A restaurant is so much more than its cuisine. The service and atmosphere are as important as the items coming out of the kitchen. That is why I was thrilled when Robert’s Restaurant and Wine Bar opened the second location in the Village of Arroyo Grande. It is a sophisticated, yet refreshingly relaxed atmosphere of glossy woods, exquisite decor, and captivating photography of the stars of yesteryear, the ones that made us swoon. White table clothes adorn every table and the handcrafted chairs beg for you to sit back and enjoy refinement.
I love that the chef’s look right out into the dining room and the window seats on the front enclosure. We started with a bottle of Victor Hugo Petite Sirah, one of the best wines coming out of the Paso Area. Chef de Cuisine, Bo Fargo (who I am a long time fan of his work in the kitchen) sent out some succulent Fried Brussels Sprouts. Usually this is my most avoided vegetable, but the waiter assured us that this was the best dish on the menu. They came is a shallow bowl with a drizzle of smoked goat cheese, but were swimming in a apple cider glaze that cut the bitterness of the orbs and brought out an amazing sweet flavor. I had a second and third helping, surprising myself.
Gary started with the Signature Carrot Cake and a huge slice arrived with three layers with cream cheese frosting and toasted pistachios. Not recognizing all the flavors, our waiter told us there were quinoa and a parsley green sauce. Delectable and good for you, we were on to something. We all munched on the cheese plate with a creamy brie, Spanish manchego and Pt. Reyes Blue with a plethora of dried fruits, nuts and crispy crackers. The Braised Pork Belly with its green apple slaw, roasted apple, and maple demi glaze reduction was a table favorite as the pork belly was thick and crispy. The apple did what it does best with pork in both forms.
On to the main dishes that were recommended highly by the waiter and did not disappoint. Beef Stroganoff Braised Short Ribs consisted of fall off the bone meat in a creamy mushroom sauce and papardelle pasta. It was comfort food and yet very stylish. I thoroughly enjoyed the Macadamia Nut Crusted Halibut with sautéed snow peas, green onion rice, and a papaya-coconut beurre blanc sauce. We all tried it, the table grew quite, and I think I moaned. This dish was so good it robbed that table of conversation.
For those of us that want our sweets after the meal, the Fallen Chocolate Soufflé Cake with vanilla ice cream was a dreamy delight. I talked with Executive Chef Justin Picard, he told me he started as a cook at Robert’s Paso Robles. He has been in the restaurant business since he was 8 years old, a son of a chef. His family owned and operated a New England fine dining restaurant. He told me he loves surprising the diners of South County as he believes that cooking isn’t just a job, its an art form.
I returned the next day with my dear friend Suellen Iness. She is a traditional eater, I was sure that she would love Robert’s twist on fine dining. We started with Crispy Shrimp Spring Rolls that were amazing. Spicy, crunchy and wrapped in a butter lettuce cup with fresh herbs, cashews, and piquant dipping sauce, we inhaled them. Bo brought us some specials to try a taste of and we were impressed. Smoke trout on butter lettuce with shredded green pea pods and caramelized onions, sitting on a bed of baby greens. I adored the Smoked scallops, acquired from a couple of ultimate chefs who smoked the scallops to perfection. They were served with a salad of lemon cucumber, baby tomato, butter pickles with a sriracha drizzle.
Running low of tummy room, we shared the Crispy Mahi-Mahi Tacos. I loved that tempura battered fish came served on grilled corn tortillas, with cabbage, cotija cheese, spicy salsa and a chipotle garlic-lime sauce. This was a perfect lunch; we were both excited to return.
One of my children had a celebratory event and wanted us all to go out to dinner. She was honored with choosing a spot and she chooses well. As a group, we descended upon the restaurant, CrazySushi Fever in Atascadero a Fusion Japanese Tapas and Kitchen. They were amazingly accommodating and had a wide variety of dishes to satisfy the 2-year-old to the 70-year-old and everyone in between.
We ordered steamed rice and Edamame for the little’s to sedate their appetite and boredom. Edamame is a Japanese soybean that you eat like sunflower seeds, so it is a skill and a treat. I spied a Garlic Edamame on the menu and ordered that for the big folks to share. The beans were steamed and then dashed with slices of garlic and oil, it was a hit. The chef also sent over some Salmon Skin that was dredged in panko and then deep fried, covered with a spicy sirracha sauce and sweet eel, it was resting on a bed of greens and disappeared very quickly.
The reason this restaurant was primarily chosen is because they do sushi rolls without rice. The No Rice Rolls were all works of art and although I was set against them at first, they ended up being my favorite. We started with the Love Love that consisted of spicy diced tuna and avocado slices wrapped with tuna sashimi, spicy small scallop pieces and drizzled with a chili sesame sauce. It was as delicious as it was pretty. Next we tried the Pink Lady with crab and avocado wrapped in big salmon sashimi and a sweet ponzu sauce. My favorite was the Cucumber Special that has cubed pieces of salmon, tuna, albacore and gobo wrapped in a cucumber skin and drizzled with a ponzu sauce. One of the things I like best about these rolls, is you didn’t fill up on rice; there was room in your tummy for more raw fish. They boys liked the What The Heck with a deep fried soft shell crab wrapped in spicy tuna with a tasty creamy lemon sauce. The kids said it looked like a spider and we agreed that if spiders tasted this yummy, no one would be afraid of them.
The non-sushi eaters tried the noodle menu and it was big, hot and full of surprises. The CSF Nabeyaki Udon came in a huge cast iron pot and was chocked full of scallops, mussels, shrimp, Japanese vegetables, hard boiled egg and glorious noodles all in a broth of rich savories. We also tried a Chicken Teriyaki bowl with the right amount of salty teriyaki flavor over grilled chicken breast on a bed of jasmine rice and veggies.
We finished with a Popcorn Lobster roll with langoustine pieces deep fried and sitting over a California roll with a sweet eel sauce and a Spicy Tuna Nacho with spicy diced tuna and salsa served on a crispy wonton. The best roll was the strangest name, Who’s Your Ex-Wife with a deep fried spicy tuna and a crab stick, cream cheese, asparagus and jalapeno all drizzled with a white and sirracha sauce.
We ended with strawberry Mochi for the kids, these frozen and deep fried pockets of sweetness were a hit and the birthday girl got a deep fried cheesecake with fresh berries and berry syrup. We opened presents, sang an off key song and were all delighted with the meal and the wonderful servers and chefs. It was a prefect celebratory meal.
Crazy Sushi Fever is located at 8050 El Camino Real in Atascadero and can be reached at (805) 464-5027. They are open Monday thru Thursday from 11:00am to 9:30pm, Fridays from 11:00am to 10:00pm, Saturday from 12:00pm to 10:00pm and Sunday from 12:00pm to 9:00pm.
A good chef lays the foundation for an insightful and memorable meal, a great chef lays the memory of the meal so deep in your soul, you dream about each morsel. I have had the pleasure of dining with many chefs, but every now and then one comes shinning through with a skill set in the kitchen that makes me want to dine with them every day. My current obsession is with Luciano Bardinelli of La Locanda on Garden Street in San Luis Obispo. I was told there was a new eatery with a classic Northern Italian flair, but I was more than impressed and have eaten there four times so far.
The bistro has just ten tables with white table clothes, lacey curtains and a serious wine rack. The chef’s daughter warmly greeted us and we mused with the unique and authentic wine list. We ordered a bottle of Terrabianca 2009 Camipaccio Toscana that paired perfectly with our first course a Caprese salad, with fresh mozzarella, cherry tomato and basil. The secret to Caprese is the portions and these were impeccable. Next we had the Involtini di Melanzane which was a brilliant thinly sliced eggplant rolled with Gruyere cheese and ham. Surprising and delightful, I had already begun to fall in love with this chef. Gary started with the Mousse di Cioccolato, which we all inhaled as the creamy cocoa-ness of this fancy pudding nearly floored us.
Our main courses were a delight and we all shared. I had the Spaghettini Carbonara, which is my favorite Italian dish, but rarely done correctly, and here it was. Thin spaghetti noodles are tossed with raw eggs (this makes the sauce) then they are tossed with Prosciutto pieces fried in garlic and olive oil, then topped with Parmesan Reggiano cheese. This is what heaven tastes like, simple yet elegant. I need to mention that all the pasta’s are made in house, but pasta done correctly is a rare indulgence. My companions had the lasagna that was made with a béchamel sauce instead of cheese and was said to be the signature dish. It was light and flavorful and an instant favorite. Gary had the Risotto con funghi di stagione rice with savory seasonal mushrooms swimming in perfectly done Arborio rice. The house made focaccia bread was great for dipping and savoring each sauce. We finished with Homemade Tiramisu and Pera al vino rosso, pears with wine. Both were authentic and amazing.
Gary and I returned for a romantic luncheon for our anniversary and shared a bottle of Italian Prosecco and a Prosciutto and Melon start. Moon slivers of melon layered with a perfect prosciutto with a generous virgin olive oil pool made this dish brilliant. We shared our meal “Lady and The Tramp” style as we inhaled yet another perfect feast. Gary had the Wild Corvina Sea Bass with butter and lemon sauce, Haricots verts, capers and mushrooms, while I started with a Caesar salad. My salad was chopped and flawlessly portioned with all the ingredients. We shared and took home a Margherita pizza that was the most outstanding pie we have eaten here in the states. Chef Luciano came to sit and talk with us and when he heard it was our anniversary, he jumped up and brought us a Torta al Limone, an impeccable Lemon Tart. Gary got so excited, he spilled his bubbly. I dream about this chef, these dishes and can’t wait to try everything on the menu.
La Locanda features authentic Northern Italian cuisine, old world charm and a wonderful wine list. This is the perfect restaurant for a romantic meal or an amazing lunch. La Locanda recommends making reservations by calling (805) 548-1750. They are open
Tuesday thru Sunday for lunch from 11:30 to 2:00pm and dinners from 5:00pm to 9:00pm, they are closed Monday. They are located at 1137 Garden Street in San Luis Obispo.
Rarely do new restaurants dazzle me. Seldom am I so taken by an eatery that I dine there four times in one week. But I have found a rare treat in Bunn Thai Bistro. They offer a Thai and Asian fusion dinning experience with a vibrant feel that has delighted this girl’s palate. Bunn uses organic, natural, and local ingredients and some Thailand treats that my taste buds had so missed. I started with the lemon grass tea, a delicacy I discovered in Thailand and have not found made correctly here. Gary started with his Thai staple, Sticky Mango Rice and was pleased to announce it was the sweetest version of this enchantment he had tried. We moved on to the Bunn dip basket with toast, cucumber slices, celery, romaine lettuce leaves, carrots and tomatoes all dunked into a warm coconut and chicken dipping sauce. I was amazed and ready to try everything on the menu.
Owners Tommy, Sis and her husband (real names are Arna and Champ) told us how their family has owned a restaurant in Bangkok for over 200 years, so there is a tangible history and family pride that goes into each dish. We talked about how to order a common Thai meal. They suggested it should have a soup, a curry dish, a spiced salad, noodles with fish and vegetables and a couple of stir-fries. They should be ordered communal and shared, as the harmony of tastes and textures is as important as the guest with whom you share the meal.
The lunch special is served from 11:00am to 3:00pm and has two entrees for only $9.50, served in smaller portions; this is a suitable way to sample many of their selections. I choose the Creamy Coconut Tom Yum soup that blew my mind it was so scrumptious with mushrooms, red peppers, and chunks of tofu. Gary had the salad and the peanut dressing was fantastic atop fresh organic baby greens, shaved carrots and crotons.
Our main course came; I had the Thai fried rice with chicken, brown and green onions, eggs, Chinese broccoli, peas, carrots, cilantro and tomato. It was so full of flavor and the rice was the perfect consistency. I also had the Kung Pao Chicken with hormone fee chicken stir fried onions, bell peppers, dried chili and peanuts. The Thai flavor added to this traditional Chinese menu item tasted fantastic. Gary wanted to start his tour of the curries as they have three on the menu. Red Curry had the long sweet burn with bamboo shoots, broccoli zucchini, bell peppers; basil leaves and carrots swimming in a luscious red curry coconut sauce. He also tried the Pad Thai that was extra sweet (they have sugar on the table if you want to add more). A Thai lime wedge enlightened this traditional dish with fried tofu, tamarind and palm sugar sauce dusted with peanuts and fresh bean sprouts.
We came back for dinner and had the Mar Hor a new sensation of sweet and salty seasoning of ground chicken rolled in a ball and speckled with peanuts and served over fresh pineapple rings. It was marvelous. Then we tried the Corn Fritters made with whole corn kernels, garlic and egg and seasoned perfectly. They were served with a sweet sauce and a hot chili sauce. Surprising and wonderful. Gary started with the deep fried coconut and banana balls with vanilla ice cream. Crushed bananas are coated in coconut flakes and deep-fried, I had to try this and it was outstanding.
I had the Papaya Green Salad, a super spicy dish made with shredded papaya, carrots, tomato, green beans tossed with chili, garlic and peanuts in a spicy lime and fish sauce and topped with grilled shrimp. This was my favorite dish as the textures, flavors and heat inspired me. Our main dish was Heaven On Earth, pan seared tilapia with jumbo lumps of real crabmeat in a savory creamy panang curry coconut sauce with vegetables and kuffir lime and basil leaves. The dish was the product of a true master in the kitchen. This is my new weekly hang out pending I sample everything on this menu.
The Bunn Thai menu is vegan, vegetarian and gluten free friendly. Simply tell them your special dietary needs and they will accommodate you (they added extra sugar for Gary, extra heat for me). Bunn Thai Bistro is located at 968 west Grand Avenue in Grover Beach, call them at 805-473-2824. They are open every day but Wednesday from 11:00am to 3:00pm and 4:00pm to 9:00pm.