Got into SOMERSET GRILL at the new hotel in Pismo Beach last Sunday for a leisurely late lunch. The first thing you notice about the place is the kitchen, but on first impression it seems to be separated from the dining room by a long counter the wait-staff crowd around and I assumed was the pass. But walking around and getting closer and watching the interaction of the kitchen, you realize this is just a rather insignificant table, and NOT the pass, leaving the kitchen wide open to the dining area–no wall, no glass, no barricade, no sneeze-guard. I was one of only a couple diners at the time, and it will be interesting to see how this transition area flows when things are hoppin. It’s a rather interesting design, and you think of all the *open* kitchens around town… Ember, Spoon Trade, Nautical Cowboy, Cass House… it’s not really like any of them.
The other thing you notice is the uniforms. EVERYONE is in uniform. As *caste* as you want to call it, I applaud this situation, having tired long ago of the casual attitudes many kitchen dress-codes reflect. Anywhere from literally WEAR ANYTHING YOU WANT, up through *everyone in blue-jeans*, through classic black-slacks-black-shoes-light/dark-shirt-and our tie, and of course the hostess always in something COMPLETELY different–and usually low-cut. Somerset is like a frickin BOARDING SCHOOL, man. Hostesses in matching conservative dresses, wait-staff identical, kitchen-staff divided by skull-caps and classic cooking areas but Chef individual. Is this a Marriott thing? Or just an individual resty thing? It’s pretty amazing to observe here on the coast in our flip-flop & baseball-cap culture.
And how was the food? It was good. Nothing earth-shattering, but then again I was only going down the appetizer menu. Had a roasted Romaine salad that had heavy nods to Caesar, a poke that was so ridiculously hot it was rendered nearly inedible. Yes, the menu said “Spicy Poke”, but come’on: diced jalapeno??? I just like to taste my food. I’m always a sucker for Company Cornbread, remembering my mother putting a can of Green Giant Mexi-Corn in hers and dipping it in blended honey & butter. This was pretty yummy, although the honey-butter blend was weeping terribly. Prep should keep an eye on that. Oh yes and Crab Cakes. I’ve been on a bit of a crab cake binge lately–seeing how much PURE CRAB each place can cram into a fried patty. I’ve tried 4 or 5 in the past couple weeks, everything from $18 for ONE down to $14 for two. Price doesn’t necessarily dictate amount of crab meat, but kinda. These were safely in the middle of the pack, and–as is almost always the case–nestled in a bed of something I don’t want in my mouth. But that’s just a personal thing… I know you gotta make the dish look pretty and you need to anchor the patty, but I just don’t like mayo/tartar sauce/aioli/whatever on my crab cakes. Going back to the poke: I like to taste my food.
Anyway, enough about SOMERSET GRILL. I was there on day 4 of being open and everything went smoothly. Of course the place was well-staffed, and everyone quite eager to please and you can’t forget: It’s a Hotel. But I think there is potential to be a shining star. Definitely several steps ahead of the restaurants at the hotel across the street. Winelist serviceable, pleasing to the demo down there and still a couple dorky things us snobs can drink.
Did someone say “Cass House”? Wednesday morning the horrible rumors started drifting in, first from deep inside and gradually becoming common knowledge in 24 hours. Originally, they were going to stay open for 2 more weeks, and I know many people rushed to secure a spot at the table before they’re finished. Now I am hearing rumors of–at worst–them perhaps getting *short-timer’s disease* and just pulling the plug, OR–at best–their on-line reservation system just getting unplugged. I have never written a Top-5 for this area, I only had a Top-3 and Cass House enjoyed a spot on that ridiculously short list for half a decade. The way the kitchen operated under Cory, the attitudes of everyone and the glorious food it presented was pure magic. I only ate there once under the (very short term) new chef and had decided after that excursion to re-structure my list, giving somebody new a spot. Now it looks as though that situation has remedied itself for me, and I don’t have to do the unpleasant task. If you want to eat at CASS HOUSE GRILL, I recommend NOT paying attention to Google or Open Table or rumors but CALL. The hotel, event center and bakery are remaining open.
While we’re on the subject of poke, there’s a new place opened this past week in Arroyo Grande in the Rancho Parkway center called MORRO POKE. Those in the back rows will notice they are calling themselves a “Hawaiian restaurant”… so do with that information as you see fit. Up the street, CAPE COD EATERY & TAPHOUSE has pulled down the fence, installed patio furniture and is landscaping and buying decor artifacts suitable for an eatery of their theme. You know: old rowboats, oars, anchors, diving bells. I wonder if there will be mermaids. I was promised mermaids. There’s a new restaurant going in to the newly re-built Laurel Lane center in San Luis Obispo. Remember where that cool old market used to be? Forget the name. Now there’s coffee and karate and Ephren’s #5. Soon to be another restaurant though, something billing itself as kinda cool California, with hints of wood-fired, farm-to-table and interesting. Fingers crossed. Farther north, that long-vacant lot at the 41/101 interchange has a building on it and two new tenants: Jamba Juice and something called AUNTIE ANNE’S. No clue what it is. Wait, I just googled it. It’s a pretzel chain. Wow. OK, so more mall-food for Atascadero. There’s at least two more vacant spots. Maybe we can get a Sbarro or Orange Julius. YAY.
On the taco front, I have a little crow to eat about a place in Paso Robles. I have avoided TORTILLA TOWN for several years mostly because of the name, but also by association in that strip of horrible restaurants and to be honest, several people have told me “Don’t go there for the tacos” as burritos were their specialty. Boy was that a mistake. The first thing you see when you walk in the door is a fat rotisserie of al pastor with a pineapple on top. Now, I am not suggesting the mere presence of a rotisserie guarantees great tacos. There are PLENTY of examples at each end of the spectrum. Los Robles and Salsa Brava both have spits and make terrible tacos. Neither La Tapatia and La Reyna do, and both make INCREDIBLE tacos. I am SO glad I finally worked up the nerve to try this place. LOOK AT THOSE TORTILLAS. Thick, coarse handmade and grilled to order–no double-wraps needed here–and the meat was great, salsa was great, horchata was great, absolutely no complaints. OK, the parking lot sucks and there was a line out the door, but both are negotiable with a little common sense. The line moves shockingly fast. These are good tacos.
I also hit up the new spot in Atascadero hold on I gotta look it up, starts with P… Wow, that took a while. Turns out La Parrilla is a pretty popular name. LA PARRILLA TAQUERIA is the place, and it is next door to Von’s. I was rather impressed. Meat a little dry and crunchy, but sometimes that’s nice and it had good flavor. Probably just sittin in the line too long, I’ll check back when it’s busy. Great salsas, but you have to tell them not to put sauce on in the kitchen. I don’t get this: it happens at 4 or 5 places in the area: You order tacos FOR HERE, with a beautiful full salsa bar just a few feet to the right or left, and they put salsa on your tacos in the kitchen. Makes no sense. I still think TAQUERIA DON JOSE is the best in Atascadero, but this is definitely a contender. Updates to the TACO LIST will be forth-coming, and no, I have not yet edited it to include LAST WEEK’S TACO GOSSIP.
Tried ADA’S FISH HOUSE in Pismo Beach finally. It’s alright. Pretty much what I expected. Really safe, predictable, not-horribly prepared–or presented–seafood. Shrimp cocktail on a vague bland sauce with avocado and hard, massively-butterflied shrimp dripping with defrost-water. Crab cakes smallish affairs, but with actual visible chunks–not just shreds, actual chunks–of meat in them, presented on lemony mayonnaise. Calamari blondish-ly fried tubes & tentacles, served with a vague pepper aioli and chunky tartar sauce. Dinner looks to be an array of changing usual suspects: halibut, swordfish, cod…. Winelist extremely boring, but full bar and great cocktails. I’m sure this place will be very popular. It is a good location, the demographic for this sort of food is plentiful in Pismo, basically brings Morro Bay to south county, gives people an option besides Cracked Crab, and it fills a spot Steamers formerly held–safely sandwiched a little below Oyster Loft, but head & shoulders above Flagship.
Went to a crazy-good wine dinner at THE BALLARD INN AND GATHERING TABLE in Santa Ynez last week as part of the 4-day, 6-town TASTE OF SANTA YNEZ VALLEY event. Chef Budi and a bunch of winemakers pulled out all the stops, with ahi tartare and caviar, scallops and risotto, venison, duck and dessert. If you want to see the whole thing, go to IG or FB, your choice.
THIS COMING WEEKEND:
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.
Be sure and tip well.