anytime Fri-Sat-Sun and sit anywhere you liked? MmmHmmm. Well, I’m adding another one to the list of crazy little local’s spots. This time in Atascadero: HALFWAY STATION 41
Saturday: Paso Robles Wineries East ZOO 2 YOU Luau
Next Friday: Jimmy Wong of DENCH at Kreuzberg SLO
Next Saturday: MAC & CHEESE FEST Avila Beach
Next Sunday: The 33rd Ojai Wine Festival
Saturday the 15th: Friends & Family Tasting @Presquile
June 21-23 PEACE LOVE DIRT
Before we get too far off the subject of my TOP-5, been whoring around on PICO with BELL’S the past few months in Los Alamos so set up a nice big dinner there with friends recently. Everything went pretty much as one would expect with a large group on a busy holiday weekend night–couple of snafus here and there but an overall good time. This was with a bunch of industry folks and we definitely taxed the table with our 20-odd bottles of wine. Food was–as usually–well above average, with oohings and ahhings over rib-eye, the steak tataki, duck breast, raviolis and of course dessert. OMG and those OYSTERS. Oh Oh Oh: the pork cannelloni holy wow. The thing I keep telling people about Pico (and EMBER) is: both of these places make Italian food BETTER than any of the top-notch Italian restaurants in the area. I had to choke up on that bat a little this past visit, as the home-made pasta accompanying the duck confit was SO far on the crunchy side of al dente it literally snapped when bent.
Minor disappointment segues nicely into new appreciation, no? I visited RIBLINE out on Broad mid-town SLO the other day. I didn’t intentionally make this visit, it came about as a default from other let-downs. Someone told me OKI MOMO had banh mi, so direct I went. upon arrival, it turns out you have 2 options in the sandwich: Flank steak and Chicken. Let me spell this out for you very clearly: N. O. Having nixed that idea, I was happy to notice they also had pho on the menu. OMG ANOTHER PHO PLACE IN THE AREA HOW MY HEART RACED. But they had no beef. Only chicken. Another head-scratcher as I headed for the door. Across the court, POKE CHEF stood enticingly and I wandered in–having heard great things. Unfortunately, it turned out to be NOT what I have come to expect from poke in my visits to Hawaii, but rather just another frat-girl rice-bowl/wrap-burrito/whatever joints with LITERALLY ONE–let’s count together again, shall we? O-N-E version of poke in the entire 40-50-odd *salad bar* selections of this and that. See, when I go to poke, I want raw fish made into poke. I don’t want rice. I don’t want a tortilla. I don’t want sashimi, sprouts, cucumbers, carrots, cheese, tomatoes, shrimp and lettuce. I should go to that poke place where Steve Shin’s used to be. He has one in Pismo now too. hmmm. Maybe he’s doing it right.
Oh. But this was about RIBLINE, remember? Yup, you got it: poke disappointment in hand, I walked yet again across the courtyard to the only thing left: Ribline. I am happy to report this visit went ASTONISHINGLY better than my visit to the Grover Beach location. Restaurant clean, neat and well-appropriated. Service concise and considerate. Decent little selection of servicable wines. And then the food came. This is tri-tip only of course, but coming off last weekend’s tri-tip comp, I eagerly ordered it. Flat-out beautiful meat. Good dark exterior, pink all the way through, no grey, fat visible and marbled finely throughout the slice. Stupidly tender and great flavor–but the flavor is the interesting part of this tri-tip–a version I have not encountered yet in this area: There’s basically no seasoning on it. Sure, I assume it was salted and peppered or even lightly rubbed or brined, but there is no crust of seasoning on the exterior, and it tastes that way to. Just plain old beautiful beef flavor with no crazy salty or herby layer or overt smoke or char. In addition to this obvious fact, there were also no sauces, salsas or condiments served with it, on the table, or visible in the restaurant. Now, I am far from a BBQ expert, but if you have been to ANY OTHER BBQ PLACE in town, it will be obvious this is a deviation from the norm. I was torn whether to congratulate him on his restraint or scold him for his defiance, but one taste of the meat left me solidly in the former persuasion. I like my meat–especially my beef–without a bunch of crap on it, and this tri-tip definitely fits that bill. The presentation on lettuce leaves was attractive, but I get a little mono-brow when you take rapidly-cooling sliced meat and serve it on a cold wet vegetable. But speaking of presentation, loyal readers know of my severe allergy to paper plates and plastic silverware–two things which which show up OVER AND OVER in the world of BBQ–and Ribline shares this aversion. Real silverware, beans in a real ceramic bowl, and the entire array on a metal tray. The bacon-or-hock-ridden beans–sweetish and baked–were above average, and the little loaves of cornbread darling AND tasty.
One more piece of meat I want to mention: Prime Rib at CUSTOM HOUSE in Avila Beach. Laugh all you want at Custom House, Friday & Saturday nights they do Prime Rib proper. The winelist totally sucks, of course, but I’ve told you a million times an easy way to fix that problem. Run next door to see Manny at AVILA WINE CO, grab a bottle of the shelf and scoot back over to Custom House. Even with wine, the two of you are going to be outa there for under 100$. Win. Win. Win.
You see that? I made it through a whole column without talking about tacos.