This area is blessed more than most with restaurants big and small that will thrill and delight you. New eateries dazzled me and old favorites came back to my view. Here are my top ten picks for best restaurants for 2015:
10. Atari-Ya - I reassessed the first sushi bar I found in the 1990’s and was pleased that Atari-Ya offered the freshest fish, traditional sushi and is still owned by Keiko Hongo. Sit at the sushi bar and asked what is fresh, they are honest and have the best Albacore anywhere. I like everything, but especially the Temaki sushi of spicy scallops with topiko, radish sprouts and Sriracha mix. Nigiris of Yellow Tail, Salmon, and Tuna, and Snapper are followed by Tamago as Atari-Ya is one of the only Sushi bars that make its own Tamago (egg cake). It is all outstanding, don’t let the neighborhood scare you, magic is waiting behind those doors. Located at 1551 Stowell Center Plaza in Santa Maria, (805) 922-0025.
9. Fig Good Food- Food should serve the soul as well as the body. When a culinary master creates an establishment with the one goal of providing the best nutrition and taste, we are blessed in flavors. Fig good food is such a haven. Run by Chris Dillow, part of the gastronomic royalty of our area. Fig offers the best of a Mediterranean style diet with roasted meats, house made pasta, chutneys, salads and sandwiches that are large in flavor while served in a tiny efficient galley. Fig is small inside with only 14 seats, so take out is their specialty. Fig Good food is at 5945 Traffic Way, Atascadero, (805) 460-9900.
8. Fish Gaucho - This distinct eatery in Paso Robles has captured my Mexican food loving palate. Executive Chef Chris Beckett whose jacket reads “El Jefe”, is a gentle giant who recognizes his stellar staff and wonderful heritage coming together to make Fish Gaucho prosperous. This restaurant and tequila bar offers a fresh, healthy twist to traditional Mexican food, with an authentic atmosphere, Latin inspired music and a tequila selection made up of the finest tequilas. Located at 1244 Park Street, Paso Robles, (805) 239-3333.
7. Sea Venture - While the bar boasts the most stunning sunset viewing and a full menu to enjoy at the bar, the restaurant has at its helm one of the best and brightest chefs in the area, Casey Walcott. Casey changes the menu with the seasons, but my favorite dish is the delectable Lobster Vol-en-Vent. This amazing multi layered tartlet is swollen with sautéed lobster, shrimp, grilled asparagus and cubes of fingerling potatoes, it sits upon a cloud of lobster cream sauce. Every bite is perfect a harmonious experience. Located at 100 Ocean View Avenue in Pismo Beach, (805) 773-4994.
6. Oki Momo - There is a preconception that food that is good for you lacks flavor. That is rarely true. In the hands of a masterful chef, even the healthiest meal can become a symphony of flavor and texture. The nourishing cuisine at Oki Momo Asian Grill is proof in the Pho. The menu includes dishes with Korean, Chinese, Japanese, Thai and Vietnamese influences. Every offering is delightful, but my beloved is the Pho, an enchanted street food from Vietnam. 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. My other favorites there are Korean BBQ chicken wings and the Thai Chopped Salad. Find them at 2256 Broad Street, Suite 120 in San Luis Obispo, (805) 439-4198.
5. Kuma - Kuma Sushi Rolls and Bowls is headed by two of the best sushi chefs that turn fish into a work of art. Sushi Chef’s Hidehiko Nogi and Jeff (Razor) Fujiwara have created a menu that is my culinary utopia. From the Tuna Poke with raw tuna served with a mango salsa with a bit of cayenne and macadamia nuts. To the Kuma Omakase with scallops, salmon roe, fresh local halibut and tobiko. As tasty as it is beautiful with the lemon carved into a swan and the celery whittled into a bonsai tree. The bowls of noodles are prepared in house daily. Add all the extras, garlic chip, shoyu egg, nori, sweet corn and spicy kimchi to receive the full ramen sensation. But the most unusual and favorite item is the Loco Moco, a Hawaiian influenced dish with white rice, resting under 2 slices of Spam, savory gravy, sliced pineapple and a poached egg. You must try this! Kuma is located at 2011 10th Street in Los Osos, (805) 528-6767.
4. Rosa’s - Consistency, romance, culinary delights and perfect service. It is always so good to go home to Rosa’s. This is the one restaurant I frequent more than any for all occasions. From a business lunch to celebratory meals, Chef and Owner Doug MacMillian is perfection in putting together an impeccable staff, menu and atmosphere. My favorite is the Tuna Capriccio with a thin layer of smoked Ahi tune covered with arugula leaves, onions and capers. They are famous for their Cioppino, Ossobuco and Steaks. If you need to satisfy many, Rosa’s is a sure bet every time. Located at 491 Price Street in Pismo Beach, (805) 773-0551.
3. Ember - They have established themselves as the best of the best in national, regional and local press. They continue to be the first restaurant that locals recommend, and they deserve every accolade. The love and devotion that goes into preparation is stupendous, the heart of each employee is felt in this flawless dinning experience. Brian Collins is the heart of this gastronomic enchantment and a wonderful host.
The menu changes monthly on the first, but some of my favorites are the Prosciutto Wrapped Artichoke that is stuffed with burrata mozzarella, the Cayucos Abalone made with crispy pork belly, and The Rib Eye Steak. I usually order as many appetizers as we have quests so we can try everything. Ember is located at 1200 East Grand Avenue in Arroyo Grande, (805) 474-7700.
2. Mistura - The ah-ha moment of an idea, the touch of a loved one, the taste of a new food that opens your senses, these are the fabric of a life well lived. Chef Nicola Allegretta is one of those rare artists, and his new offering, Mistura, a Peruvian restaurant is his best canvas to date. I love everything, but my favorite is Habla Causita, a Trio of Causas that is a distinctly Peruvian dish. Seasoned whipped cold potatoes crowned with wild shrimp, king crab and Ahi tuna tartare. My other love is Anticuchos de Carretilla, grilled natural beef heart marinated with aji panca. The Alpaca Carpaccio is so good, I nearly fainted with joy. Thinly sliced served with an aji amarillo, sliced heirloom cherry tomatoes, avocado with a swirl of aji verde. They have a “fajita’s” type dish and empanada’s for the less adventurous, but everything is superb. Mistura is located at 700 Clubhouse Drive in Paso Robles, (805) 238-3333.
1. The Spoon Trade - Rarely has a new restaurant so captured this writer’s soul like this one. It is a special place and I find myself dining here once a week. I can say I have successfully eaten every item on the menu and each one superior to the next.
Coming home after years in the big city dining game is a gift that Brooke and Jacob Town has bestowed on us in the venue of The Spoon Trade. With their partner Patrick Bergseid, they have built a culinary oasis.
Comfort food is our first pleasure, representing the memory and flavors of our youth. When we revisit the sensory effect it is more than taste buds and fullness, it’s literally a remembrance of grandma, our childhood, and our life. This is a restaurant with a palette and imagination to combine comfort and haute cuisine. Favorites are Chicken and Waffles, the TriTip Tartare, Pepper Crusted New York Steak and everything on the menu. Find them at 295 Grand Avenue in Grover Beach, (805) 904-6773.
This year, try one or try them all, you owe it to yourself!
Teri Bayus can be seen on her gastronomic travel television show, Taste Buds at www.centralcoastnow.tv or on Charter channel 10. Her novel Consumed, an erotic culinary tale, is available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble and ITunes.
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|Brook and Jacob Town, Patrick Bergseid|
Comfort food is our first pleasure, representing the memory and flavors of our youth. When we revisit the sensory effect it is more than taste buds and fullness, it’s literally a remembrance of grandma, our childhood, our life. When we become adults and let our palate expand, we try new tastes that are inventive and exciting. The restaurant with a palette and imagination to combine comfort and haute cuisine is miraculous. And it is here now in Grover Beach, The Spoon Trader, a new eatery and a phenomenal culinary find.
Coming home after years in the big city dining game is a gift that Brooke and Jason Town has bestowed on us in the venue of The Spoon Trader. With their partner Patrick Bergseid, they have built a culinary oasis at the end of Grand Avenue.
You immediately feel welcome with the collection of spoons on the wall, the green bandana for napkins and the open kitchen. Joined by Kathy Lee, the owner of the Cracked Crab, we sat at a special table as this whole ownership group worked at the Crab when it first opened. Chef Jason produced the first bucket of crab, and Brooke was the original one to dump the bucket on to the first table. Brooke told me that the service that evening was dedicated to Mike Lee and we both shared stories and the memories ran down our cheeks.
The Chicken Liver Mousse came out first, served in a ramekin with vinegar aspic that balanced the organ taste. I was transferred into my Nana’s kitchen as I slathered it on the crispy Grover Beach Sourdough bread. Chef Jason and his staff are making everything here including the bread, which is made with a 3 year old started that is also used in the waffles. Their beer and wine list are as adventurous as the menu and Gary order a Belching Beaver Peanut Butter Milk Stout; we started with The Sea Monster white blend.
Patrick took us on a tour of the menu and told us they spent a year touring the country looking for comfort food with a twist. Everything is made in house and locally sourced. The service was attentive and speedy without hovering. Gary started with Tart and Tangy Lemon Meringue Pie. This was the genuine item with a fluffy meringue and Meyers lemon base with an old school thin crust. Next we tried the Crispy Sweetbreads that were deep fried with chorizo resting on top of summer green beans and a Dijon sauce. In the middle rested a soft-boiled egg, when mixed together this brought out the preeminent essences. I was speechless and wanted another bowl. My guest reminded me I could have them next time and I moved on basking in this flawlessness of the food at The Spoon Trader. Sharing and rejoicing over every bite, we sampled the Tri Tip Tartare. It is Neiman ranch beef chopped by the chef and topped with a tonnato sauce. It was tender and savory, and served with grilled sourdough bread. Each dish continued to impress and inspire us. Picking the wine first and the main dishes after is one of my favorite indulgences, and Kathy agreed. We moved to a bottle of the 2013 Ranchero wine a Mourvedre and Grenache blend. Decanted to bring out the essences, we admired the boldness of this wine. Gary moved on to the apple crisp, which boasted the right ratio of crispy granola over baked apples accompanied by vanilla ice cream.
Our main plates appeared and we were enthusiastic to dig in. The Spiced Albacore on white grits with a corn salsa and wilted spinach all soaking in Old Bay butter was stupendous. The fish was cooked to exactness and the girts were a lifeline to the bygone era and delight.
The Grilled Flat Iron steak was prepared in the sous vide, and finished impeccably. It is sliced slender and obliged with paper thin layers of delicious potato gratin and sliced sweet cherry tomatoes with a bit of basil. But the Fried Chicken & Waffles are the reason I will be dining here every night. Four pieces of buttermilk soaked and fried chicken pieces with the slightest drizzle of honey on top are accompanied by sourdough waffles and spicy kimchee. This was a religious experience. It's not often I push aside albacore for chicken, this dish was that exceptional. It mirrored my all time favorite chicken from Gus’s in Memphis and we all fought to finish it. This dish is big enough for two people, unless you have a fried chicken problem like I do.
Dessert was a Chocolate Torte; a cake that was so moist inside it was like pudding. Topped with candied pecans and served with jammed market figs all floating on a anglaise sauce. If there is a dessert that seraph's make, this is it. We also had the savory carrot cake with cheese. The carrot cake was not sweet and paired delightfully with the aged goat cheese. This could be an appetizer as well as a dessert. I wanted to applaud after the meal, as I was so viscerally stimulated.
|Cheese Burger with Waffle as a Bun|
The Spoon Trader is casual dining with a bit of panache; they also have burgers, soups and salads. This is exceptional food for people who love food, didn't know they loved food and the adventurist. They are open every night but Wednesdays from 5:00pm to 10:00pm and are located at 295 Grand Avenue in Grover Beach. You can call them at (805) 904-6773.
When someone lives out their dreams and you can taste the essence of those dreams; that is what we call pure magic. Hush Harbor Artisan Bakery and Café is a vision come true for all of us. The Monroe family owns, operates and entertains at this fantastic bistro that is headed by Donnie as the lead bakery and originator of this aspiration. Leaving the suit world 13 years ago to find a hearth worthy of his baking dreams, he has carved out a community that is thrilled to daily partake and share his exceptional yeasty creations. Donnie starts each day around 2:30 am with ancient starters pounded and proofed, then baked in a specialty oven lined with bricks from Italy so the bread cooks up, not around. The result is a product served at all the finest restaurants in the area.
The staples are French Baguette, Multigrain Wheat, Rustic Italian and Ciabatta, but he adds a Klamato olive loaf and other specialty loafs on Saturdays. Open for lunch every day but Sunday, Hush Harbor Artisan Bakery and Café offers you a taste of this magnificent bread fresh out of the oven with inspired sandwiches, soups and salads.
I started with the Raspberry Chipotle Chicken salad that was raspberry and chipotle glazed chicken breast served with tomato, onion and cucumber atop a bed of mixed greens, tossed in honey mustard vinaigrette. Chef Ryan Tremble has created an amazing amalgamation of flavors on this delicious salad. The chicken was both sweet and hot, cooled by the greens and tossed dressing. It was delectable. I pushed on to my favorite sandwich in the world, a Cuban. I seek out this delectable combo of bread and meat, as when it is done correctly will make your taste buds weep with pleasure. This one consisted of a fresh ciabatta roll stacked with premium black forest ham, pork loin slices marinated in a Cuban mojo and cooked to perfection then added swiss cheese, dijon mustard, mayonnaise and sweet pickle chips. It is served hot and would make Ricky Ricardo moan with a remembered taste of his homeland.
My next visit, we were warmly greeted by stunning Morgan, Donnie’s daughter and front of the house director. She suggested I try the specials. Gary began with a tour of the pastry shelve. Key lime pie that oozed with tart perfection on a soft graham cracker crust and then the pecan browning that was a heavenly chocolate indulgence. I began with a bowl of the chef’s grandma’s Cheesy Potato Soup, it was a symphony of cubed potatoes and four different kinds of cheese, served with thin slices of the French baguette. The urge to dip over took my politeness. The Vietnamese Bahn Mi sandwich was served on the ciabatta bread with a marinated pork loin, pickled Dacron, radishes, carrots and onions and sliced jalapenos. Its spicy, tart, hot combination was outstanding. That wonderful bread stayed firm on the outside, while absorbing all the juices. Next we tried the Catfish Po’boy served only on Friday’s. The matriarch of the family hales from New Orleans, so this was a proper Po’boy. The catfish is flash fried and served with a spicy remoulade sauce. It was flawless and tasted of Louisiana.
Returning on Saturday for breakfast and to get some of the bread straight from the oven, I had Big D’s Benedict. This luscious split croissant covered with sliced ham, a poached egg, and a house-made hollandaise sauce. The secret to benedicts is the ratios and this was precision personified with a magnificent sauce. Gary tried the French toast and four other items from the pastry shelve including a cinnamon roll, muffin, apricot danish and another key lime pie. The French toast was made with fresh sourdough olive thyme bread served with scrambled eggs laced with bell peppers and onion and a savory sausage.
Located in the heart of Atascadero, Hush Harbor Artisan Bakery and Café has become an important part of the community, bringing love, joy and sustenance to all who enter their doors. Come and meet the family, and experience the best bread and pastries on the entire coast. The bakery hours are Monday and Tuesday 7 am to 4 pm, Wednesday from 7 am to 5 pm and Saturday from 7 am to 4 pm. Lunch starts daily at 11:00 am. They are open for breakfast on Saturdays only from 7 am to 10:30 am. They are closed on Sunday. Located at 5735 El Camino Real in Atascadero, you can call them at (805) 460-0541.