Hotels hotels hotels. I will be SO GLAD when this rash of luxury hotels opening is over and we can get back to real restaurants. It seems they have dominated the conversation–and the skyline–all summer. How many $400/night hotels does the area need? Apparently, a few more. And with them all come *allegedly* flash-BAM restaurants, each out-doing the other in roof-top pools and garish architecture. Pismo likes theirs painted white, blue and Cape-Coddy, and my opinions of the dretch they are serving at BLONDE and ROOFTOP are well-documented. Across the street, SOMERSET GRILL opened Thursday. Saw the winelist and wanted to kill myself, I guess I have to go eat there at some point.
San Luis Obispo likes theirs edgy and angular and rusty. HOTEL CERA/SERRA/CERRO plods on, getting finishing touches along with BRASSERIE SLO downstairs. BUT WAIT THERE’S MORE: You didn’t think the people who brought us SLO Brew were just going to open a boring old hotel and restaurant and rooftop pool like everybody else, didja? No way. Stops have officially been pulled out on this one, with not only the restaurant, but a Distillery, “Rooftop Poolside“, MISSION FIG PATIO, LIFE OF PIE (betcha didn’t see THAT one coming), and EDIBLE GARDENS, where I am pretty sure the guests are NOT encouraged to nibble off the scenery, but a pinch here or there probably wouldn’t hurt. Carry some ranch in your purse. Still saying “November” on this one. I actually thought it ahead–construction-wise–of HOTEL SLO over most of the summer, but PIADINA (there is literally NO link to the restaurant) opened last week. Now–in contrast–the winelist THERE is nothing short of a masterpiece. Expect OX + ANCHOR soon. Forgotten in the shuffle of SLO is of course the two hotel resties already open up at the North end of town, 1865 CRAFT HOUSE & KITCHEN (which is OK, I’ve eaten there), and THE KINNEY across the street–which caters to a COMPLETELY different sort of clientele.
Paso Robles likes theirs to fit the classic architecture (this is not becoming a column of architectural critique, don’t worry)–and with Champagne. PICCOLO HOTEL, the newest Instagram Heaven, opened last week. No actual restaurant that I know of… just bars downstairs and roof, including–and hold your breath here–something we saw in airports in Europe a decade ago: A CHAMPAGNE VENDING MACHINE. I’m actually kinda glad the exclamation point is broken on this computer right now, because the cheeriness–and the boomerang–is just out of hand. Before we leave the topic of Paso though, just you WAIT and see what the next few years have in store for the 46/101 interchange.
Had a long conversation with Jensen of LARDER MEAT COMPANY the other day about this trend… Is this the new direction of dining in the area? Instead of chefs and their families & friends killing themselves to hang out their shingle, we have huge conglomerations of capital focused on a multi-tiered event space, sucking up all the help, and able to stay open indefinitely–EVEN if the restaurant fails to make enough money to sustain itself individually. I’m not here to criticize this model, while I think heart & soul are indeed compromised, if this is our new model for fine dining, let it be. I’ll let the food speak for itself–that’s all that counts. Or does it. (No, the question-mark on this computer isn’t broken. That wasn’t a question.)
While we’re up in Paso, PASO ROBLES MARKET WALK had a little sneak-preview… quite a ways out though. Before you get too excited, SLO PUBLIC MARKET is even further behind. Hmmmm… That gives me an idea.
BROWN BUTTER COOKIE COMPANY is open in SLO. Now there’s some good news. What’s your favorite flavor? You know me: don’t give me any of that newfangled fancy weird stuff: I want the plain old original brown butter cookie–and lots of them. I know there’s a few places around town you can pick up those little bags of joy, but now we have access to them right here in town. (exclamation point)
Are we done with gossip? Can we talk about food now?
If you follow me on INSTAGRAM or FACEBOOK, you know this pic caused quite a stir last week. Chef Mathers at OCEAN GRILL calls this a Banh-Mi, and it’s pretty much classic all the way through, with a toasted bolillo, nice pickled veggies, a fat wad of cilantro and… BUT WAIT: fat fingers of breaded fried calamari with tangy hot glaze mounded on top. THIS IS NOT A BANH MI the purists cried. Well, DUH. Listen: Anyone who visits or does business in Morro Bay, Avila Beach or Pismo knows the hi-season clientele–and their dietary needs. And Mathers has to adjust his summer menu accordingly. He said, “I made a real banh mi and nobody would order it, so? I put calamari on it. Most popular sandwich here.” It’s a good dish, and I’d eat it again.
Also at OCEAN GRILL right now–not sure how much longer–are these Korean BBQ Duck Wings. Oh my. now that’s a snack.
Down the street at OLDE PORT INN, they made me a Shrimp Cocktail with lots of massive shrimp and a veritable SALAD of celery under their perfect sauce. I don’t order a lot of old-school seafood dishes (I can still remember the last time I had Oysters Rockefeller), but things like this every once in a while–IF DONE RIGHT–can be a real bright spot.
Tried out a new taco spot this week, and re-visited a couple standards. Hadn’t been to the LOS OSOS MEXICAN MARKET for a few years and have always said these *do in a pinch*. Well, it’s got to be a pretty hard pinch. these things are barely edible, from the color and texture to the weird salty flavor of seasoning salt. STILL way better than San Miguel Market down the street, but oh boy it’s almost worth driving 20 minutes to El Tizon. While we’re talking about Los Osos, that mexican sit-down on the main drag across from Sweet Springs is still getting a makeover into a brewery??? not sure status of that. Also I was out towards Creston and hadn’t been to TAQUERIA JALISCO out on Creston Road just east of Niblick in that “Little Mexico” center for probably 5 years. I think these are the same people who own Jalapeno City in Paso-proper, and the meat is pretty much the same. Dried cube-ish chunks, but with good flavor and grill. Excellent tortillas and sauce. AND I FOUND A NEW PLACE IN PASO. Decided to head North from 24th because, well… that’s where the Mexicans live. There are at least 2, possibly 3 taquerias in that area and the old Foster Freeze drive-thru/A&W carhop is one of them. These are pretty decent tacos at PANADERIA & RESTAURANT MARTINEZ. Window ordering, and a few tables outside. No salsa bar so you get the salsa they give you. Of course I got the gringo green snotty stuff, and went back to see if they had picante. “Oh you want hot?” and hands me a cup of bright rojo full of seeds. HOLY SHIT BE CAREFUL. I will edit THE TACO LIST to reflect this spot. I think I’ll stick it in at a comfortable ♦♦ in fact, I’ll take it one notch further: I think I will amend my *cheat sheet* (the one which lists only one or two taquerias in each town) so Martinez will be the back-up to La Reyna in Paso Robles. I currently have Jalapeno City in this spot and I like these considerably better. Since we’re on the subject of tacos, I guess you know Papi’s moved over to Park Street behind Santa Maria Brewing? Haven’t checked it out. Those are pretty bad tacos. BRUNCH moved from their old spot next to the cheese shop to the old Papi’s location on Pine Street. I still haven’t made it into Brunch. Been meaning to FOREVER.
At the opposite end of Paso Robles–and the opposite demographic–I finally got in to BARTON’S KITCHEN at Barton Family Wines just past Tooth & Nail on 46. It’s alright. Several quite diverse areas of outdoor seating, some overlooking vast expanses of vineyard, awkward window-ordering, awkward beverage service, food OK. Had a pretty mediocre house salad and a BLT that had pluses and minuses. Ordered it untoasted as usual, and the bread had a crazy tough crust. Can’t IMAGINE what it would be like toasted. the tomatoes and greens were great, but the bacon was REALLY thick-cut and an impenetrable tough layer in the center of an otherwise soft and supple mouthful. Quite wonderful bacon by itself, I’m certain, but in a sandwich it was a little too formidable. Pickles were a one-dimensional sort–flavor-wise. All heat and vinegar and not much of interest. Beautiful place, wines are really touristy though–and not just Grey Wolf’s, Barton’s as well.
At the opposite end of most of my readership, FINALLY got into GRAPPOLO in Santa Ynez. Remember Grappolo in San Luis Obispo? Like, 15 years ago? Where Creekside Brew and about 12 other things plus long empty spells have been since and now Sidecar is betting the bank on? That was my favorite Italian Restaurant in SLO. Was sad to see them go, and just never got a chance to get into the original location. WOW. Just WOW. Ridiculous winelist, incredible service–all the same people have worked there for decades–and the food. I’m going to be posting a bunch of my long meal on Instagram over the next week or so, but here is the calamari. Looks kinda gross, no? OMG do I have news for you. COOKED PERFECT, not slimy or gooey or tough or anything. Tender and juicy and–you ready for this?–STUFFED WITH RICOTTA AND HERBS AND PROSCIUTTO AND GARLIC AND STUFF. Just plain sinfully good. We also had this stuffed bread thing I forget the name of: layered with smoked cheese and prosciutto and covered in fresh tomato salsa and a couple different vegetarian ravioli’s–pumpkin and squash–fat and dense like you’ve never seen ravioli’s before and a bottle of Franciorta and some Pinot and a bottle of Brunello and on and on and on. Quite a lunch.
Are we done? Yeah, we’re done.
Oct 23 7:00 PM MINT+CRAFT COMMUNITY TABLE featuring Chef Samantha Eitel.
Sat. Nov. 2 SLO Coast Wine’s HARVEST ON THE COAST their premier end-of-season harvest celebration under the tents at Avila Beach Golf Resort.
Sun. Nov. 3 Pacific Wildlife Care fundraiser SOUPABRATION with 25 chefs competing for best soup and wine & beer tasting. Also at Avila Beach.