Top Ten NEW Restaurants for 2017

It is that time of the year to reflect and look back.  I am amazed at all the new and fantastic eateries that have emerged currently and wanted to give them a shout out.  Here are my top ten new restaurants (new being in the last 24 months) that have tantalized and brought me back to try more.  Please check them out over the New Year and support these hard working chefs.



1.  Blue Moon in Avila Beach
At its culinary helm is Chef Jose Dahan the genius behind Et Voila, that left our sandy shores for Europe and has now returned. The children’s menu is as alluring as the main, including potato chip encrusted chicken with a magical ranch that had a hint of Dijon. The Chocolate Moose and Ice Cream Sandwich combo was a rich, thick chocolate in black shot glasses melted as the fresh raspberry on top.  Pistachio and vanilla ice cream was sandwiched between a chocolate browning and dusted with cocoa powder.  The Country Pâté is a mixture of cooked duck liver and fat then minced into a spreadable paste. This was encrusted with herbs and served with sliced cornichons and grilled baguette slices. The salad was an Organic Red Quinoa Salad with red and yellow peppers alongside cranberries and roasted pepitas. Try the Steak Tartare with cornichons and grilled baguette slices was the favorite, along with the Grilled Flat Iron Steak, ordered rare with peppercorns and a cognac sauce laid over Gratin Dauphinois (fancy potatoes au gratin) which was the pinnacle of dinning.  This impeccably prepared steak with the comfort of sliced potatoes and Gruyere cheese was surmountable and delectable. 
At Blue Moon Over Avila, you get a rotating menu of seasonal and signature dishes along with imported beer and wine selections designed to impress and satisfy the most discriminating tastes. Blue Moon Over Avila is located at 460 Front Street in Avila Beach.

2. SOMM’s Kitchen in Paso Robles
Somm's Kitchen brings sommelier Ian Adamo's love of exceptional dining and wine education together in a warm, welcoming space. This isn't your typical restaurant experience. Ian personally serves each guest from the center of a beautifully curved granite counter. The goal each night is to share edible ideas that evoke a sense of place, culture, and tradition accented with a bit of whimsy. The first item that caught my eye and palette was the Tortilla Española, a specialty tapa from Spain with potatoes, onion, and eggs. The simplicity was brilliant. Next, we tried the Gambas al Ajillo, shrimp with a garlic sauce and the Pâté de Campagne, this simple turrine was served with Cornichons and Mustard and sliced rustic bread. After we went for the Charcuterie and Cheese platters with a variety of ingredients including Smoked Duck with cherries, Coppa Dolce with hazelnuts and a Foie Gras Torchón with pistachios and orange.  I would recommend this be a go-to place to impress foodies.  Somm’s Kitchen is located at 849 13th Street in Paso Robles.



3. Vegetable Butcher in San Luis Obispo
The Dona Dias de la mortes greets you outside; the inside is an open kitchen with a taco bar, classic bar, and distinctive seating options.  The Tennessee Hot Fried Chicken Taco with a jalapeno poppy slaw, gold pea shoots, and radish was first. Adding the smoky ancho rojo sauce to beef up the spice heat made it eccentric. The Ancho Chocolate Turkey Mole Taco with a hibiscus pickled red onion, lime cream, and toasted sesame had a subtlety and beauty that caused yummy sounds. The Jeweled Sweet Potato and Corn Taco with pomegranate, flower petals, avocado and a vegan cashew creama, was dripped with carrot habanero salsa for heat.  The Guajillo Pork Taco with jalapeno picked pineapple, red Fresno chili, and Tabasco fried shallots was magnificent placing a new touch on classics carnitas. Dessert was market fruit sliced and placed on yogurt with a saffron caramel sauce and toasted coconut.
The best and unique dish is the Forbidden Sesame Cauliflower.  Brilliant and delicious with heirloom cauliflower stalks fried with a Korean crumble and served over black forbidden rice with gold pea shoots to cool the fire.  They were not too hot, but an unflawed blending of creative flavors.  The Vegetable Butcher is located at 712 Marsh Street in San Luis Obispo.


4. The Garden Mediterranean in Santa Maria

Open just the beginning of December 2017 after two years in the building process; this fantastic new eatery is both a passion project and a family undertaking. The inside is stunning in detail and comfort, but the food coming out of the kitchen is the star.  This is Mediterranean food with a Syrian flare all recipes handed down from generations.  The Set Menu is the way to go to try everything.  The appetizers were an assemblage of Hummus, Baba Ghanouj, Abneh, Assorted Cheeses, Warak Enab, Tabouli, Fatoush, Falafel, Kibeh, and Fatayer.  This type of meal is meant to be shared and spent time with, so we did.  The Hummus is sprinkled with fresh chickpeas and the flavor both savory and sweet. Scooping it up with a fresh hot pita and adding some Tabouli (mixed parsley, onions and garlic) is one of my favorite dishes. The Baba Ghanouj, a dish of cooked eggplant mixed with tahini (made from sesame seeds), olive oil and various seasonings was whimsical. The Abneh is a yogurt that is used to soften the spicy flavors and add a warming texture.  The Warak Enab was stuffed grape leaves with a tad less vinegary than its Greek counterpoint.  The Fatoush salad was lively and filled with fresh cucumbers and tomatoes, and the Falafel is a deep-fried ball made from ground chickpeas, both were mind-blowing. The Kibeh were pointing, and filled with decadent meat with a cumin essence.  The main dish was three kabobs; chicken breast, beef filet and Koftah served with a garlic sauce, onions and grilled tomatoes. Dessert was the Fatayer, a filo layered pasticcio paste with a subtle sweet of honey served with Turkish coffee and a smile from the patriarch.
This new, elegant and excellent place features a huge patio perfect for special events and large parties.  Located at 122 East Boone Street in Santa Maria.


5. Giuseppe’s Cuisine Rustica in San Luis Obispo
The new Giuseppe’s Cuisine Rustica is a stunning addition to the restaurant scene downtown. Honoring the bones of the historic Sensheimer Brothers building and making it a unique space with to-go food, bar fair, an open kitchen, small quaint booths, an outdoor café space and more. Everything on the menu is perfection, but I went crazy for the Morro Bay Sand Dabs.  These delicate white fish fillets are served piccata style with lemon, white wine, caper sauce is miraculous.  Attended with grilled vegetables and quinoa.  Accompanied with a Roasted Beet Insalata, roasted red and white beets are laid on a bed of arugula, then sprinkled with strawberry, candied walnuts, goat cheese, strawberry vinaigrette, balsamic reduction for a complete culinary experience.

A staple is the Tortellini Giuseppe that is stuffed with bloomsdale spinach and ricotta, capped with fresh peas, mushrooms and pieces of pancetta topped with a tomato sugo (that is a sauce made from DiFronzo farms tomatoes). The Lamb Lollipops, a way of serving lamb chops are served over eggplant caponata is stunning and delicious. The Wild Gulf Prawns Diavolo with a spicy tomato-caper sauce with its big crustaceans cooked to perfection with a sauce that begged to be mopped up with that fantastic bread. We finished with a Cannoli, my favorite of Italian snacks with a candied fruit ricotta-stuffed scattered with pistachio crumbles.
Giuseppe's Cucina Rustica offers straightforward, honest southern Italian fare. Giuseppe's Cucina Rustica is located at 849 Monterey Street in San Luis Obispo.

6. Mason Restaurant in Arroyo Grande
While I loved the hipster vibe of the bar (and would eat the smoked pork tacos daily - but they are now only served at lunch), the new Mason Restaurant gives off a cozy and romantic atmosphere with creative food coming from the kitchen.  We sat by the inspired fireplace and ordered the Crispy Pork Belly with a potato apple latke, molasses whiskey glaze, preserved red cabbage. I am a freak for Brussels Sprouts these days, and Mason’s does them up splendid with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar and feta cheese. But the best of comfort and extravagance is the Lobster Corn Dogs made with cold water tail meat, carnival batter, creole remoulade that is hot and sweet and perfect. I am also a bit crazed for the Szechuan Smoked Ribs with a gojuchang honey glaze, and scallion crumbs.  Simple and elegant are the 1650 Degree Shishito peppers fried up with Moroccan lemon preserves, garlic, and black salt, crushed coriander seed. But if you go you must try the Tartare.  It is delectable American wagyu zabuton, pickled onions, fried capers, Dijon hollandaise, duck yolk, baby arugula, cotija cheese, Fresno chili peppers, avocado, and cilantro aioli.  Mason Bar and Restaurant is located at 307 E Branch Street in Arroyo Grande.



7. Kitchenette in Templeton 
The perfect brunch spot with food so good, I could eat there every day. Cr’a Monsieur is go-to; a croque-monsieur is a baked or fried, boiled ham and cheese sandwich. The dish originated in French cafés and bars as a quick snack. A Croque Madame is a version of the dish topped with a fried egg with country bread; ham and Gruyere cheese with a perfectly cooked egg on top and is my favorite sandwich in the world. The best pancakes anywhere in the known universe is the Ricotta Pancakes filled with dragon spring farm blueberries and a hint of Meyer lemon smothered in grade A Maple syrup. They are renowned around the country and have been featured in many foodie magazines and blogs, and worth every accolade.  

The Turkey Bánh Mì, with country pork pâté, pickled carrots, cucumber, and herbs, with a house Sriracha mayo, was my favorite. Gary liked the Pork Short Rib Burrito, a huge flour tortilla stuffed with savory pork, accompanied by avocado, cabbage, cowboy pinquito beans, and a delectable fruit salsa. The most memorable was the Slow Roasted Lamb Dip sandwich with pimiento goat cheese and sweet caramelized onions. This sandwich was a classic French dip's big American brother on flavor steroids.  The Kitchenette is located at 105 South Main Street in Templeton.


8. Mint + Craft in San Luis Obispo
The fast-casual menu of Mint+Craft sources high-quality local ingredients for breakfast and lunch toasties, cassoulet-inspired dinner dishes, fresh deli goods, pastries, and meals made to go or enjoyed on the open-air patio.

The Salade Nicoise is as pleasing to the eye as the taste buds a beautiful combination of green beans, potatoes, cherry tomatoes, onion-caper relish, dukkah crusted and seared rare albacore, soft boiled egg, house marinated olives. Sitting outside on the patio with a crisp Gewürztraminer wine, you are instantly transported to the City of Lights. The delectable Monte Cristo with an egg battered brioche, stuffed with baked ham, Swiss cheese, Dijon, micro mustard sprouts, with a bottle of crisp Rosé this is flawlessness. The Saigon sandwich with spicy pickles, fresh herbs, nuoc mam (a Vietnamese fish sauce), sambal (Shrimp paste) aioli on Cubano roll while with the Market Vegetable Cassoulet, a warm, inspired Clay Pot of heirloom bean and market vegetable stew with seasoned breadcrumbs. The sandwich is spicy and dense, the perfect amount of pork belly for a savory and tart combination. Try is with the roasted white beets, pecan and goat cheese salad.

Mint+Craft café is an exceptional choice for lunch in downtown SLO, and it has an assortment of grab and go items such as non-alcoholic beverages, local cheese, fresh produce, packaged snacks, as well as, wine and beer shop.  Mint+Craft Café and Mercantile is located at 848 Monterey Street in San Luis Obispo


9. Oyster Loft in Pismo Beach
Sitting at the crudo bar and watching the culinary maestro create was a nice added touch to enlighten our senses. With eight different raw oysters variety to choose from, we started with half dozen Kumamoto.  Served with a charred lemon, shaved horseradish, and a mignonette sauce, these little gems of the sea woke my palette and delighted my senses. Next, we choose Eastern oysters from Rhode Island that were large and creamy. We added limes, Tabasco, and love to each one, as we slurped them down.  Then we tried Grassy Bar from Morro Bay that were smaller with a delicate finish.  They were served with Hush Harbor rustic bread with an infused garlic olive oil that was a perfect pairing for our seashell feast.

We moved on the Tuna Poke Tacos with fresh Ahi, is stuffed into a wonton crisp and they added daikon noodles, cucumber, red onion, cilantro, eel sauce, and Sriracha. It was a symphony of flavors and textures.  Then we tried the Albacore Ceviche with freshly sliced and garlic encrusted albacore tuna, micro cucumber pico de gallo, and onion-fried aioli, sitting on a swirl of cilantro gazpacho. Bravo and amazing.  We chatted with chef Cody about what would be our next adventure, and he suggested the Tuna Poke Tower. This is a cylindrical fish feast with diced yellowfin tuna, avocado, cucumber noodles, miso mayo, cilantro oil, golden tempura flakes, red radish, daikon sprouts resting on wonton chips was a delight, and a must try for everyone.  Thinking there was no way to top this, we tried the Scallop Carpaccio with thinly sliced sashimi grade Hokkaido scallops, shaved radish, daikon sprouts, garlic mousse, daikon, Fresno red pepper, red onion, and cilantro. It was subtle and so perfect, I nearly wept.
The Oyster Loft is located at 101 Pomeroy Avenue in Pismo Beach.


10.  First and Oak in Santa Ynez

First & Oak offers a selection of small plates emphasizing flavor and finesse. The concept allows you the opportunity and freedom to taste multiple courses while not being restricted by an appetizer and entree format. They encourage you to create your own tasting menu, one selection from each section for a balanced experience.
I started with the Fermented Kimchi Cracklings with baked garlic aioli, this unusual and lovely amalgamation of flavors bid me to order another plate.  The Smoked Sweet and Spicy Duck Wings with a chili and peach agro dolce, spiraled with fresh chives had the fire of wings and the sweet of duck. You must try the Osetra "Malossal" Caviar with sour cream espuma, baked potato chips. I finished up with Herb Goat Cheese featuring raisin bread, marinated golden raisins, and Marcona almond all on an endive leaf.  For the sweet tooth, it has to be Strawberries and Cream on a brown butter sponge cake and topped with marinated strawberries, strawberry sorbet, clotted cream, and pistachio.       
First & Oak is located on the ground floor within the Mirabelle Inn located at 409 First Street in Solvang.  

Noi's Little Thai Takeout - Baywood Park, Los Osos

                                      

Sometimes a Staycation is just what you need to clear out the cobwebs and jumpstart creativity. I was in a writing funk after committing and finishing that horrible Grey series (bad writing is NOT good for writers, even if it does make one randy). My girlfriend Deb (the Gluten Free founder of La Pizza Senza Glutenata) told me I needed to sample the wonder that is Baywood Park, so we set out of a small adventure in a quaint town. 

Baywood Park is on the bay side of Los Osos, an oasis with a gentle lapping shore and the sound of the seabirds resounding at each cove. We started with a hike around the neighborhood with a combination of beach shacks, creative architecture, sweeping colonial dwellings, charming Inn’s and a few eateries, I was enchanted. I toured the Baywood Inn Bed and Breakfast and instantly booked the Quimper room for the weekend to finish a writing project that had been evading my brain. This is a perfect place to escape, unwind and restore with its sweeping views, full breakfast, wine and cheese in the afternoon and such delightful chambers (www.baywoodinn.com). 

With a “Sawadee” (hello in Thai) we settled into enjoy Little Noi’s Thai Takeout for lunch. This Thai palace is also an art studio, Zen garden and yoga cottage, using small space to effect large tranquility. As a food-to-go place with a few tables outside and all food served in take away containers, the sheer volume of customers surprised and delighted me. The menu is simple and straightforward with a different curry being made every day of the week. 

We started with a set of vegetarian egg rolls that came with a spicy/sweet sauce that I poured over left over rice and devoured. I ordered the Pad Prik King that is a spicy combination of chopped chicken, sautéed with cut green beans, curry and ribbons of lime leaf. I ordered mine “Thai Hot” as there is a difference between American and Thai hot and I prefer the fiery version. Served over jasmine rice gave it the cooling factor to make it complete.  My friend had the Pad Thai, a classic dish made different by every Thai cook, but I adored the authenticity of this one with crushed peanuts, small rice noodles, chicken (you can choose any meat or vegetarian), scrambled egg, green beans and onions. Garnished with cabbage to squelch the small blaze, this is a dish I would return for. We also shared the Tofu Stir with peapods, cabbage, broccoli, onions, green pepper, tofu and ginger. The ginger added a real snap to this delectable dish. 

      
I talked with Noi and Ron Miner (the owners, she is the cook) and they told me that they designed the space with bits and pieces of Asian artifacts, art and collectables to enhance the Thai food experience. Their main focus is to serve the highest quality rice and noodle dishes with pride and to foster warmth and good feelings within the diner’s heart and soul. This is rare and wonderful trait in a chef. 

After the meal, we strolled the Monday Farmer’s Market (having celebrity sightings of almost every great chef in the area buying delectable vegetables and fruits). I perceived why the food was so fresh and wonderful at Noi’s. This huge market is seeded with amazing farmers offering the best of Central Coast produce, spices and treats. I bought 10 pounds of Empire Apples (the best apple in the world) from Sea Canyon, tuberose soaps shaped like mermaids, a blueberry/lemon custom made peanut butter cup from the Joycup Company and a bourbon/maple salt from Anna’s Spices. Then I had a delightful fresh pressed juice from Heather’s Healthy Living, bought some custom Lemon Pepper spice (which I put it on my popcorn) from Spice of Life and argued over which onion was the sweetest. We ran into more chefs, shared recipes and literally filled my trunk with organic veggies for the week. 

I returned with the grandson for a hike thru the elfin forest and to try the Masaman Curry on Thursday. I dream about this bisque and haven’t had it prepared fittingly since I returned from Thailand. Noi’s offers this comforting soup with flawless flavor. Chopped chicken swimming in a coconut milk, tamarind juice with a Masaman curry paste with red potato, peanuts, and onions. We spooned it over brown rice and delighted in this ideal technique of paring food with a serene sense of beauty. The boy impressed them with his proper “kob kun kaa” (thank you) when they brought his chicken and rice kids meal.


If you go to Noi’s, you must be prepared. They only take cash and if you are in a hurry, call ahead as even in this tiny town, this small restaurant has many patrons.  I have become one of the regulars. Noi’s Little Thai Takeout is located at 1288 2nd Street, Baywood Park; call them at  (805) 528-6647. They are open Monday thru Saturday from 11:00 am to 7:00 pm.

The Naked Fish - San Luis Obispo

                                                


If you listen to what your body tells you after eating sushi, you would eat it every night. Even if you over-indulge and leave uncomfortably full, in a short time you feel a vital energy burst that does not weigh you down like many other foods. I was in search of a new favorite sushi bar, when I found the Naked Fish in downtown San Luis Obispo. I grilled the sushi chef before I sat down, as I am a very picky sushi connoisseur. 

His sign out front said that he had the freshest fish and I asked “What makes your fresh fish better
than other fresh fish?” He explained with a gentle smile and a sharp knife, “It comes down to handling. From the moment a fish is taken from the ocean, it starts a time clock on its lifespan of quality. The better a fish is handled, the better the quality will be when it makes it to your plate. We use one of the highest quality suppliers in the country, and I typically pick them up every day, as FedEx dose not know how to handle fish.” I was already a fan of this chef’s passion, now I wanted to see what he could do next to impress me.

                                   
      
Gary started with the blackberry chocolate mousse that was a refreshing delight. I started with the Peruvian Scallops served on the half shell with shiso garlic butter.  The scallops were flawless and the BBQ Albacore that we all shared was an accomplishment being flash grilled and very rare with a spicy miso sauce. A large bottle of Sake worked its way around the table and the lively event was off to a wonderful start. 

Next we tried the Tuna Tataki that was served over lettuce leaf, with avocado puree, hearts of palm, garlic and black lava salt. Tuna Tataki is one of my favorite sushi starts and this was phenomenal. We had a meat eater among us so he tried the Garlic Pepper Ribeye Tataki. This was thin sliced beef that was garlic pepper crusted, then pan seared medium rare with sautéed onion and garlic.

We shared the special of five sashimi plate specialties, and all were unique and very tasty.  Tuna with creamy spicy garlic ponzu, sesame chili oil with micro greens, Hamachi with sweet potato threads and sweet jalapeno ponzu, Salmon with pickled red onion, capers, truffle aioli and ponzu, Sizzlin’ Albacore with seared Albacore with caramelized onions, jalapeno, garlic chips and ponzu, and finally the Hokkaido Scallop Sashimi with truffle aioli, black lava salt, and ponzu. I was impressed with the creativity and extreme flavor ranges this dish offered us. 

Hot and Wild Roll
The Naked Fish Chef’s make their own ponzu from rice vinegar, soy sauce, lemon, orange and Japanese seasonings. It was a tasty and healthy alternative to the high cholesterol, high fat mayonnaise based sauces used in other sushi bars.

Next we had the Salmon Sliders, which consisted of six pieces of a roll that had fresh, Crab and Avocado wrapped in Salmon, topped with tempura asparagus, tobiko, chili teriyaki and sesame seeds. Even the “meat” guy loved this dish. 

Chicken Udon
Our waitress told us the Maui Wowwie Roll was another house favorite. She was not so sure what to do with this lively group, so she brought us sake bombs. I hadn’t done these in years and our dinning companion had never had tried them (he called them Soccer Mom’s). 
For the uninitiated, a sake bomb is a beer mug filled 1/3 of the way up with beer. Then you take a small sake class, fill it with hot sake and place two chopsticks on the top of the beer class. The hot sake cup is carefully rested on the chopsticks.  The sushi chef then starts a chant. Our was NaNaNaNaNa, Sake Bomb!  On the third course, you hit the table around the beer stein, hard and the sake falls into the beer. Then you pick up the glass and chug it down. It is messy, delicious and fun. 

                                                  
The Naked Fish Sushi bar’s atmosphere was fun and inviting. The chefs were highly skilled, artistic and fun. You could tell that they take great pride in preparing the meal to ensure an all around abundant experience.  This gets me stamp as my new favorite.   As the sushi chef told us as we did another round of sake bombs, “Treat yourself. Treat your body. To Naked Fish!”


Naked Fish Sushi is located at 857 Higuera Street is San Luis Obispo; call them at (805) 543-3474.



Oki Momo Asian Grill - San Luis Obispo

                                            

There is a preconception that food that is good for you lacks flavor. That is rarely true, but in the hands of a masterful chef, even the healthiest meal can become a symphony of flavor and texture. I was excited to try and new concept in nourishing cuisine at Oki Momo Asian Grill. They opened and I was there the second day. With a clean esthetic and the promise of gluten free, vegan and vegetarian this wholesome food turned out to be some of the best casual dinning I have had in this area.  Jon Yeh greeted us at the cash register as we grilled him on the menu and what to try.  What was immediately impressive is that they make everything in house. I ask about the concept and he told us his wife is a vegetarian so eating out was always a challenge for their family. If it was a “health food” restaurant, it was usually lacking in flavor. She had a difficult time finding anything to suit her appetite at regular restaurants. They decided to join forces with an old college pal, Chef In Lloyd and create a flavor filled menu that satisfied everyone’s palate. 

Oki Momo, Japanese for “large peach,” is named for its signature momo sauce, which includes peaches. Even the plates and cups were sustainable all made from pressed bamboo.  Jon told us about his late nights of making the dessert Mochi. Gary ordered three to start.  These rice flour and cornstarch pillows filled with mango, chocolate and strawberry ice cream were exceptional.  Gary inhaled them and ordered more. 

The menu includes dishes with Korean, Chinese, Japanese, Thai and Vietnamese influences. Single item are $5, with two and three combo options priced at $9.50 and $13.50. I ordered the Teriyaki chicken; Thai chopped salad and a bowl of Pho. The Tolosa Sauvignon Blanc paired perfectly with the light Asian flavors. 

The Teriyaki chicken was cut into small moist chunks and cooked perfectly.  It was seared on the flat iron grill with baby Portobello and shiitake mushrooms, and glazed with house made teriyaki sauce. It was exceptionally moist and the teriyaki delectable with the mushrooms, a savory sweet combination. I love the open kitchen and watching the dance of the chefs as they prepared each item.

The Veggie Chop Salad instantly became my favorite. With a perfect blend of cabbage, kale, cucumber, carrots, red pepper, and edamame tossed in a Thai peanut, lime and cilantro dressing. It was hearty and refreshing. I ordered another to go for lunch the next day. 

Then the magic happened. They brought me a bowl of Pho. If you have not discovered this enchanted street food from Vietnam, you should. It is comfort in a bowl. It sustains and cheers you. I travel to San Francisco for a bowl of this delight, but now (for the first time) it is done correctly in San Luis Obispo. 

Pho (pronounced FA) is a slow cooked beef bone broth infused with an aromatic blend of herbs and spices and served with rice noodles, bean sprouts, Thai basil, and cilantro. At its most basic, pho is Vietnamese noodle soup that’s typically made with beef stock, herbs and spices and simmered for several hours. Pho is served with rice noodles and various cuts of beef (Pho Tai). The noodles come out still cooking in the bowl, which gives you time to dress up your Pho by adding Sriracha or hoisin sauce. This is a dish that is served primarily at breakfast time in Vietnam and remains a staple of the early-rising Vietnamese population. Pho is like cereal, oatmeal or scrambled eggs. It’s how you start the day. This bowl took me instantly back to south east Asia and Chef In came to check on us. I gushed on about Pho done right and he smile with pride. 
    
The next visit (two days later) we sat on the bright and clean patio. Gary dived into the Momo bar that looked dense, but was full of flavor. Then he had the Lemon Bar that was an impeccable combination of tart and sweet.

I started with the Pork/Shrimp Wontons that were lightly fried. They were handmade wontons filled with minced pork and shrimp, baby bok choy, water chestnuts, and onion, served with our house made ginger soy dipping sauce. I loved this dim sum sample of an appetizer.  Next was the Purple Rice, a blend of long and short grain white rice and antioxidant-rich purple rice, seasoned and seared on the flatiron grill with kale, cabbage, carrots and egg. Purple rice done right is outstanding, and this one was flawless. 

Then I tried the Korean BBQ chicken wings, and instantly decided I would not be sharing these dreamily done crunchy chicken wings tossed in Korean BBQ. You could also choose honey lemon-pepper or soy buffalo sauce. The Rice Noddle’s where subtle but when I added the Momo sauce and a bit of heat, I feel in love.  They were Fair-trade, organic brown rice noodles seared on our flatiron grill with kale, cabbage and carrot ribbons. Gary had the 
Yellow Curry over white rice and loved the mild burn mid throat. 

With the peach and the robot as cartoon character mascots, this new Asian Grill, Oki Momo is delectable as it is healthy. Find them at 2256 Broad Street, Suite 120 in San Luis Obispo (by Fresh and Easy). They are open everyday from 11:00am to 9:00pm; call them at (805) 439-4198.




Palo Mesa Pizza - Arroyo Grande and SLO




                          

Palo Mesa Pizza is a little chain of bistros with a big buzz around them. I went for the fried chicken; I stayed for the award winning pizza. But the chicken was fantastic and a nice surprise.  The first location is right across from sister restaurant, Tanner Jacks up on the Mesa.  The locals had been raving to me about their food, so I drove up the hill to try it out. The eight-piece meal was enough for four of us, but we also tried a couple meatball sandwiches with hand rolled meatballs, a tomato meat sauce and mozzarella all on a tasty house made French bun. We took the food to go, as the restaurant was too small to accommodate our noisy group. The food made perfect picnic fair with the drinks secured from JJ’s Market. 

Michael Stevens
Michael Stevens started Palo Mesa Pizza in 2007. Stevens is a celebrated chef that is known in the industry for his creative side. Motivated by his many awards and awesome reviews, Michael decided to open Palo Mesa Pizza and bring great pizza to the people of the Central Coast. Today Palo Mesa Pizza (in the Craig Center next to Tanner Jacks) is known throughout the area as the provider of the best darn pizza around (some even call it Happy Pizza). He opened his second location in The Albertsons/Office Max center earlier this year and we were excited to have a pizza out in our side of the boonies. 

We ordered up a feast for family night to be delivered. Starting with spicy boneless wings with a ranch dipping sauce. These wonders suited everyone, not to spicy but with a horde of zest. Gary got the cinnamon bread as his starter, with swirly cinnamon and sugar surging thru the bread. He swore he would make the world’s best French toast out of the leftovers for breakfast. My daughter ordered the Greek salad with black olives, salami, tomato, onion, banana pepper and feta cheeses. She enjoyed the fresh components and scrumptious dressing. For the boys we got extra pepperoni, as this was the best pepperoni I have had from a pizza parlor with large but sliced super thin slices of delectable pepperoni. All pizzas start with the house made recipes of hand tossed dough and gourmet pizza sauces that range from traditional tomato, ranch, buffalo and Thai peanut sauce. 

We shared the award wining pizzas that score at the International Pizza Expo in Las Vegas competition. The Greek had homemade Italian sausage, red onion, tomatoes, black olives, feta cheese, banana peppers and a sprinkle of oregano. This was a crowed pleaser.  The International Pizza Challenge pits up to 60 chefs against each other in the Traditional and Non-Traditional divisions of pizza creation. Palo Mesa pizza took first place in the competition’s Southwest Region Division of the United States. His creation finished in fifth place overall, although another pie took the coveted “Best Pizza in the World” title.

When I was home sick with everyone out of town, I had them deliver me a pizza that was not only enchanting, but would cure my cold.  The California Chicken Pizza has cubes of chicken breast, bacon bits, garlic and mushrooms all with a ranch dressing for the sauce. I had them add extra garlic to wash away my germs. And I love that they will deliver anywhere- even to the beach for just $4.00.

The best deal is the Palo Pack with a two topping large pizza with cheese bread and a soda at $20.00. We ordered this and snuck into the apocalyptic movie rationalizing that the people watching this film wouldn’t mind the pepperoni smell. It was a fantastic meal in the dark at the back of the theater. (Note: the manager of the theater frowns on this behavior, so don’t tell him I suggested the idea).

Palo Mesa Pizza also makes fantastic appetizers, pasta, calzones, sandwiches and more.

 Palo Mesa Pizza is open for dining in, pick-up, delivery and even catering from 11:00am to 9:00pm Sunday through Thursday and
11:00am to 10:00pm Friday thru Saturday at both locations.  The location by Albertsons is at 906 Rancho Parkway
in Arroyo Grande and the number is (805) 481-7888. The Mesa location is at 2790 South Halcyon Road in Arroyo Grande and the number is (805) 474-9924.


Papi's Grill - Pismo Beach

I long for those chefs that truly create, take something that is blank and turn it into art. The high is entertaining and everlasting, and it touches people. Thus they must continue. To experience the moment of creation, the inspiration of their souls reaching another's. I am happy to say I found another brilliant chef running a “must try small find” in Pismo Beach.

When a new eatery pops up in town, I try to be there during the first week. I am forgiving for growing pains, but if this place is going to set the town on fire, I want to be the first one with the scoop. Opening day at Papi’s Grill in Pismo Beach, and I was in love with this new bistro. Rosendo Perez took over the former Garland’s (aka Longboards and Bullwinkles) and produced a taco stand that will redefine the term taqueria.  

Rosendo comes via the executive chef track from Santa Barbara where he was a tappen chef for a sushi bar. He wanted to return to his wife’s hometown and mix his knowledge of Japanese flavors with the roots of his native Mexican food. I knew this was going to be a special place when Rosendo pulled out a ball of corn dough, hand shaped and fried my tortilla after I ordered. I nearly fainted, real Torillas del Mano is only something dreamed of North of the border. 

I started with Taco de Pescado, that featured fresh halibut caught daily from local waters that is cut and grilled, served with pico de gallo, cabbage and a special white sauce that like everything else, is made from scratch. A combo of traditional Mexican vegetables blended with a Japanese flavor palette to make a fish enhancing sauce that was perfection. The Taco do Camarones were equally good with large succulent shrimp cooked to impeccability. The corn salsa that accompanies most dishes was spectacular and I saw Rosendo roasting and cutting the corn himself.  With the traditional Mexican coke in a bottle and a Model Negro we moved on to the Potato Taco. These crispy little treasures are filled with potato, chorizo and a queso fresco combo then deep-fried and served with fresh guacamole (also made as ordered). 

I became obsessed and ate here every day for a couple of weeks trying everything on the menu. Every dish was a spectacular as the next and my favorite was the Pasilla Grande. This dish that dances in my dreams contains a large roasted pasilla chile that is stuffed with cheese and chorizo.  It is served with two tortillas because of its size and I take a fork and knife to get every delicious morsel. A close second is the Veggie Taco (yes, the meat loving carnivore that I am, likes theses veggies that are seasoned and grilled to perfection) with a delectable horchata milkshake. 

And not just a taco stand, Papi’s has fantastic hamburgers in addition to salads. We tried the Raja’s burger, a thick prime beef patty served with grilled pasilla chile with onion, tomato, lettuce, cheese and an amazing chipotle sauce.  This burger with a kick was served with a side of fries.  

Rosendo makes Ceviche on the weekends with the freshest of fish and shrimp plucked straight from the ocean. He marinates it in fresh lemon juice and adds cilantro, onion, tomato and a hint of fire. It is served with tortilla chips. Papi’s Grill for was a gift to my mouth. Every taste bud thanked me for sharing. 
Come and try what all the foodies are talking about at Papi's Grill Tacos y mas. It is located at 1090 Price Street in Pismo Beach; you can reach them at 805-295-6660. They are open from 11:00am to 8:00pm daily.