Blaze Pizza in San Luis Obispo




My granddaughter just turned four years old. With this abundance of years on the planet she has developed a picky palate. In fact, the only thing she will eat is exotic unicorn or dragon meat with a tossing of Tinkerbelle’s dust on a bed of  Willy Wonka’s vegetables.  Even though she has been eating with me in restaurants since she was 2 weeks old and knows how to order, and complement the chef, she has now decided that she needs to control everything - including what she eats.  I tried something new to satisfy her discerning penchant upon hearing about a new pizza joint where you can literally make your own pizza.  With late hours, healthy options and cheap prices, Blaze Pizza desires to become the perfect meal for any kid. This pizza place offers all you can eat toppings, gluten-free options and vegan cheese.

We entered, ordered a “Do It Yourself” pizza and the small ruler was engaged and excited to control the destiny of her pizza.  The staff played along and the garlic pesto sauce became fairy dust, the mozzarella shredded cheese became unicorn hair, the pepperoni became spots, the pineapple became hoofs.  She ordered the same pizza she usually likes, but because it was made just for her, not to share or with anyone else preferences on it, it became a treat to be devoured.  She ate every bite of her 8-inch creation.

We all ordered individual pizzas with the boys heaping meatballs, sausage and pepperoni. I tried the white sauce, roasted garlic, sautéed onions, chicken, and mushrooms with a dusting of sea salt on the top. I was impressed with the quality and quantity or items you could choose to sprinkle on your pie. It was one of the best pizza’s I have tried.  Amazed and intrigued I asked for where this genius concept came from.
 
The Manager told me that Blaze offers exceptional quality cooked at lightning fast speed. Designed by Executive Chef Bradford Kent (aka The Pizza Whisperer), his goal was to put fresh, made-from-scratch dough along side healthful, artisanal ingredients on an assembly line. You get to pick as much or as little as you want. From towering of meat and cheeses to fresh vegetables, you have no limit to what you put on your pizza.  Then they place it in a super hot oven, cook for 180 seconds and what comes out is a fast-fire’d, perfectly crisp perfection pizza.

It is a chain (which I usually avoid) but this “do it yourself” pizzeria spoke to my need also to finally get the pizza I want, not the one the tossers in the back decide.  Blaze is a new and growing franchise with over 100 locations now. Locally one of its owners, Mitch Wolf, has been a marketing instructor at Cal Poly for 10 years.

The concept behind Blaze Fast-Fire’d Pizza is simple: You pick your crust, sauce, cheese, and toppings, and your pie is popped into a blazing-hot oven for a mere 180 seconds. It then emerges, ready for your enjoyment. It’s fresh. It’s fast. It’s exactly what you want it to be.

CEO and founder Rick Wetzel explained that the idea was actually conceived out of a need that I found too.  “My wife and I were looking for lunch one day. We wanted pizza but were disappointed to find that there was nothing available that was both fast and fresh. So we ended up at Chipotle instead. Elise looked at me and asked if the Chipotle service model would work for pizza. That was our ‘aha’ moment.” Simply put, where fast food focuses on the value of the food, Blaze focuses on the value of the experience. Wetzel’s inspiration comes at a time when there is a greater demand for fast food made from fresh, high-quality ingredients.

If you are not creative or wanting a unicorn pizza, they offer Signature Pizzas with plenty of choices to satisfy the artisan within you. I had to try the Art Lover with artichokes, mozzarella, ricotta, chopped garlic, and red sauce dollops. It was fantastic and I enjoyed a draft beer with my pizza while Gary inhaled the S’more cookie before his Meat Eater with pepperoni, crumbled meatballs, red onion, mozzarella, and red sauce.

I have been there 4 times last week, as my granddaughter is obsessed with the pizza and it was her birthday week.  Everything I have had is fresh and the staff is friendly, helpful and fun.  It is the perfect food for families or starving students whose mom told them to eat healthy.  This is the best fast food alternative I have ever experienced.

Blaze Pizza is located at 892 East Foothill Blvd in San Luis Obispo; call them at (805) 788-0619. They are open daily, Monday thru Saturday from 10:30 to 11:00pm and Sunday from 11:00pm to 11:00pm.


Rancho Nipomo Deli & BBQ - Nipomo

                                                                  

They say the most important aspect of a restaurant is location, location, location. Sometimes, a location that needs a GPS to find, offers the best chow.  I was perplexed and curious to find an out-of-the way prize that many told me had the best ribs this side of Memphis. Rancho Nipomo BBQ & Deli is located where Nipomo butts up to Santa Maria at highway 166, hard to find, but worth every twist and turn. (Go 101 south and get off at the 166 exit, turn right and it is 50 feet from the exit on the right). With “hoots and hollers” of triumph we entered the arable farm decorated deli and were warmly greeted by Richard, our host and food facilitator. He was amicable explaining in great detail each dish we queried, from the cooking process to the sauce preparation, just as they do in a five-star restaurant.

Pork Ribs
I ordered a slab of ribs that came with coleslaw, rice, beans and toasted garlic teleta bread. Gary started with a slice of Cherry Cheesecake with tres leche moist cake. Richard found this to be perplexing so he brought me a Fish Taco as my appetizer. The white Alaskan cod fillet was panko breaded and pan-fried to perfection. It was smattered in fresh cabbage, lemon, crème fresco, and house made guacamole and pico de gallo. Both pleasantly surprised and with mouths salivating, we anticipating the delights that were forthcoming. 

The pork Ribs were huge, overhanging the plate and cooked to perfection, falling off the bone in a dry sauce that could match any in the South. I don’t think I breathed as I inhaled half a pig. I have to talk about the barbeque sauce. It is not your typical ketchup and brown sugar kind. It was sweet, hot, and dry. It has the consistency of thinned out molasses. Its aroma was a brown-sugary-smoky almost cumin-esque. When I tasted it, my taste buds went to heaven. The proprietor was not giving out any secrets, but I will continue to eat it until I wear him down or figure it out. There is a hint of brown sugar, some kind of roasted chili pepper, citrus, and honey. It is very original and will be haunting my dreams!

Tri-Tip Fries
The coleslaw is made fresh every hour. They magically took tart cabbage, and made it sweet and desirable. Next, day we went back and ordered two Vaquero tacos. The Asada taco with tender charbroiled beef was oozing out of the two fresh corn tortillas. The Carnitas featured superior meat seasoned to delight. You helped yourself to the salsa bar to make this taco your own.

Richard saw that we were gluttons and possibly a gold mine for customers, so he brought us samples of the bean, rice, Beef Chile Colorado, and Chile Verde. The rice was moist, but not mushy and exploding with flavor, as was the beans. The Chili Colorado was soaking in a mole type sauce, but still tasted beautifully dry, it was absolute perfection. 

Rancho Nipomo offers a unique selection of Hispanic cuisine and carefully smoked Southern style meats filled with unique flavors that celebrate our diverse culture. I have never seen such a flawless amalgamation of two different styles emerging for a culinary delight. As I wrote this review, I got hungry and talked Gary into driving back to Rancho Nipomo to try just one more dish.


Rancho Nipomo has burgers, salads, tri-tip, enchiladas, burritos, tortes and more. It is a family run operation with Mama cooking, Papa setting the tenor and waiting on the clients.


 Located at 108 Cuyama Lane in Nipomo, call for directions at (805) 925-3500. They are open every day until 7:00 pm except Mondays


Taste Buds and SLO Film Fest Opening Night Dinner and a Movie

 Culinary Pioneer Inspires Mardi Gras Foodie Party at SLO Film Fest Opener

San Luis Obispo, CA—The best food always has a story. Sometimes it’s about the ingredients, a chef’s ingenuity or the memories created when shared with friends. Sometimes the story is so big it starts a movement and the food scene is forever changed.

Teri Bayus is a local food critic and culinary storyteller who visits chefs around the Central Coast on her TV show, Taste Buds and writes about their food in her weekly column: Dinner and a Movie (Tolosa Press). When she heard the SLO Film Fest opener, a documentary about Ella Brennan, the matriarch of a New Orleans restaurant empire, she decided an Opening Night foodie party was in order.

“This will be a foodie’s dream event! Chefs from restaurants around SLO County will be sharing their tasty culinary treats alongside amazing Central Coast wines and other libations. Café Musique will perform their eclectic, high-energy music from the stage. It’s guaranteed to be a festive atmosphere that celebrates Miss Ella and the generous spirit of New Orleans,” said Teri Bayus, event organizer.  

More than 35 local chefs, wineries and breweries are already on-board to share their favorite creations at this Mardi Gras themed tasting and viewing party Tuesday, March 14th at 5:30 p.m. at Fremont Theatre in San Luis Obispo.

Admission includes: unlimited food and drink tastes, live music with Café Musique and viewing the new full-length documentary film:“ELLA BRENNAN: Commanding the Table” by Oscar® and Emmy® nominated director and producer, Leslie Iwerks.

A pioneer of the modern American food movement and recipient of the James Beard Lifetime Achievement Award, “Miss Ella” groomed chefs such as Emeril Lagasse at her Commander’s Palace, helping to launch the celebrity chef phenomenon.

Leslie (director of this film and many others including The Pixar Story, Citizen Hearst, Recycled Life), will be in attendance with Ella Brennan’s daughter, Ti Martin and son, Alex Brennan who were recently named “2016 New Orleans Restaurateurs of the Year.” They are looking forward to talking about Commander’s Palace’s storied history.

Tickets for this all-inclusive evening are $50 or $40 for students and Film Society members. For tickets and list of participating restaurants and wineries: www.slofilmfest.org/opening-night-party-and-movie/www.slofilmfest.org/opening-night-party-and-movie/





Taste Buds episodes are shown on KSBY Ch. 6 Sundays at 3:30 p.m. and CW Ch. 7 Sundays at 11 a.m. And available 24/7 ON Demand at Charter, You Tube, Central Coast Now TV and Taste Buds Channel.

Granada Bistro in San Luis Obispo

                                                               

I am a December baby (Birthdate: 12/18) and fuss like a wet kitten every year if my husband and closest friends do not properly adulate me on that date. My loved ones know this and go out of their way to ensure I have a proper birthday dinner. I don’t envy them this task as my food critic profession makes me difficult to impress me with culinary delights. This year, everyone received gold stars as the food, atmosphere, wine and company exceeded all my expectations at the Granada Bistro in San Luis Obispo. 

The artsy lighted tree, opulent heaters and warm welcome from the staff, instantly dazzled us. This place looked like it stepped out of a Woody Allen film for its drama and elegance. Gary snagged our waiter, Matthew and ordered for the whole group. He also told him to give me a menu of what we ate so I could enjoy my meal and not be scribbling the whole time.  My friends brought epic magnums from Grey Wolf Winery (a Petite Sirah and a Tempranillo).  But we started with Matthews’s suggestion of a sparkling cava from Spain, which was wonderful. 

Our first course was the charcuterie platter, a bacchanal of house-cured meats including peppered salami, chorizo, and prosciutto with hard Gouda and two different kinds of Brie. This beautiful dish was sprinkled with gastronomic delights such as blue cheese and honeycomb, nut clusters, candied apples, cauliflower, red peppers and a Hush Harbor baguette. We all agreed this place and dish would be picture-perfect to come back and enjoy with a glass of wine after a long day at work. 

Kimberly, the owner strolled by and told us that the heart and inspiration was the pre-existing Granada Bistro. The space has been renovated and re-imagined in industrial chic design, adding outdoor and roof top seating.  Serving farm-to-table tapas and dishes inspired by Spanish, Cuban, and South American cuisine. The amazing charcuterie and local seafood are complemented by an eclectic wine list including Spanish and Latin American selections served in retro wine glasses (a very nice touch indeed).

Knowing my love for bacon and blue cheese, our next dish was Bacon Wrapped Medjool Dates; this amazing amalgamation of flavors floored everyone. The apple smoked bacon was wrapped around the dreamily sweet dates and stuffed with Valdon blue cheese. This is my version of epicurean paradise. 

Matthew paced each passage flawlessly and our next course featured the Mike Caesar salad with stems of romaine lettuce peppered with shaved Parmesan, Boquerón’s (which is a small, tasty filleted fish preserved in olive oil) and “The Sauce” - a dreamily prepared dressing.  We also had The Wedge, an iceberg lettuce fourth with bacon lardons, smoky blue cheese, cherry tomatoes and blue cheese dressing. The house made croutons were of note on both salads and the remark was made that this was rabbit food worthy of men.

                           

On to a favorite of mine, Paella. I would swim to Spain for this dish done right. No need now, as Granada executive chef, Spencer Johnston has developed a refined and proper version. A swirling dish of risotto rice with house chorizo, prawns, organic chicken, mussels, clams and local halibut with a sprinkling of peppers and onions made this saucer a symphony of flawlessness and flavor. Each fish was stewed to excellence, and the melding of the savors, an enchantment. Thinking it couldn’t get any better – they brought us what I consider culinary fulfillment when done decorously, Carbonara Pasta. The Black Truffle Carbonara Linguine Pasta rocked my world. This dish when organized precise will make you see angels. And not only was this done right, it was completed with black truffles. This is how you make a carbonara (please take note other chefs offering a “version” of this truth). Start with house made linguine, cooked al dente. Add shavings of black truffles, snap peas, house bacon and Parmesan. When the pasta is done, place a raw duck egg a top of the noodles. The steam from the pasta pouches the egg to perfection and then you mix it all together. The dish was first made as a hearty meal for Italian charcoal workers. The etymology gave rise to the term "coal miner's spaghetti". It is now comfort food from our Roman roots and this was the best I have had in the states. 

Next we had the Hand Cut Local Beef Tartar with brioche toast, Meyer lemon, herbs and sea salt. This dish was a rare treat. Since we were dining with men, our next sample was the Granada Burger. With bacon onion jam, aged cheddar, arugula, house made pickle, ripe tomato, Dijon aioli and hand cut fries. We all agreed it was the best burger we had all had in a long time. 

They skipped the singing, but not the desserts, and I was glad for this blessing. From my favorite farm (Windrose Farm) came the ingredients for the Apple Galette. Small tarts with a dolce de leche crème faiche, with a flaky buttery crust, and the apples have a hint of rosemary (which is planted around the orchard and seeps into the fruit) served with house made vanilla ice cream. Simply angelic. The Chocolate Pot Du Crème with a lavender Pinion cookie and a bullet Chantilly made this birthday girl sigh with exultant satisfaction.


Granada Bistro is attached to the first and only luxury boutique hotel in downtown San Luis Obispo, an astounding 5 million dollar renovation. It was completed in October 2012 with the goal of maintaining the unique elements of the property while modernizing the design, plumbing and electrical. Housed within an original 1920′s exposed-brick hotel building, the hotel offers 17 accommodations, a full-serviced restaurant, spa, and the city’s first rooftop lounge. 

Granada Bistro is located at 1126 Morro Street in San Luis Obispo. Call for reservations at 805-544-9100.


Frankie and Lola's Front Street Cafe - Morro Bay

                                      

My husband says you can sense the love of a restaurateur the minute you walk into their domain. Something about the smiles on the faces of the waitresses, the squeaky-clean floors, and the happy chef in back cooking with a happy grin on his mug turns on the hopeful diner in our hearts. Then the menu jumps out at you with creativity and bravado, you just know this meal is going to be good. I had heard many good things about Frankie and Lola’s (and being a Parrot head myself, was instantly intrigued), but this little café surprised even me with just how good the whole experience was to be. 

French Toast Souffle'
We took friends and all were very pleased with their selections, so much so, we came back for lunch the next day. Gary found the sweetest thing on the menu to jump-start his day. They called it French toast, but it was actually a Brulée, Soufflé, and Flambé. It was French bread soaked in cinnamon crème Brulée, baked in the oven (soufflé) and topped with a caramelized pecan praline topping (flambé). He was so pleased with the flavor and inventive nature of the dish; we had a hard time getting a taste.

I ordered the Chilaquiles scramble, one of my much-loved dishes. This came with tortillas sautéed with chorizo and tomatillo salsa. It was topped with scrambled eggs, queso Oaxaca, guajillo, avocado and sour cream. It was a fantastic version of this recipe. Our friends tried the Dungeness crab cake omelet with fresh Dungeness crab meat tossed with green onions, garlic, brioche and parsley, which is then folded into a three egg omelets and topped with an amazing hollandaise sauce. This is a dish worth returning for a second round. A friend who cannot eat eggs loved the Potato Zucchini pancake--a delicious and healthy alternative. The PZP is thin sliced potatoes and zucchini layered, browned, and smeared with herbed cream cheese. It is then topped with red and yellow bell peppers, soybean pesto, and fresh mozzarella. What a great alternative to eggs and pancakes.

                            

We returned the next day for a grilled Reuben sandwich with house cured corned beef served with sauerkraut, melted Swiss cheese, Thousand Island dressing completed with
grilled rye bread. I had the grilled pear salad with baby spinach, candied pecans, blood orange sections, prosciutto, chevre, and house balsamic dressing. They were both superb. 

We heard a rumor that Jimmy Buffett was in town and going to try the bistro (It is named after his song, Fankie and Lola). We missed the famous crooner, but Owner and Chef Kirk, was shocked to see the illustrious Jimmy Buffett waltz in his door one recent day. He thought Mr. Buffett might take exception to his use of his song title as the theme for his restaurant. Kirk said Buffett was tickled stating, “No problem, I think it is an honor and I loved the food.” Kirk is a passionate chef who loves to dabble and explore in the kitchen, so be prepared for innovative and tasty dishes.


Between the beautiful ocean breeze, wonderful customer service, and food that is made with love and a focus on detail, you can't go wrong with Frankie and Lola’s. It's definitely worth seeking out this little gem located just due south of the smokestacks in Morro Bay. 

Frankie and Lola’s Front Street Café is located at 1154 Front Street in Morro Bay. Call them at 771-9306 they are open for breakfast and lunch.

Foremost Wine Company - SLO




                           



When a renowned chef gets a new bistro where she can experiment and give us the freshest and most tasty renditions of French countryside inspired dishes, I am the first one in the door and come back daily until I have tried every item on the the menu. That is the case with Foremost Wine Company. This hip space feels and looks like something we find in San Francisco. It has an industrial feel with cool decorating touches, two bars, a lounge and a wine shop that stopped me in my tracts with its creativeness and hand selected varietals. 

Owner Rob Murray has got a home run on his hands with Wine Director, Robin Puricelli selecting the wines for sale and paired with the food. I loved the velum overlay on the menu that suggested the pairings with each dish. We tried the Malvasia Blanca by Clesi, a Chateau Guibot from Bordeaux and a Pinot Noir from Stasis to go with our first round that was from the Burrata Bar. Burrata is a fresh Italian cheese made from mozzarella and cream. The outer shell is solid mozzarella, while the inside contains both mozzarella and cream, giving it an unusual, soft texture. The first one we tried was the Lemon and Garlic, with lemon crème fraiche, garlic chips, Bagna Cauda (an Italian dipping sauce) and Boquerones (small fish like anchovies).  Our second one was the Chanterelle with and egg yolk vinaigrette and earthy chanterelle conserva. The menu read, Cheese – Milks leap to Eternity and we all agreed with this amazing amalgamation of flavors and textures.  

We moved on to the Starters that were all unique and prepared flawlessly. The Smoked Duck Crostinis came with large slices of levain bread cooked until crisp. On them, laid thinly sliced smoked duck breast with an orange marmalade and Pozo Tome (a raw sheep cheese from Santa Margarita Ranch). We moved on to a salad of Smoked Trout Lyonnaise with winter greens from Windrose Farms, king trumpet mushrooms, fresh crotons and a perfectly poached egg. Then came my favorite dish, Rabbit Mole Tacos. An unbelievable combination of flavors that was the best thing I have ever put in my mouth. With a chocolate essence the Oaxacan mole, Mexican crèma, orange slices, avocado, and spectacular rabbit breast meat, this blew my taste buds away. 

Chef Julie Simon
This executive chef, Julie Simon is a rare and wondrous delight in the kitchen. She is brave and understands the complexity of flavors better than most, and insists on using the best ingredients. With a chef this talented, I will try anything she prepares. We ordered 12 different dishes that night, shared them all and not one disappointed or failed to impress. The menu changes with Chef’s culinary finds and I vow to try everyone offering. 

   

We moved on to our favorite new find in wine, a 2013 Lo-Fi Cabernet Franc. This wine is astounding by itself, but harmonized flawlessly with our next round of dishes. We also bought bottles to take home, which is a rare treat. Usually you can only consume the wine at the restaurant, but Foremost is set up like a wine shop, so you can take your remarkable finds home.


I had the Pan Roasted Skate. This is a dish I love, but very few chefs are able to prepare it. I knew that Chef Julie was going to wow me with this surprising combination of skate wing, coconut, fried peanuts and lychee. Everyone should try this delectable gift from the sea.  The Quail and Cocoa Maltagliati Pasta mesmerized us with a hand cut chocolate infused pasta served with celery root, orange brown butter and pecorino (an Italian hard cheese like parmesan).  The Pavè Au Poivre was an impeccable 6-ounce Wagyu fillet with wild mushrooms and a brandy cream. 

We moved on to desserts and ports. Each dessert was served in a small mason jar and each captivated our already full bellies. There was a Lemon with an olive oil cake (Chef Julie is famous for this cake) layered with meyer lemon curd and crème fraiche. My favorite was the Tcho Chocolate Tourt with macerated strawberries, rose petal jam and a black pepper anglaise. They all tasted extraordinary. 

The service was impeccable and everyone seems to have the goal to make sure each diner had a magnificent experience. The check came with a packet of seasonal seeds to plant and grow your own organic Toscano Kale. I loved this little gift and planted by the light of the moon. You will see me often at Foremost Wine Company, as feast creations this virtuous are a dream come true and the menu changes with the seasons.


Foremost Wine Company is at 570 Higuera Street (in the creamery) in San Luis Obispo; call them at (805) 439-3410.