THE CARISSA at SLO Brew opened last night. It was designed to be a low-key ‘friends & family’ softie thing, because the last time SLO Brew had a grand opening, things got kinda outa hand. I didn’t go–I had a few industry friends in from out of town–so don’t know how big it got. I DID notice the Trib or KSBY had it announced the opening was 9/14, so… so much for incognito. I saw the menu and tequila/mezcal list last week… fairly interesting stuff: Two main themes: “TACOS” and “NOT TACOS”. Place is gorgeous though. COMPLETELY redone and bright and shiny–INCLUDING the new dining and cocktail area on the rear patio overlooking the river. They did that overhaul FAST. I’ll give them a little time for things to settle down and pop in there…
GRANADA HOTEL & BISTRO put their Cubano back on the full-time menu. Remember that thing from the old speak-easy next door? The sandwich that started it all. Remember the tiny spot with the window seat and the group-table impossible to get to the back seats, the antique mis-matched furniture and the winelist with NO LOCAL WINES worked into old books and a couple girls running the panini presses? The Cubano was on the menu briefly at the new restaurant–or at least you could order it special–then it was removed, only to pop back up on the bar menu over at NITECAP, but now it is back on the menu and I had to have one. I have to say my memories of this thing are a lot fonder than reality. A dry, flavorless affair, lacking any pickle-or-mustard zing, I couldn’t finish it and did NOT take it home in a box. What it DID do is spur me into a bit of a Cubano-fit around town.
^^^LOOK at this beauty at THOMAS HILL ORGANICS
ANDREA’S ON PINE doesn’t even call theirs a Cubano. It’s merely a “ham & cheese sandwich”, but pickle game STRONG–just like everything on the menu. And GET THE ROMANO WEDGE. How on earth do you do a wedge with romano? Order it and find out. They don’t even call it a Caesar. Wait: I’m seeing a theme here.
But I gotta say…. *drumroll* BIG SKY CAFE pulled out all the stops so far in my continuing quest for Cubano-heaven. Holy WOW what a gummy runny spicy dripping beaut. Where else do I need to go? Comfort Market used to make THE BEST Cubano.
Adding to a endless list of things THAT SEEMINGLY WILL NEVER OPEN: Piadina, Ox + Anchor, Brasserie SLO, Somerset Grill, PARK, CULT next door, and I’m just going to stop talking about Les Petites Canailles. Of our two public Markets, SLO’s list of tenants continues to be a yawner, but Paso’s is getting a wine shop at least. Cape Cod Eatery down in Shell Beach continues to plug along. San Luis Obispo is getting a BROWN BUTTER COOKIE CO in that weird little 2-story spot across from BLUE that’s been so many things the past decade (remember the wine shop???) Speaking of cookies, I have no idea what INSOMNIA COOKIE is but apparently it’s a pretty big deal. And they deliver. Millennials are so weird. The Carl’s Jr. out on Highway 1 has undergone a complete exterior makeover this past week in an attempt to mask its Carl’s Jr.-ness but no clue what it is going to be. Steve Shin of YAMATO and SHIN’S POKE is coming back to SLO in October. ENJOY EURO in Arroyo Grande is open and closed, open and closed, now it’s gone and sold and so is the little vegan juice-bar whatever thingy in The Village…
Speaking of YAMATO, it used to be my absolute favorite sushi and sashimi in town. recently returned–TWICE–for a re-visit and I feel quality has slipped. He’s brushing the sushi with soy sauce now. Granted, it is allegedly his “home-made soy sauce”, but I frankly do not see the need for this. Sure, I understand its FUNCTION–the tourists don’t need to dip it quite so heavily into their trademark stews of wasabi and sodium to obliterate the actual sublime flavor of raw fish–but to me it feels like it is covering something up. Not going to surmise what, but you can.
How do you feel about seared ahi on salade Niçoise? I know people get all weird about canned tuna–viewing it as mom-sandwich junk and the fresh stuff is prettier and presents more of a *entree* sort of salad, but I like my canned tuna. Of course it needs to be TOP QUALITY canned tuna, and if you’ve never experienced what I’m talking about, you NEED to toss the Chicken of the Sea crap and find some stuff that will blow your mind. Find some from Portugal or Spain at the Co-Op or De Palo & Sons. Find some local safe-catch at El Rancho Marketplace or Giovanni’s or Whole Foods. I had this particular salad out in Avila at BLUE MOON, and every time I picture it, my friends in Nice freak out about all the wrong ingredients on it. They do a pretty good job though…
Tuna goes on Niçoise Salad like ANCHOVIES GO ON CAESAR! Preferably in a blurry late night at the bar at GIUSEPPE’S in Pismo Beach after all the tourists have gone home to bed and alongside a plate of the Squash Blossoms.
The chef-musical-chairs has been dancing along nicely all summer. Brian Burns is gone from OYSTER LOFT. Megan Loring is back in town and heading up an interesting project in North County I’m not sure I can discuss. THOMAS HILL ORGANICS has a new chef, CASS HOUSE has a new chef, Kenny Bigwood is gone from GRANADA and Shaun Behrens is back at LUNA RED, so not sure who is currently at the helm of Granada but Ben La Pier is heading up BLUE HERON BAYWOOD. Waldo *Chuy* Moldonado has also left Luna. Of course a couple months ago LIDO got a new chef, which means NOVO got a new chef (Michael Avila), and Cass House’s swicheroo resulted in HATCH ROTISSERIE getting a new chef. Speaking of new chefs, probably should mention Tom Fundaro is NOT the chef of the new CARISSA. He remains out at SLO Brew ROCK, the EVENT CENTER and ROD & HAMMER DISTILLERY.
Speaking of Michael Avila, MINT+CRAFT has brought back their Local Table Community Supper series for September to showcase and re-introduce Chef Avila from NOVO. I’ve told you all many times these are the best deals in chef pop-up dinners, at 50 dollars and multiple courses with wine-pairings. September’s dinner is WEDNESDAY–yes THIS coming Wednesday, the 18th from 7-9. They limit seating to one big table with 22 spots and it always sells out. Follow them on FB, subscribe to the email, do whatever you need to do to put these dinners on your radar and calendar. More-or-less monthly. HERE’S A LINK TO TICKETS FOR WEDNESDAY.
Have you been to HULA HUT out in Avila Beach??? I NEVER HAD! Overlooked until now as part of a duo of tourist-catastrophes with mobs of personal-space invaders out the door, bikini-clad girls, the ever-present dogs and spectrum-boys dripping sand everywhere. (2 THINGS: Do cover-ups even exist anymore??? and What if I told you you could go to the beach without your dog.) But OH BOY was I wrong about Hula Hut. The family staff of this place handle it ALL calmly and quickly–with order, courtesy, professionalism and SMILES–and the food is AMAZING. I’ve gone to every other restaurant on that strip many times and never even realized Hula Hut had such a great menu. Been back TWICE in one week. Their potato salad is EXACTLY the way I like it, with boiled eggs, lots of sweet pickle juice, a few red skins on the potatoes, onions and celery. Their burger is perfection and just LOOK at that egg salad sandwich.
Got into PORTHOUSE out in Morro Bay. This is the Willow group of restaurants’ newest endeavor. BEAUTIFUL remodel of the old Outrigger spot. Crazy winelist (not crazy-good, more just like crazy format and crazy-corporate). I don’t think I need to go back. Lobster roll had a ton of great meat on it, which I ate off to get my money’s worth and left everything else. Caesar had a nice beige dressing on it, but the “Napa Slaw” was a weird juxtaposition, the bread boring and the clam chowder CRANKED full of bacon. Trust me, I love bacon as much as the next guy, but everything doesn’t need to taste like bacon. Still haven’t made it to ADA’S in Pismo yet. That’s the other new fish house which I can almost PROMISE you will be a non-event. I like interesting food, OK? This kind of blasé fare is fine for some–I’m not going to judge and by all means knock yourself out–it’s just not for me.
Speaking of blasé fare, AS PROMISED, I told you I tried the new BURGER KING taco. WHY ON EARTH WOULD YOU DO SOMETHING LIKE THAT? I hear you ask. Because. Why not??? I have to try everything! Oh man what a disaster. What a positively horrible idea and execution. This thing makes Jack-In-The-Box tacos (yes, I see you fans out there) look like an authentic taqueria. The ground beef is really the first thing you see, a dark brown oxidized mushy stew of hamburger meat with no ‘taco’ flavoring or anything. The tortilla is a melting pot of razor-shard mouth-slicing crystals and soggy greasy goo. They have solved the age-old Taco Bell argument of WHY PUT COLD LETTUCE ON HOT MEAT AND THEN CHEESE by reversing their positions, creating a miasma of melty gunk and sweaty iceberg. There’s not even taco sauce available to drown all the sorrow in these bites. I haven’t read what anyone else–professional or otherwise–thinks of this taco, but I can’t imagine it staying on the menu long in this form. It just flat-out isn’t food.
I’ll leave you on a much much MUCH higher note: The carpaccio at LIDO. I finally got back in and took a HUGE cruise through the menu since Chef Pfaff has taken over, and everything is top-notch. I think a lot of people overlook Lido in their “where do you want to go?” discussions because it is right here under our noses and doesn’t get the flash-bang press. But I mean come ON! It is pretty much the grand dame of local luxury dining. And it’s NOT expensive. OMG AND THAT WINELIST!
Don’t forget TASTE OF THE SANTA YNEZ VALLEY is coming up fast. FOUR days, SIX towns, coinciding with the Sideways Film Festival and food & wine events all OVER Los Alamos, Buellton, Los Olivos and The ‘Vang. Check out the schedule and plan to attend a couple.