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.