Popped into the new iteration of DRAGON PALACE in Grover and I know the previous owners were Vietnamese but I feel like maybe there is a new “new owner”??? because I don’t recognize anybody inside and I was fairly familiar with the former management. Everyone in the place seemed younger and far more ESL than before. Who knows–who cares: The good news is it is a fairly curt full Vietnamese menu. All the buffet tables are sitting dark and empty, creating a little bit of ghost-town blight in the restaurant but the menu is all Viet. There’s a couple of nods to Chinese on it which is probably smart considering the demographic. The bad news is there’s no banh mi. YET, she says. I just don’t see it working. I give it a year.
The banh-mi at LOTUS in downtown SLO is perfect. Far and away the most authentic and while I love both Lincoln Market’s and Jeffrys’ juicy versions, this one is FAR more aligned with something you would be handed in San Jose or Stockton. Pillowy baguette, not-overpowering pork, fat slabs of jalapeno which DO NOT get in the way or over-power, and of course all the veggie parts. There is also an additional pâté available, but they were out, otherwise I would have definitely gone for that classic combination. Simple and nice, but still with all those complicated flavor juxtapositions, this sandwich is impossible not to inhale. The only problem I can possibly find with it is that Lotus is indeed a full sit-down formal restaurant and the sandwich–even ordered to go–costs literally three times what it would on the street. But boy oh boy is it good.
Delving into another location for banh-mi served locally, the brand new FUEGO Get Fed in Grover Beach. The pork installed on this one is much more of an Asian-style of BBQ pork–a little chubby and less saucy–than a lot of the practically *pulled pork* versions you commonly see. Gobs and gobs and gobs of veggies on this one. Carrot and radish, lots of cilantro and fresh cucumber pickles, not to forget very mild raw jalapeno slices which never overheat, even combined with the restaurant’s Sriracha mayo. Bread is a little bit tough, crusty and dense for my liking, but I doubt if many people will complain. This is the only banh-mi in 5-Cities that I know of and it’s a decent version I recommend checking out. See, and here’s my deal with bread: Americans and the French have a different perspective in regards to “crusty baguette”. Americans want a stick of bread you can literally KILL someone with. Seriously, go to the grocery store and squeeze all the baguettes. Most–if not all of them–will be hard as a rock. No, I’m NOT talking about those giant fluffy things they call “French bread”. That’s an abomination. But the French “crusty baguette” is a pillowy wonder with a razor-thin brittle shell that shatters and squishes. Mint + Craft and Taste both suffer from this *bread problem* on their versions of this dish.
There’s a new pho place in SLO, up there in that little center on California that has the boba stop and Acapulco taco and of course the new darling child of vegan: Ziggy’s. It is called SLO PHO SHO and is an arm of the Poke Chef people–who are also in that center. Broth is nice, fairly straightforward, noodles are an almost clear vermicelli which is an interesting touch, but the most obvious of all is of course the meat you see here. I ordered my usual *rare beef* and I’ve only had it come 2 ways in my life: thin slices on top of the broth or thin slices in a side plate, so this kind of almost tartare-appearing ground-like texture was a bit of a surprise. I was having flashbacks to the quarter-inch-thick inedible gray shoe-leather I was served recently in Arroyo Grande at the new pho place THERE, but this turned out to be nothing like that. I’m not mad at all about this meat presentation. Yes, it’s very different than what I’m used to–having never been to Vietnam I really can’t speak as to the authenticity–but it went pretty well. A little bit tougher, yes, I will give you that. A little bit more fat and gristle but overall quite a nice pho experience and it’s nice to have another option in SLO for this dish. Not sure what “Steph B on Yelp” means when she says there’s only one pho shop in town. I’m sittin here thinking of at least three right off the top of my head.
Are you sick of talking about Vietnamese food? Let’s talk about Caesar Salad. Yes, occasionally I will go on little *theme rants* over the course of a couple weeks, to experience a bunch of variables quickly. Here’s some from all over recently. Finally got into THE STATION Los Alamos, the Cisco Kid brick & mortar in the cool old gas station finally brought to life by the Rancho Ontiveros people. It was my second visit. My first attempt did not go well. Everything seems to be smoothed out fine down there at this big, meandering, interesting space. The food was top-notch and service perfect–even though they were slammed. Check out their version with soft-boiled egg and avocado for the interesting touch. Croutons were also these massive chunks CLEARLY re-cycled bread. It appears as though the *roasted salad* is making a comeback on menus. There’s TWO in this setting: The wilted winner? SOMERSET GRILL Pismo Beach roasted Caesar on a bed of thick sauce. I know I’ve shown you this before, but I HAD to trot it out again for this discussion–it’s THAT beautiful. The whole thing works nicely. WINDOWS ON THE WATER Morro Bay gets the only thumbs-down of this set with a really sad roasted version. I tried all the magic tricks to make that picture look better. It really is that sad. I can’t help it. Back in Pismo at the standard: GIUSEPPE’S at the bar with some blurry–but beautiful–anchovies. Probably got bumped. They’re still so pretty. What about just plain old romaine heart sections dusted with sauce and a lil Parmesan or Romano? Up in the international terminal at SFO, MUSTARD’S GRILL with a piled high and very nice version of the simple-simple. Of the literally hundreds of similar versions I’ve been served this is the only one that makes the cut. Simple as it is, this clearly did not come out of a bag. Wait. I just thought of another I think I am going to dig out of the archives for this conversation, just because it is SO GOOD. The Caesar Wedge at ANDREA’S ON PINE in Paso Robles. Lastly, CAFE DELLA VIA in Cayucos with more optional anchovies on top. Of course, I also get handed a bunch of this classic dish and I’m just like, I ain’t taking a picture of that.
Speaking of Italian, I of course reported LAST WEEK the doily-tablecloth mainstay of boomer and ladies-who-lunch of 5-Cities: Gina’s Italian in The Village had closed. I had heard they temporarily shuttered but went by yesterday and turns out they are serving breakfast and those are the only hours listed so that’s a little weird. Italian brunch? I didn’t even know that was a thing. It bears mentioning the EXACT SAME DEMO was inside enjoying this new menu. Don’t worry, I waved at your grandma. ALSO (if their new instagram is to be believed) GETTING A NAME CHANGE: LUIGI’S ITALIAN. That’s gonna to be a shock for Arroyo Grande.
Speaking of The Village, HUMDINGER BREWING opens in the old Comfort Market space on Thursday. They’re doing all their little soft-opening parties this weekend. Spencer Johnston is managing menu-development and food. That doesn’t mean he is going to be there cooking full time–he has a chef de cuisine running the kitchen. Can’t wait to check it out. Has anyone had their beer?
Down Grand Avenue, Paisanos’ latest configuration is LET’S WING IT which I will allow the gentle reader to draw menu conclusions from. In near-classic Grover Beach style, no geo-tag, no FB, no IG, no www, no nothing. Congrats on your one–and only–piece of ink from me. Might as well put it on my list now of restaurants that will fail.
Ate at CAFE DELLA VIA again–that’s twice in two weeks–and 99% of it is because of their ridiculous wine list … made it back into HATCH in Paso for my fifth or sixth time, always with mixed results … had a beautiful lunch at local favorite BAYSIDE CAFE in Morro Bay… speaking of Morro Bay, had a so-so situational pizza experience at Port House–no, not Port House, PIZZA PORT, it was OK for a school-night emergency (trans: didn’t feel like cooking). No wine, sports everywhere, picnic benches to eat at, can’t see myself ever going back… I DID eat at PORT HOUSE though, that didn’t go too well. It’s okay I guess, just: *yawn*. PICO is back open… BELL’S had a little familial emergency that caused tiny closures this past weekend… The live music on Saturday night at HALFWAY STATION is literally the north county place to be I’m telling you what if you’re not at PUFFER’S in South County or Halfway Station in North County you’re seriously missing out… Speaking of live music MEE HENG LOW has suspended the Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday upstairs-jazz dining temporarily… Thursday night downtown Farmers Market is canceled, all Cal poly sports events are canceled, everything at the PAC is canceled HOSPICE DU RHONE and WIVI have both been suspended until August.
I went and checked out the new vegan place in San Luis Obispo everybody’s talking about and I didn’t even die. Turns out it’s part of the Sylvester’s group which is kind of an interesting juxtaposition between the food the two restaurants serve. ZIGGY’S is tiny, but fun and fresh: three or four indoor cables, a couple more outside, service perfect–the girl who took my order was outstanding–and the menu is easily absorbed. There are several burgers with a choice of Impossible or their house-made patty and a variety of vegan cheeses available on them. Also some tacos with choices of grilled avocados or cauliflower. The house-made ginger lemonade is amazing and there’s even some desserts on the half-page menu. I opted–as usual per my first visit to a burger joint–for the basic basic burger with their house patty, which turns out to be a black bean affair with a fairly distinct cumino nuance to it. The finely shredded lettuce is an interesting touch, reminiscent of another place in town that preys on vegans. Tomato, pickle, onion, great sauce, and all on a beautiful bun that’s a little heartier than your typical brioche, potato, or cotton-candy book-ends. An impressive debut and one of those menus you’re already planning what to order next.
Speaking of Sylvester’s, KUMA in Los Osos is converting to counter service, which means I will probably never eat there again. Equally far-flung, the highly-anticipated second location of HIDDEN KITCHEN in Cambria has opened a lot closer to home in Cayucos. I had thought it a vegan joint, but walked by and looked at the menu today and there’s turkey and eggs and such on it. So not even totally vegetarian. Don’t know where I got that idea. Open for lunch right now until 2, and not even claiming to be officially open. Just south of Schooners.
I’m going to do an Italian bottleshare at Jimmy Bump’s in Los Osos, so sign up for that. And it won’t be snooty–just good wine. Delmore has promised to make his 100-layer lasagna. Also, PLEASE go eat Chinese food somewhere. Of course I recommend MEI’S in Shell Beach and MEE HENG LOW in SLO and CHINA GOURMET in Paso, but find one nearby and just go enjoy Chinese food… World of Pinot went off without a hitch, fabulous group of wines and people there… Sunday’s women’s winemaker benefit dinner in Santa Ynez Valley was also a nice spot to be with ALL the best wines being poured, although this year it was brunch and turned out to be *all seated in a row* which I opted out of–my opinion of that style of dining is well-documented… that’s all I’ve got, have a nice day.
Wash your hands.