Today Kirk and Cathy can concentrate on their real work (or just kick back and relax) because Ed (from Yuma) has a post about a restaurant up in Paso Robles.
Tina and I had wonderful memories of a lunch at Thomas Hill Organics back in 2009, so we wanted to be sure to go there with Steve and Helen. Again we entered through the larger and fancier alley entrance to the restaurant:
This side of the restaurant has the larger indoor dining room, the Park Street side has a long skinny room with the bar and small tables, but whenever possible, we like to eat in the central covered courtyard in the middle of the restaurant:
Remembering a wonderful watermelon gazpacho from our previous visit, Tina and I decided to share the avocado-corgette cold soup with coconut milk and chili oil ($8):
What can I say? The cool smooth green avocado blended with the summer fresh squash seemed like the essence of a late spring harvest – rich, vegetal, tangy and complex. The chili oil added a touch of spicy hotness to balance the cool green creamy depth of the soup.
For Helen, the soup was her main dish, though she did share some of Steve's skirt steak sandwich:
All of the sandwiches came with extremely fresh field greens tossed with a light basil vinaigrette and a few grains of quinoa:
Along with the soup, Tina opted for the local grass fed beef hamburger ($17):
Her burger was topped with Cambozola cheese, caramelized onions, and abundant applewood smoked bacon, all accented by nut romesco and roasted garlic aoli. It was really wonderful:
I had the pork belly banh mi:
I love banh mis, but this seemed a little over the top for my tastes. While the pickled carrots, avocado, and chopped cilantro were good, the two thick slices of pork belly seemed excessive and were a bit chewy. Call me old school, but I also missed the light crunchiness of a good Vietnamese baguette:
Tina and I had always wondered about dinner at Thomas Hill, so we decided to have our last dinner in Paso at Thomas Hill Organics. The menu seemed wide-ranging, we liked that many produce and protein sources were identified on the menu, and it is hard to beat the ambience of that courtyard.
Our dinner began with ahi tataki style ($16), a plate that looked like a beautiful little tuna topped volcano erupting ginger/scallion relish :
This was very nicely done. The excellent fresh ahi was lightly seared, and the ponzu sauce was perfectly flavored and did not overpower the other ingredients. Speaking of other ingredients, when Tina and I removed and divided the tuna, the rest of the appetizer was visible:
There was a large clump of wakame (seaweed salad), slices of avocado, wedges of pickled apricot, rounds of beautiful purple radish and cucumber, sunflower sprouts, and that ginger and scallion relish. For Tina and I, these flavors worked well together.
The next course was an unusual ceviche ($15) with local yellowtail and Oregon baby shrimp accompanied by chunks of Rocking Chair Farms nectarines and white peaches with purple radishes, cilantro, shaved shallots served on tostadas made from plantain and drizzled with coriander/honey coconut milk:
In most ways, this was an ambitious and very tasty ceviche presentation. It was not too tangy/sour to accompany our wine (more on that soon), and we loved the combination of stone fruit and seafood – though I would have liked even more of the seasonal fruits:
For us, the only things that didn’t work in the dish were the discs of plantain. They were more chewy than crunchy, and while they stood up to the ceviche toppings, the flavor/texture profile just didn't appeal and we actually left most of one round on the otherwise cleaned plate.
Because we were starting with two seafood courses, we began with glasses of Lone Madrone 2011 Points West White ($13), a very tasty Rhône style blend of 4 grapes, the rich and creamy roussane being the most prominent. We had tasted that very same wine the previous afternoon at the winery and had enjoyed it very much. It did not disappoint with dinner, and of course, the stemware was excellent and the pours very fair.
Our next course was called Jewel of the Spring Salad ($15):
In that picture, you can see what they called a Fabergé farm egg, attractive and hard-boiled. The greens in the salad were wild arugula and pea leaves and tendrils. The orange carrot ribbons, dark pink macerated red onions, asiago cheese shavings, and abundant sweet pea pods added body, color, and variety to this lightly dressed and unusual salad, dense with the taste of spring:
From the moment we had been seated in the courtyard in the middle of the building that evening, we noticed a chef attending to the woodfired pizza oven:
So our last course just had to be one of their woodfired pizzas. Called the Verde Green pizza on the menu, it was topped with mozzarella cheese, black truffle salami, pistachio nuts, roasted zucchini, basil leaves and a light sprinkling of Romano cheese ($17):
It was excellent, the crust light and crunchy and the toppings tasty but not overpowering. We shared a glass of Enfold 2010 Jazzy Zinfandel ($13), which went well with the pizza.
We had a good time at Thomas Hill Organics, the service, ambience, and food were all first rate. Much of the food was local and organic. The wine list was well focused on local wineries. If we had any complaint, it was that we ordered too much food, so had to take about half of the pizza back to our room with us. Oh, hold on here, why am I complaining about a midnight snack?
Again today it is Ed (from Yuma) blogging, not Kirk or Cathy. More about his vacation in Paso Robles.
Every evening in Paso we had to decide on dinner. Steve and Helen and Tina and I had rooms in an old-fashioned 1950s style motel only a couple of blocks from the beautiful little park downtown. Where once I had had difficulties finding a good meal in Paso, now there were numerous restaurants serving all kinds of wine friendly cuisine, at a range of different price points, all within easy walking distance of the motel. So every evening we would stroll around, read menus, and discuss the possibilities at great length. We started the process fairly early so no serious danger of anybody actually starving.
On Tuesday evening, we wanted to get a look at the menu at Bistro Laurent, which had been closed Monday. The restaurant sits kitty corner from the northwest point of the park and is located in an old brick building:
On the right side of this picture is the outdoor/indoor patio area, right next to the actual entrance (picture taken later):
We looked at the menus. There were various dishes à la carte, appetizers, salads, entrées, etc. There were also prix fixe dinner options: four courses or five courses; with wines or not. The hostess then explained that we could just allow the chef to decide our dinner selections based on what he wanted to prepare. That sounded way too easy – French bistro Omakase. We sat in the enclosed patio area, and all decided on the chef's four choices with wine.
An amuse bouche, sort of a mini bruschetta, showed up first:
It was okay, certainly, but to my mouth, not especially amusing.
The server then poured us each a small glass of French Chablis:
We all thought it was a fine dry Chardonnay, and we all loved the breads that showed up next. Each of us grabbed half of a slice of the rustic dark olive bread to start:
There was also the equivalent of a small baguette of crusty French bread in the bread basket as well:
The next item to hit our table was the first course, warm lobster salad:
Wow! In the center of the plate stood a mound of chopped mesclun lettuce topped with and surrounded by large chunks of moist warm fresh poached lobster. Numerous chunks – excellent quality. And the whole salad was brought together by the mild creamy white sauce. Three orange slices and green and red flecks for color.
The next thing to arrive at our table was clean stemware for our glasses of La Vieille Ferme, a pleasant blended French red wine from the Rhône Valley:
To our initial surprise, the dish to accompany this red wine was grilled sturgeon, lying on a bed of al dente French lentils in a savory cream sauce:
But combination of wine and ingredients worked. The fish was not overcooked, it's mild fleshy flavor accented by the earthy lentils and both balanced by the light red wine:
After we finished the course, our wine glasses were changed again and a full flavored 2009 Paso Robles syrah from Clavo vineyards was poured to complement the meat course:
Two large pieces of venison, roasted medium rare, sat on top of a thick disk of fried mashed potatoes. Not only did I enjoy the accompanying blueberry sauce; I also savored the sprig of fresh marjoram, taking little bites of the herb occasionally as I chewed the deeply flavored deer meat:
The chef's choice of desserts was accompanied by small glasses of Sauternes, a sweet golden wine made from late harvested white wine grapes affected by pourriture noble, which gives the wine a honeyed richness:
The desert itself was a fresh fig tart topped with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream and surrounded by vanilla and caramel sauces:
The pastry was light and flaky. Figs, vanilla, caramel mingled light sweet flavors. Umm-yoso.
Even though each dinner (with wine) was $69, all four of us thought we received good value. No one left hungry – in fact, we were all stuffed. The wines had been well-chosen and enhanced the foods . The pours were generous for a prix fixe dinner. The service throughout the meal was outstanding without being annoying or intrusive - very friendly, helpful, and professional. The meal was a culinary highlight of our visit to Paso Robles.
Doing this post reminded me that I had first eaten at the restaurant back in the summer of 2002. It is interesting that a few things have changed for the better over the years, but the chef has stayed true to his basic vision. And his vision looks pretty good to me!
Bistro Laurent, 1202 Pine Street, Paso Robles CA, (805) 226-8191, 11:30 – 2:00 and 5:30 – 10:00 Tues – Sat.Website
Kirk and Cathy get a break today because Ed (from Yuma) wants to take the reader on a wine tasting experience in Paso Robles.
About 30 years ago when I moved to California, I discovered tasting at wineries, one of the true pleasures available to Californians who enjoy wine. Don't worry, this blog post will not be full of pictures of wine bottles and glasses of wine. Most wine in a glass looks like most any other wine in the same glass. And no one goes wine tasting just to look at the bottles. I will also try hard to avoid wine babble as much as I can.
Instead, I just want to share a recent wine tasting adventure up in Paso Robles.
Tina and I had left the San Gabriel Valley munching on banh mi around 11 AM and arrived in Paso around 3 PM. We met up with Steve and Helen (old friends from Monterey) and decided to head out to do a little tasting. I wanted to start at J Dusi:
The tasting room for this winery, located on Highway 46 south of Paso Robles and a little west of Highway 101, has only been open about a year, but I wanted to visit because I had had a wonderful bottle of Zinfandel from Janell Dusi’s winery with a dinner at Artisan Restaurant on my last visit to Paso. I was surprised that she herself was in the tasting room on that Monday:
Her great-grandfather originally planted Dusi vinyards in the 1920s, making them truly old vine, and Ridge winery, which has focused on making wine from classic, high quality, old vine vineyards, has made limited edition zinfandels from the fruit for dozens of years now.
The zinfandels (a 2011 and 2012) are 2/5 of the wines on the tasting menu ($10):
Janell pointed out the differences between the two zinfandels. 2011, a cool year, produced a wine that is spicy, smooth, and complex. 2012, having warmer weather, gave a wine with a bolder more intense berry fruit flavors. OK, yeh, we could taste that.
To accompany the wines, we were served a small wooden tray with fruits, nuts, and rice crackers:
That was a nice touch. As was the cork art on the wall:
We left that winery at around 4:30 PM, so we simply drove to Vineyard Drive and looked for tasting room that was still open. We found Jada, a winery I had never heard of previously:
The tasting room was very modern, clean, and attractive:
Looking the other way, large glass panels separate the tasting area from a special wine storage and display room and reflect some of the rural natural setting the winery:
Here the tasting options were more complicated; visitors can taste five wines from a regular or special list ($10 or $15) and can choose to taste the wines with chocolate or cheese:
Tina and I chose cheese. Each cheese matched a particular wine and showed off that wine’s flavor profile best:
We had a good time chatting with the pleasant young woman running the tasting room, and we learned that most of the grapes come from the estate vineyards which are all managed biodynamically. Almost every bottle of wine exhibited a unique blend of classic varietals. We enjoyed our visit.
The next morning, Steve, Helen, Tina, and I decided to start at Calcareous vineyards, just a few miles west of the town Paso Robles itself. This was another new winery that had been receiving a lot of favorable mention. Clearly the tasting room is a modern construction:
The vista from the patio outside the tasting room is pretty and spectacular, miles and miles of rolling hills at the beautiful southern end of the Salinas Valley:
Inside the pleasantly decorated tasting room itself, there was extensive use of wood, stone, and marble:
Again, for $10 a visitor could taste five different wines, all grown on vineyards owned or managed by the winery:
Kurt who was pouring in the tasting room that morning, called our attention to the white wine that began the tasting, explaining how one could taste each of the three types of grapes used in the blend – the viognier with its flowery aromas hitting the palate first, the grenache blanc providing clean smooth dry mineral flavors, and the roussane finishing with richer more buttery mouthfeel. He was right, I could taste all those things, so we made it a point to buy a bottle of this wine at the end of the tasting.
The winery also stressed that most of their grapes were grown in calcareous vineyards, the limestone stressing the grapes and producing more flavorful grape clusters. There was even a chunk of limestone rock in the tasting room:
We all felt this was a good beginning to our day of wine sampling, but it was time to go back and into Paso Robles and have lunch.
When I first tasted in the Paso Robles area in 1985, there were less than 10 wineries with tasting rooms if memory serves. I couldn't find any place for an interesting dinner. There was little to distinguish Paso Robles from other rural California towns. Now there are over 200 wineries and a vibrant restaurant scene. Our tasting theme for this year's visit was to seek out places where none of us had tasted before that we had heard good things about – or just happened to run across.
However, after lunch on Tuesday, we headed north on Highway 101 to San Marcos Road, turned left, and drove along small two-lane road for a few miles until we came to Caparone winery, two very nondescript buildings at the end of a gravel driveway. The exterior of the tasting room looked like this:
This is true old school Paso Robles. Dave Caparone started making wines in his home in the early 1970s, and began Caparone vineyards in the late 70s when he purchased the property on San Marcos Rd., planted it to Zinfandel and Italian grape varietals, and built his modest winery and storage buildings on the property.
I do not believe I have ever done a wine tasting in the Paso Robles area without stopping in at Caparone winery.
The winery, now operated by Dave's son Marc, is a family operation that focuses on producing traditional unfined and unfiltered red wines that can age for years. Look at the list for the tasting in June 2014:
A couple things stand out. First, most of the other wines we tasted on our Paso Robles adventure retailed at over $30 – that seems standard for boutique wines in the area these days. All Caparone bottles were $16 with case and half case discounts. Caparone was also the only place we went that did not have the tasting fee. Gotta love the prices.
Second, look at the vintages. At every other winery we visited, the oldest wines that were served were from 2010, and most of the bottles came from 2012 or 2011. At Caparone, the newest wine was from 2010; in other words, Caparone is now selling wines that are aged so that they they don't have to be stored to achieve their peak flavors. I know of no other winery that does that – certainly none that sells aged wine at a basic price.
Caparone was also the first winery to bottle some traditional Italian grape varietals and cultivars. For example, the Sangiovese comes from cuttings obtained from one of the outstanding vineyards in Brunello di Montalcino and, with a little bit of aging, exhibits characteristic reddish brown tones:
After tucking a few cases of Caparone wines into the car, we drove south to Lone Madrone winery, a very new winery that showcases wines made by Neil Collins, the talented winemaker at Tablas Creek – the large Franco-American winery connected with Château Beaucastel in Châteauneuf-du-Pape:
Five wines were available for a $10 tasting fee – 2 whites and three reds:
As you can see, quantities of these wines are very limited and the prices for them are pretty expensive, but the tastes were very pleasant. The four of us discussed how the blended white wine here, dominated by the roussane grape, had a distinctively different flavor profile from the one that had started our day at Calcareous.
We also enjoyed the wine label art – here a picture of James Dean who was killed in an automobile accident on Highway 46 in 1955:
After Steve and Helen headed back to Monterey on Wednesday, Tina and I had time to try a couple of other wineries. This time we headed south and west, taking Highway 46 westward toward the ocean, then turning right on York Mountain Road. Up there we found Epoch winery, another new boutique winery operating out of the new building:
The interior is also bright and striking:
The long-range goal at Epoch is to restore and renovate the York Mountain winery building, which stands on the property:
As well as being scenic, York Mountain was the first winery in the Paso Robles area dating back to the 1880s.
We were able to taste 4 highly rated and expensive wines for $10:
Some of the grapes come from a vineyard begun by Polish statesman, pianist, and president, Ignacy Jan Paderewski.
We were also intrigued by the subtle salmon shade of the rosé wine:
The last winery we went to during our stay in the Paso Robles area was KennethVolk Vineyards on Highway 46 a few miles east of Epoch. After parking, a visitor walks down a little trail through the entrance:
alongside a rustic building with the restrooms:
to the old barn like structure that is the tasting room:
Kenneth Volk founded Wild Horse Vineyards back in the day, and his new eponymous winery features wines made from numerous different grape varieties:
That's just the first half of the list – here are the rest:
Each of us could choose tastes of six of the wines for $10, so we were able to sample some unusual varieties (blaufrankisch or cabernet Pfeffer) , and some from unusual vineyard locations, such as San Benito County or Lime Kiln Valley. It was a nice change from the other tasting rooms we had been in and a pleasant conclusion to our tasting adventure.
All in all, Steve, Helen, Tina and I had fun exploring the Paso Robles wine region. We tried to be moderate and responsible in our consumption, particularly Tina who did most of the driving. Of course tasting the wines was fun, but just driving around the hills outside of Paso Robles, enjoying very pleasant weather, and talking with friends was a good time. Except for our visit to Caparone, we purchased very few bottles at the tasting rooms – those are usually the highest prices (outside of restaurants) that a person would have to pay for the wine. Many people spend several days in the Paso area sampling the wines and then make their purchases at the supermarket in town where many of the local wines are available at a discount price.
I realize this was a terribly long post, so if you've gotten this far, thank you for reading and I hope I have been able to convey some of the pleasures of wine tasting in Paso Robles.
Almost everyone likes roadtrips. Cathy and Kirk both travel, but today ed (from Yuma) wants to tell you about a dinner he and Tina enjoyed on their roadtrip north.
Tina and I returned to Artisan on a Monday night after having thoroughly enjoyed our Sunday night dinner. In some ways, we might as well have come back a year later as most of the kitchen staff and waitstaff seemed different. Only the attentive manager and our hard working busser seemed familiar from the night before.
Even the bread that was placed in front of us was clearly different: While decent enough, these slices lacked the thick crunchy crust of the previous bread.
On this evening, we had decided to build a meal around a local red wine, a J Dusi Zinfandel ($40): The Dusi Vineyards have been growing some of the best Zinfandel grapes in the Paso Robles area for many years. These family Vineyards have supplied premium grapes for such outstanding wineries as Ridge. Today, Janell Dusi produces her own wines from the vineyards planted by her grandfather, Dante Dusi, over 60 years ago.
This bottle lived up to its pedigree, and both Tina and I thought it was superb -- fruity, deeply flavorful, and incredibly smooth with spicy and earthy notes. It matched the meal well.
For her first course, Tina deecided to try a California Burrata ($13). This type of cheese, based upon Italian custom, is like a combination of fresh mozzarella and cream. It is rich and barely cheesy. In her appetizer, it had been drizzled with olive oil and dominated one side of her plate: As you can see, it was accompanied by French bread toast, smoked almonds, microgreens, and fresh slices of both white and yellow peaches. Scrumptious and beautiful.
On the other side of her appetizer plate lay paperthin slices of salty old school prosciutto: Her appetizer touched all the bases. Creamy soft and crunchy. Sweet and salty. Rich and fruity.
I opted for the herbed meatballs ($12), which were served with ricotta gnocchi, heirloom tomato ragout, cooked nettles, and grated hard Italian cheese: This appetizer was more focused than Tina's. The herby meatballs were a delight, nicely complemented by the tomatoey ragout, the sautéed greens, and the mellow grated cheese. The gnocchi were light as cumulus clouds in a summer sky and matched perfectly with the other ingredients.
When it arrived, Tina's entrée, from one side, looked like a mushroom and vegetable stirfry: The chard, king trumpet mushrooms, and various pole beans contributed a range of flavors and textures. In particular, the beans were still crunchy and the trumpet mushrooms gave the palate a firm chewy mouth feel.
The main attraction on her plate, however, was the sliced Niman Ranch hanger steak ($26), cooked perfectly -- seared but left rare in the center: It was very tender and flavorful. The bordelaise sauce was a bit salty for my taste, but it was clearly a background note on her plate.
Her entrée was accompanied by a ramekin of what I would call scalloped potatoes, described on the menu as onoway potato gratin: As good as her entrée was, I liked mine even more: This was a pasture raised veal striploin lying on a bed of creamy rich asparagus risotto, topped with asparagus spears, hen of the woods mushrooms, Madeira sauce, gremolata (garlic/parsley oil), and pea shoots ($28) . This tasted so wonderful, that it deserves a second photo: The veal loin was, like Tina's steak, perfectly cooked. The exterior had been seared, but the flesh was still richly pink. The abundant Madeira sauce was sweeter and less salty than the bordelaise. I was blown away!
For dessert, we chose the three chocolate crèmes brûlées ($9): Under the crunchy caramelized skin, each brûlée featured a different flavor of chocolate. The one on the right was white chocolate, in the center Mexican chocolate with notes of cinnamon, and on the left deep dark rich chocolate. The last one was my favorite, but we used our spoons to scrape out every bit of creamy goodness from all of them.
Both Tina and I had thought that our second dinner could not possibly live up to the first. We were wrong.
Artisan, 1401 Park Street, Paso Robles, California 93446, 805-237-8084
Cathy and Kirk continue eating, but today ed (from Yuma) is not only eating, but he's also inviting you to share a dinner.
I first visited Paso Robles nearly 25 years ago (geez, I'm getting old). Back then it was quite literally a little Cowtown. Maybe there were six or seven wineries scattered around, some of which weren't especially good, and I could find no interesting place to eat in town. Nowadays, over 230 wineries lie within a few miles of the city, and numerous eateries beckon you to sample their gourmet cuisine.
My favorite place for dining in the town had been Bistro Laurent, which features a modern California approach to traditional French cuisine. Memories of dishes like veal cheeks, roast squab, and venison shanks still make me salivate. Unfortunately we were going to be in town on a Sunday and Monday, the two days BL closes each week.
So Tina and I did some research and then walked around downtown Paso reading menus, asking about daily specials, and discussing where we wanted to go. The decision, however, was an easy one to make as soon as we got to Artisan: The dishes on the menu sounded interesting, the wine list was varied and almost affordable, and all that walking around made us hungry.
As we sat at our table looking over the menu, several slices of outstanding crunchy French bread (baked by a small bakery in Atascadero) showed up: This was the best bread on our trip. The rustic half baguette came with a generous pat of soft sweet cream butter. This was a good omen for the rest of the dinner.
We had decided on building a meal around a local white wine. The most interesting wine, at least the most interesting one I could afford, was a Vermentino from Tablas Creek ($38): One great thing about dining at restaurants like Artisan and Passionfish is that you get a chance to try wines that you might otherwise never encounter -- particularly if you live in a place like Yuma, Arizona. This Vermentino is the first California grown version of that varietal that I have ever encountered on a wine list. Even in Europe, this type of grape is not common, it being the predominant white grape only on the island of Sardinia -- though it is grown elsewhere. The Tablas Creek version was crisp, richly flavored, and smooth.
The appetizers soon arrived. Tina had chosen crabcakes ($16), which were perched on quarter size disks of firm potato, covered in a very tasty, lightly spicy remoulade sauce. A sprinkling of micro greens decorated the golden brown cakes: Although I don't quite understand the potatoes, which to my mind seemed out of place on the plate, the crabcakes themselves were packed with tasty crab meat: I ordered seafood chowder ($10) for my first course: Having grown up close to the Oregon coast, I consider myself something of a chowder aficionado. This one was quite good. The broth was creamy and richly flavored. Most notably, the predominant taste was mussels, with small chunks of potatoes and halibut studding the soup and providing texture variations. Allegedly, some clams were also present, but any clams were very much in the background.
For my entrée, I had decided on the halibut, which came with lobster raviolis, grilled spring onions, micro greens, ceci beans (fresh chickpeas), and a small side of chard ($28): Halibut cannot be broiled more perfectly. Inside the crisp crust, the fish was incredibly moist and tender: The beans and greens added variety to the platter. The lobster raviolis, unfortunately, did not taste strongly of lobster, although they certainly looked right: As good as my main course was, Tina's selection was the gem of the entire evening. On the menu it was described as "Summer truffle pici, handrolled pasta, piopinni mushrooms, goat cheese toast" ($25). It looked like this: We both agreed that this was as good as a noodle dish can be. The noodles themselves, lightly golden with the faintest hint of truffle, were mimicked by the shimeji (piopinni) mushrooms, which presented the same colors and shapes: Yet the flavors and textures of the two were very different.
The noodles and mushrooms were only one of the flavorful matrices that interacted on the plate. The robust contrastive tastes of grated aged Italian cheese and absolutely fresh peas mingled with every bite of pasta. To those of us bored by standard frozen peas, these freshly shelled nuggets were a joy -- and their flavor was accentuated by the pea greens strewn on top of the noodles: If Tina's entrée had any shortcoming, it was the goat cheese toast: There was nothing wrong with it, but it was unnecessary and played a distinctly second fiddle in the orchestra of flavors set before her.
Even though one or two aspects of the dinner might have been better, we both were extremely impressed. In addition to the creative, interesting, and flavorful food, the service had been friendly and attentive throughout the meal. Just for one example, we both drank a lot of water that evening since we had been wine tasting in the afternoon and then had walked around 95 degree Paso Robles looking at menus. As soon as the waitstaff watched us slurp down our first glasses, a large carafe of iced water was placed on the table. I also enjoyed watching the manager, a young woman who seemed to miss nothing going on in the restaurant. Kitchen and waitstaff totally professional.
This dinner was, by my standards, a pretty pricey meal. It was, however, so tasty and intriguing that we decided to do something that I almost never do -- come back to the same place on the next night for a second meal. Stay tuned for the results of that adventure.
Artisan, 1401 Park Street, Paso Robles, California 93446, 805-237-8084
Kirk or Cathy will be with you tomorrow, but today ed (from Yuma) is describing another meal on his summer road trip.
On our first evening in Paso Robles, Tina and I were walking back from a great dinner, and suddenly we smelled the most delicious aromas wafting our direction on the warm nighttime air. Even though we were stuffed, both of us had to track down the origin of such savory scents. Heading up an alley, we discovered the location of Thomas Hill Organics: The next day at lunchtime, we walked around the central park in Paso, looking at menus and discovering nothing as appetizing as those aromas from the evening before. After relocating the restaurant, we were offered the choice of inside or outside seating. Although it was kind of hot (by the standards of Paso Robles, not Yuma) we opted to sit outside in a small partly covered courtyard that sits surrounded by buildings in the middle of the block: The first dish that arrived at our table was a watermelon gazpacho. And it was a thing of beauty: I can think of no soup that would have been as appealing as this summertime gem. The "broth" was red watermelon juice, with a few pools of extra virgin olive oil on top and minced mint and perhaps a squeeze of lime within. The chunks throughout the soup were sweet yellow watermelon. But as we began eating we discovered more: In addition to these halved dark grapes, we also encountered blackberries and raspberries: The berries and grapes added touches of tartness to the sweet soup.
Soon after we finished the first course, our sandwiches arrived: Each sandwich was accompanied by a truly outstanding salad. Because the Central Coast is lettuce country, chefs have the ability to blend their own selection of various greens, rather than merely relying onlettuces already mixed. These salads contained primarily green and red oak leaf lettuce, two of the best and most flavorful salad greens available. The leaves were lightly dressed with a tomato vinaigrette, accompanied with cucumber slices, and topped with Kalamata olives, radish slices, and goat cheese. Salads don't get much better than this.
The sandwiches themselves were equally outstanding. One of them was a tuna sandwich: As you can see, this is no tuna sandwich like your mother served you. The seared albacore was topped with a slice of thick smoky bacon. Also, the slices of rich herb bread had been pressed like Paninis, so they were crunchy as well as flavorful.
The chicken sandwich may have been even better: On the same type of bread, the chicken breast slices were accompanied by bacon, melted mild cheese, and slices of green apple -- the taste of the whole was flavorful and complex. An outstanding sandwich.
This restaurant has been in business about six months, but it is clear they know what they are doing. If we hadn't already made plans for dinner that evening, we would have returned here because the lunch was outstanding. I'm surprised that I had not heard of this place before my visit. I'm certainly glad that Tina and I followed our noses.
Thomas Hill Organics Wine Bar and Bistro, 1305 Park St, Paso Robles CA, 805-226-5888. Website