Well, we’re back at it again. Good job, California. The dining industry is turned upside-down again. Did I ever tell you how much I hate eating outdoors? So here’s what you have to do–and my apologies to those resties scrambling to adapt to street-dining, I get it but hey: facts are facts–just look around for places with established outdoor dining, if you have qualms about eating on sidewalks and behind barricades. Look around you: they’re practically everywhere… NOVO, THO, JEFFREY’S, FIRESTONE, GRANADA, MOON OVER AVILA, haha. I mean think about it: Firestone merely closed the bar. That’s it. Nobody eats inside. And ALL those secret back patios a fat chunk of places downtown and elsewhere have: Black Sheep, Buona Tavola, Giuseppe’s, Creeky Tiki, La Locanda,… Then there’s the other spots with lots of open air: Rosalina, SLO Brew Rock, Cape Cod Eatery… on and on.
I have to hand it to several spots who have SERIOUSLY taken advantage of this situation. I swear Giuseppe’s in SLO has MORE tops out on Monterey Street than there WERE INSIDE THE RESTAURANT. And it was PACKED the other night. Next door, Finny’s is also making probably the best use of the closed street than any other in town. A lot of the others who lackadaisically added a table or two out front are now packing the tables in–and downtown doesn’t look quite so ghost as it did at first.
And then there are those missing out. Crossed my mind how ridiculously Cass House could be KILLING it right now… I mean: the entire dining room is open, the BAR is outdoors ferchrissakes. And think about the opposite example: Several mentioned to me when The Creamery Marketplace was building out if *that* sort of concept would actually work. LOOK AT IT NOW: Entire courtyard packed with tables, their own personal dining room for everyone. I feel bad for those who have tied their existence and draw to ZERO TOLERANCE items on *the list*… Bars are of course hating life, places with basically NO outdoor areas to place tables… and then Places like PUFFER’S OF PISMO, which have tapped into the vein of local musicians and linked the enjoyment of this awesome spot to showcasing them. The LIVE MUSIC BAN is crushing that one.
Here’s a place I have enjoyed a couple times recently: did you even know BLUE SKY BISTRO had a dining room??? I honestly didn’t until a few years ago when it was POURING and we ducked in. In almost-20 years I have only sat inside that once. Out in their glassed-in area, things seem positively normal. And they have a bottle of BEAUTIFUL Provence rosé on the list.
Up the street, things are also enclosed and protected and comfy at my favorite hangout in town: HARBOR HUT, where they have commandeered the exterior pergola structure classically used by Lil Hut customers for their fried tourist food, and dedicated it exclusively to patrons of the big dining room and bar. It is considerably smaller than the DR though, and past couple times I’ve been it has been PACKED with a wait so reservations are highly recommended. And no, you don’t have to sit with Lil Hut people. THEY have been moved to the sidewalk.
Speaking of tourist food: sometimes we ALL need a fix and Giovanni’s–probably the best versions in Morro Bay–has a line around it IMPOSSIBLE for local to stomach. Well, help is here: Around the corner in the same building is GIOVANNI’S EXPRESS, offering the Top-10 menu items from the main resty and it is still somewhat of a secret. Wait-times of 10-20 minutes are still the norm here to get your chowder, poke-bowl, or chikky nuggies fix and while Giovanni’s has ALWAYS been outdoor-dining-only, large umbrella expansions have been made in the private parking lots on both sides of the place. Here’s how secret the new EXPRESS location is: The SEAGULLS haven’t even discovered it yet.
Down the road Jorge always has the Afro-Cuban All-Stars blaring in his palmed patio where YOU can get the Cuban staples and your wife can have the crispy spring rolls. At least that’s how it works in our family. All under one roof—errrrrrr I mean PATIO.
Talk about a gorgeous outdoor area: Had a long wine-drenched evening at OX + ANCHOR finally, and isn’t their situation nice. I voiced concern about the wind (WHO ME COMPLAIN???) on their heated–and very permanent–front area overlooking Palm Street and was whisked through the restaurant to the back veranda, to a still-sunny spot completely blocked from anything but the tiniest breeze. There were heaters here, too, but never needed them even after the sun set over Palm Theatre. This was my first time here–they opened *just* before March 19 and everything’s been kinda sketch since. One of the things surprising me about Ox & Anchor was the portion size. Of course the menu is completely à la carte, something which often can spell ridiculously expensive plates and tiny bites–but here: no way. An entire personal-casserole-dish of sides, and while it is billed as a steakhouse, I wormed through all the beef customizations straight to the DUCK. And I basically got half a duck. No way I could eat it all, and lunch the next day didn’t suck either.
Got into another high-end and significantly-acclaimed local spot for a belatedly first time: spent a couple positively miserable hours at LES PETITES CANAILLES in Paso Robles. Seated unprotected on the sidewalk between the open expanse of the park and two empty parking lots, jackets were fetched and zipped even before our attendant finished his *Let me tell you about our restaurant* speech. And then you see the menu, and more WTF moments ensue. See, I mentioned a list of French restaurants in the area a week-or-so-ago on social media and was immediately corrected by one of their belligerent fans concerning my obvious–and surely accidental–omission of LPC. Well, that still stands. None of my French goose-bumps are erect about this menu. Just not seeing it. Insufferably long waits between attention, leading to the expected cold food, Paso’s finest constantly voicing their approval of the ostracized diners from busy Spring Street a few feet away. I know criticizing restaurants is verboten right now–and I am the BIGGEST fan of 3-hour dinners–but this one was about 2 hours too long.
Speaking of criticism: of course I–like everyone I know–have pulled my punches a bit during this whole thing, focusing on the positive: the adaptations, the struggle, the crushed industry and most of our friends in it. But at what point can you say: The issues with this meal have literally NOTHING to do with covid? I went to THE CARISSA the other day. Huge beautiful back patio overlooking the creek. Bar up front taking all orders seamlessly and making their signature awesome cocktails. Music on the deck, lots of friendly people, 3 Mexicans making tacos on a portable kitchen outside. I mean: it literally could have been a catering truck. What could you possibly screw up? Half our order skipped. Wrong salsa on tacos. Long after the dishes were cold, had to go up and ask. Received a mumbled request to verify the receipt and indicated “we’re out” of the requested salsa. Shortly after, the remaining items of our order arrived. And by golly: topped with the salsa they were “out of”. Absolutely NOTHING to do with covid. The tacos were really good though. A touch salty for me, but no complaints. Even the wrong salsa was fresh and wonderful. I will definitely go back. And the icing on the cake: they make a margarita EXACTLY the way I want them. Ordering a marg with ZERO customizations is an extremely rare occurrence for me, so hats off to that.
Did you know MON AMI CREPERIE moved downtown into a cute space on Court Street? SOOOOO elated about this transition. Love their food and REFUSE to make the trek down into the tourist-zone at the pier in Pismo. And yes, that location is closed permanently. Since I visited them last week and posted about it, have received a stack of surprised communications from people unaware, so wanted to make a note of it here. YOU CAN GET YOUR CREPES IN SLO NOW. I ordered *The Pismo* which is ham, basil and mozzarella, and got something full of salmon, cream-cheese, dill and capers. Not sure what happened there, but it was fabulous. Basically a French taco. Or in this case maybe a Jewish taco? Nice outdoor seating, and the sparrow gangs of Court Street are straight entertainment.
Got into WINDOWS ON THE WATER one more time between their bouts with closure. There’s one of the places which doesn’t even muss around with conformity. Just close. Boom. Gone. No attempts at outdoor dining; no provisions for take-out; the Windows experience is the Windows experience and if you can’t have that experience, we’re not cooking for you. Pretty admirable, but from a financial viewpoint both for the resty and their employees: OUCH. Absolutely LOVE their ‘veggie pizza’ and the reasons for this surprise is I am NOT vegetarian and REFUSE to eat pizza without red sauce. This is seriously one of the best pizza’s in the area tho.
Clear across town–in the former Carl’s Jr. by New Frontiers they’ve been working on for EVER–a strange little eatery has opened. It’s Vietnamese. But it’s a bright, fresh V-pop sort of interpretation with a weird name, lots of bright seating, flashy menus, and a smoothie-bar. I have been there twice now (both times BEFORE outdoor seating only so not sure what their current status is), and those who read me regularly will know how my orders have progressed. First of all: the Pho. All is judged by that. If it passes: the Banh-mi needs to suit up. Both these items passed with FLYING COLORS. The soup comes ‘rare beef’ WITH meatball and plenty of fresh toppings. Broth light and good. Really nice Pho, but for me pho is kinda like sex… I mean unless somebody REALLY screws something up, bad sex is still pretty good. And I relish the opportunity to have pho whenever it presents itself without a horrible amount of criticism. Now the sandwich is a whole ‘nother story. I will criticize the SHIT outa your banh-mi. Tear it apart. Piece by piece. The banh-mi at @BITES is uncriticizable. Seriously, you dorks: what would you change? Perfect bread (80% of it right there), shmear of paté, HEAVENLY pork, veggies falling out, light pickle on the carrots, not too many raw jalapenos. Easily the best version in town. Oh and if you went and had the beef version and didn’t like it just stop talking. That’s like going to Italy and complaining about the sushi.
Oh and memo to restaurants: here’s a little something which has happened to me TWICE this week and both times I opted not to dine at your establishment. And both times I really REALLY wanted to–as in: it was a DESTINATION for me. I know we’re all adjusting, but hear me out: If you have a back patio featuring table-service with access only through the resty and a line out-the-door for take-out with clear instructions limiting the people inside to order and all that, PLEASE make a sign or a concession for the people who want to go through and sit down. It’s just an awkward situation which can easily be remedied. Not sure what the ideal is, but a couple of you missed out on a couple hundred dollars of my dining budget this week because of it. Think about it.
SPOON TRADE’s going through some interesting transitions. Remains closed for at least another month. Looks like they–wisely–decided to give up paying rent on 2 places… EUREKA was rumored to be gone for good but have opened for take-out at their Marsh St. windows… PEETS just boarded up and left town. Kinda shocked there… SLO Public Market is landscaping and installed their APP, which is a hefty structure of silver representing a chicken on a sheep on a cow on a horse or something, haven’t really got close enough to decipher yet… Paso Market Walk is opening STAT… can’t wait to go explore that. It’s small enough I think it will be cozily-full soon enough–SLO is huge and meandering and several anchors have backed out. I fear for many years of ghost-town there… What else is new? PARK is now PARK 1039 and finally put up an instagram. I only now this because their somm followed me. Some woman I’ve never heard of… Next door: nothing. ESQUINA remains closed, as does MESTIZA… Out in Avila: best-kept-secret MULLIGAN’S has taken advantage of both increased exercising-traffic on the Bob Jones Trail AND near limit-less outdoor space overlooking the bay to finally advertize and maintain serious hours outside tee-times. I’ve been screaming about this place for years: free parking, no crowds, solid food and great cocktails: all RIGHT under your nose the whole time…
imma gonna leave you with two pro-tips. Write this down. Paul Kwong is making crispy smoked whole duck every Saturday morning and selling them out-the-door for 35 bucks. I don’t have to tell you the magic in an esteemed chef and Chinese cookery offering crispy duck for sale. He only makes a few. THEY SELL OUT (yes, yours truly got shut out the first time). You have to CALL MEE HENG LOW to reserve one: 594-1500 quack quack NUMERO DEUX: José Dahan IS BAAAAAACK after a series of yawners behind the pass and several waterings-down of the French menu (anyone seen the french onion soup lately? anyone?) the original chef (and full-time consultant *allegedly*) is cooking at MOON OVER AVILA. I don’t have to tell you the magic here either and what an opportunity. Those in the back rows already have their *it won’t last long* spitballs loaded up so I HIGHLY recommend IF you’ve never been to this restaurant OR if you bemoan the early days: NOW’S THE TIME to experience Moon Over Avila in its full glory.
If I dropped any more knowledge on you you’d get a stomach-ache.