Apparently, GINA’S ITALIAN RESTAURANT in the village of Arroyo Grande has been transferred to new owners. Expect some closures as they tidy things up a bit. I haven’t eaten there in 15 years. I’m assuming nothing has changed. Good down-home food. Unlike blanket *best Italian* questions that get trotted out, I always configure my discussions of such into two categories. Kinda like tacos. There’s a HUGE difference between *best Mexican food restaurant* and *best taqueria*. Yet people confuse these semantics CONSTANTLY. Likewise: Italian. You have to divide Italian into 2 groups. *white-tablecloth* and *red-checkered-tablecloth*. In the former group you have your Giuseppe’s and Il Cortile’s and Buona Tavola’s and Genarro’s and in the latter you have your Dels’ and Jimmy Bumps’ and Ginas’ and Di Stasios’… Wow, I didn’t notice the possessive nature of all their names until I started typing. Interesting.
SIDES HARDWARE & SHOES has closed in Santa Ynez. I never got to eat there. It came highly recommended by several of my friends, and I tried several times. BROTHERS RED BARN continues on… never eaten there either. Really been forsaking my SYV family lately.
Speaking of Santa Ynez–and Italian–I had my first go-round at TRATTORIA GRAPPOLO (at that location). Remember when they were in SLO at the Creekside building? I ate there SEVERAL times and it ranked high on my list. Wow, the old location is AMAZING. And an incredible winelist–one you want to just sit and read for hours. Cruised through a bunch of the menu in a long wine-soaked lunch. That pizza dough rolled around salsa and baked is just plain ridiculousness (yes I’ve forgotten the name of it)… sounded weird and then it shows up and you literally can’t get enough of it. Same with the calamari. It shows up three little fatties on a plate with grill marks. WHOLE SQUID. My rather stalwart gag-reflex went off momentarily as I contemplated what tough, slimy, stringy, soft, weird things they will be to eat and I started calculating how I can take a sly bite or two and appear as though I ate and enjoyed it but not have to choke the whole thing down. I don’t think I have ever been so wrong about a dish in my LIFE. Dense and firm–but not tough–stuffed with cheese and herbs, they are tender, have great mouth-feel, INCREDIBLE-TASTING… I was just in shock both by how good they were and most importantly HOW WRONG I WAS. The obviously hand-made raviolis were little puffy pillows of vegetarian goodness wrapped in pasta so thin as to make the contents visible through their nearly-transparent packages. Heavenly dessert, Franciacorta and Brunello and local bottles falling like bowling pins, I’m just going to put a pic-dump in here and you have to scroll through.
Did someone say Creekside? SIDECAR has furniture and finishes and is staffing and looking quite near to opening.
Running through the minutes from last week: Piadina: open. Ox & Anchor: open. Brasserie SLO: open. Bear & the Wren: open. Avocado Shack: open. Finney’s Craft Kitchen: open.
Oh, and here’s a new one… and I kinda owe a couple people an apology. CHINELO’S MEXICAN is open in Morro Bay. I ate there just the other day and is was AMAZING. Really great al pastor tacos, headed a little bit more toward an adobada style, with grilled onions and pineapple in the meat–it is NOT off rotisserie–and with a fat chunk of FRESH pineapple sliced on top. An interesting touch. Here’s the rub: I ate there just recently when it was Arianna’s and it was HORRIBLE. And of course I wrote about it. And of course when people started raving about Chinelo’s and checking in to that address, I was, like, No way, man. That place is NOT good. Well lo and behold it IS completely new. And let me tell you NOTHING is the same–at least taco-wise. I can STILL taste Arianna’s tacos–I can picture them perfectly–and these are LEAPS better. Salsas too. Oh and the fresh-fried flour tortilla chips come with tomatillo salsa for the extra point. Morro Bay now has TWO decent taco spots: Chinelo’s and Morro Deli inside the Sinclair station. As I wrote last week, I have dropped my long-standing love affair with the Cayucos gas station; I have given up on El Viejon; and Tacos De Mexico in Morro Bay is EASILY the worst of the half-dozen similarly-named outposts in the area.
Have you seen SWEET LIFE OF PIE on Broad across the alley from BATCH? I sure hope they have savory pies. Yes, it is a part of Hotel Cerro. Anything else you need to know downtown? Can’t think of anything.
Hey, so since we’re talking about SYV, I suppose I should say something about PICO, since I am still getting almost daily queries from people registering shock-waves from the intensity of rumors they are hearing. Yes, there was a major BOH and FOH transition in early January, causing sporadic closures. Mr. Terp is no longer in their employment and a new chef, a Mr. Formica–yes, I know, it’s making me completely re-think counter-tops too–has been installed. Get it? Formica has been installed? Get it? oh god I quack myself up. The press release indicated “new menu concepts” and an “enhanced dining room experience” (maybe the new tables are formica?) and will open “early March 2020” with “expanded hours” and diners should come prepared for a moderate lean toward his “love of seafood”. BTW, Mr. Formica’s first name is John Wayne and comes with the byline of “traveling cowboy chef”. Now see, when someone like me reads that, I can’t help but wonder if this is a temporary, consulting, position. I suppose it bears mentioning, my last two visits to Pico were quite disappointing–from a food standpoint. Service was either exemplary or adequate, and I can’t complain about Will’s ability to get me in on the bat-line at the last minute, but the food. Several things weren’t working. Kinda been going to Bell’s ever since. Oh well. Onward and upward.
BTW #2: Chef Terp’s Last Supper is being held at PUFF SOCIAL CLUB in Los Alamos Saturday, Feb 29, there are 16 seats available and is 175/pop www.puffsc.com
Opening 4/1: PEASANT’S FEAST in Solvang
Let’s head back up north and cruisin through AG I noticed the ENTIRE corner lot at Halcyon is now empty. Francisco’s moved a year or so ago over by Smart & Final and now Beach Front Auto has cleared out, leaving several acres of prime, 101-front property blank. Is Arroyo Grande going to finally join the hotel-boom that has overtaken all its neighbors? Mighty nice place for one. Oh, and at the opposite end of the center where Francisco’s holds breakfast court: I popped in to the new Tropical Hawaiian BBQ. Now, I’ve eaten at L&L a few too many times in my life and always go in thinking it’s a good thing and leave feeling like IZ. This place steps the food quality up a few notches and the quantities down a couple. Both GOOD things. Now, one thing I have never ordered island-side is fried chicken, always wanting to opt for something a little more ‘authentic’. Well, I ordered the fried chicken at Tropical, and let me tell you what. It’s the best fried chicken I’ve ever had in my life. First of all, it is breast. And I don’t like my fried chicken super salty or heavily seasoned. I just judge that breading and crust. Oh wow was this stuff beautiful and tasty. I ate it for three days. The short rips were good too. I forgot about Hawaiian macaroni salad being this bland mayonnaise-y goo, and ordered a huge side of it. Now I remember. I will go back for that chicken. Probably tomorrow. No yelp, no FB, no IG, no www, no nothing.
Another thing I don’t order often is egg rolls. My girlfriend orders them a lot, but I never imbibe… they’re just fried greasy bland stuffed morsels, right? Popped in to PIADINA for a late lunch at the bar with a friend and they brought out these new menu items for us to try. First thing I said was, “I’m not really an eggroll person.” and pushed them away. Management insisted I try them and I am so glad I did. I had to fight my friend off for my fair share of the last one. Crispy and delightful, light delicate wrapper not burnt or off-flavored and not crumbly, filling CRAM-PACKED with goodness. I WILL order these again. There’s a theme I have never included in this blog before. A PLAN to go back for Tropical’s fried chicken and Piadina’s eggrolls. Yes, and I am going to stop calling them ‘fried spring rolls’ and refer to them as eggrolls from now on because I got corrected and did some research and while it’s not unanimous, MOST people make a pretty clear distinction between Spring Rolls and Egg Rolls. Whatever.
Anybody else get a little weird feeling in their gut when they see HOTEL SLO’s antique ‘Chow Mein’ sign hung on their building literally 75 feet from ME HENG LOW‘S front door? I know I do. I don’t get the point of it. Sure, it’s Chinatown, but do you have any links to the genre? Do you serve any Chinese food? Next time you drive up Palm, check it out. It is very odd. And kinda uncool, if you ask me. Have you been to Paul Kwong’s noodle-house lately? You KNOW there’s live jazz upstairs Wed. thru Sun. Check it out.
Hey: here’s another addition to SLOco’s smallest club: Brisket BBQ. Grabbed a handful of lunch at JEFFRY’S WINE COUNTRY BBQ and his brisket sandwich in one hand and a tall glass of rosé in the other. This is a chopped up version–almost a pulled look to it–instead of the more common sliced. Heavily sauced–again like pulled pork–and with his crispy fresh pickles. Not complaining. A little different than the classic offerings at the other 3 places (yes, there are only 3 other places in sloco that serve brisket, if you know of another, let me know), but then again: EVERYTHING at Jeffry’s is a little different. Have you had his banh-mi??? I’ve never really experienced someone taking BBQ and pulling it upscale into a wine-country conversation. And it WORKS.
WINESNEAK 2 year Anniversary SALE Sunday March 1 3:00-5:00
WORLD OF PINOT NOIR March 5 thru 8 with Grand Tastings in the Bacara Frour Seasons ballroom FRIDAY and SATURDAY
OJAI WINE FESTIVAL Sunday June 14th, Lake Casitas Ojai