Monthly Archives: June 2014

Industrial Eats is a destination for food and wine lovers

   This butcher shop/casual eatery offers great food and drinks at value prices I received a text from my longtime friend Steve Watson who told me he had found a new restaurant in Buellton that I was really going to…

Daou Vineyards is raising the bar in Paso Robles

Brothers and partners, Georges and Daniel Daou ‘Living the dream at Daou Vineyards in Paso Robles During a recent visit to the spectacular estate of Daou Vineyards, perched high above Paso Robles atop Daou Mountain, winemaker Daniel Daou provided me…

Healthy Thai and Asian Fusion

Bunn Thai Bistro accommodates everybody’s appetite   I’ve known many people working in restaurants that are so personable they draw customers back, again and again. A personable server or restaurateur is never enough for this food lover, much as I…

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I’ve posted some wines I highly recommended earlier this year because they are still available, and deserve reposting here. Previously posted January and February 2014

Summerwood Res

Summerwood 2010 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Paso Robles

This pretty red, 100-percent cabernet sauvignon, offers bright notes of red and black cherries, blackberries, plums, cassis, and spice. Nuances of leather, bitter dark chocolate, and oak aging make it layered and complex. This is a perfect steakhouse wine that’s sure to complement any grilled steak. The finest lots of cabs were chosen by winemaker Mauricio Marchant to create their flagship wine, all 100-percent free run juice. I found it quite nicely balanced with the juicy acidity to make it a perfect foil for a well-marbled steak, a bison burger, or prime rib roast. Available at the tasting room at $55 retail, it’s a special choice for a special celebration.

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Summerwood 2010 GSM Paso Robles

This delightful red Rhone wine is labeled GSM for its blend of 59 percent Grenache, 27 percent Syrah, and 14 percent Mourvedre. It’s so well balanced it does a great job of hiding its higher alcohol level. Despite that, it’s a pretty wine that’s layered with notes of blackberries, plums, red cherries, spice, leather, and herbs that lingers deliciously long on the palate. Drinkable alone and with great with food, pair it with leg of lamb, grilled steak with chimichurri sauce, and most wild game dishes. It’s a special occasion wine for most of us at $40 retail, available at the Hwy. 46 West tasting room, but one you’ll find worth opening for any celebration.

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Bogle 2011 Essential Red California  

This interesting blend of old vine zinfandel, syrah, cabernet sauvignon, and petite sirah is quite tasty, and one that people wouldn’t think was only an $11 red blend. A unusual combination of varieties, aged 18 months in French and American oak, it tastes of ripe red cherries and bold black berries. Yet it’s as friendly on its own as it is with food. It’s a good choice for a dinner of tri-tip fajitas, a cheeseburger, or a pepperoni pizza. After all, few of us can drink the $50 plus bottle of wine daily. You’ll find it on sale at BevMo! at the bargain price of $8.99.

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Lumen 2012 Pinot Noir Santa Barbara County

This pretty pinot noir expressed exactly what I love about Lane Tanner’s winemaking style: Bright and balanced with tangy flavors of red and black fruit like Bing cherries, black cherries, plums, and spice, weaved with a gossamer thread of peppers and herbs. Not to the mention its great pedigree, it was grown in the historic Sierra Madre Vineyard in Santa Maria Valley. This is a wine that will age for decades to come, but I’d bet you can’t resist drinking it much sooner. The amazing part is its price, only $27.99 opposed to its peers that are much more expensive. Pair this delicious wine with a good steak, prime rib, rack of lamb, quail, ahi, or salmon, it’s that versatile. Currently, it’s available at Woodstock Marketplace in Avila Beach or at lumenwines.com.

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Tablas Creek 2012 Picpoul Blanc Paso Robles

This pretty Rhone white is so well balanced, it’s delicious on its own and with food. A delicate white, much like Roussanne, this is winemaker Neil Collin’s sixth vintage at making this Southern Rhone varietal. With above average yields in 2012 the hang-time until ripeness was long and resulted in brighter notes of tropical fruit and bright lemony notes. I found it his best effort yet. The winemaking team recommends pairing it with fried calamari, Dover sole, swordfish, ceviche, or tangy citrus based Thai foods. Available at the tasting room for $27 (lower prices for club members), it’s a special wine that’s quite unique.

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Rodney Strong 2012 Chardonnay Chalk Hill 

I found this French-oak-fermented Chardonnay so well balanced and delightful I enjoyed it with my favorite main dish salad of roast chicken, cranberries, goat cheese, Fuji apples, walnuts, and baby kale. The exotic aromas of ripe apple and sweet pears highlighted with notes of honey, spice, and lemon complemented every bite of my healthy dinner. I would choose this for Dungeness crab salad or crab cakes, lobster with butter sauce, roast chicken, or veal. Not usually a fan of this style of chardonnay, but this one was also quite drinkable on its own. It’s priced only $19.99 at BevMo! in SLO.

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Good food fast! Who needs fast food when you can easily create these dishes at home 

This was one of those columns I really loved writing, and felt it just had to reappear here. And it’s nice to plug my favorite farmers!

After being out on the job all day the last thing I want to do is go home and prepare a complicated meal. That’s leaves me two choices, take-out or make a salad or sandwich. It’s usually the latter considering how picky I am about food. For instance, I regularly shop at Costco but their pre-made (overly-salted) foods don’t appeal to me no matter how lazy I feel.

After a recent such day out and about, I had planned a Costco stop so I picked up some very appealing ahi steaks. Once home, I doused the tuna with a splash each of EVOO, soy sauce, sesame oil, and rice vinegar (always unseasoned), freshly-ground coriander, sea salt, and black pepper then let it marinate while I made a side salad.

Another no-brainer: simply Johnson Farms tender heirloom lettuces and thinly sliced red onions, SLO Grown Produce, (both brands can be found on Facebook but it’s slo-grown-produce), tomatoes, and a Haas avocado dressed with Boar’s Head Dijon with horseradish (my fave) and about a 50/50 mix of rice vinegar and EVOO. Next I seared the ahi on my Cuisinart “Griddler” medium rare, while toasting whole wheat hamburger buns. I slapped mayo on the buns, sliced the tuna and served it burger style with salad on the side. We popped open a Sinor-LaVallee pinot noir Rincon Vineyard, which is sublime with tuna (or salmon or filet mignon) no matter how it’s cooked. That easy dinner sated my giant appetite far better than the last hamburger I enjoyed in a nice restaurant (I never eat fast food burgers).

Ralph Johnson SLO Grown

Farmers Ralph Johnson (left) of Johnson Farms, and Philip and Nancy Langston of SLO Grown Produce

The experience motivated this column—I asked several local chefs what they do when they crave a tasty meal but feel too tired to tackle a complicated meal. I appreciated their enthusiasm, all of them including vintners I know who love to cook, quickly responded with their delicious, home-cooked fast food “recipe.” I asked for the formula not the measurements, leaving it up to readers to choose their favorite condiments, bread or cheese, to try these delicious dishes.

At Lido in Dolphin Bay Resort, the choice of many locals celebrating special occasions, the menus are as upscale as the venue with a few affordably-priced comfort foods. I asked Lido’s executive chefs Jacob Moss and Maegen Loring,  (This took place when Maegen was still at Lido, but she is no longer associated with the restaurant), both provided delicious simple treats they cook at home.

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Jacob on Lido’s oceanfront patio

Chef Maegen Loring is back as Maegen Loring Catering, you can find her on Facebook

Moss’s dish was appealingly easy: “After a long day at work my late night favorite meal is breakfast. I buy farm fresh eggs from the SLO Farmers’ Market, cook them over-medium or scrambled, with two thick-cut bacon slices, and toast some Farb’s whole wheat bread. It may sound strange but it tastes great with a Firestone DBA.” I totally get it; I think ginger cookies taste great with cold beer.

Loring explained, “Most of us (chefs) eat pretty simply at home.” Ironically her fast dish is my typical lunch when I’m home alone, except I prefer TJ’s salsa especial. “Here is my go to after work. I smear corn tortillas with sriracha, place good Cheddar on each and broil until the edges are crispy and center is bubbly. I add some thinly shredded cabbage, red onions, and cilantro, and finish with a squeeze of lime. I love to have this with a good, floral, fruity, and crisp white like Clesi malvasia.”

Chef Brian Collins, on Facebook search for Ember, a native Arroyo Grandian, prefers baker Robert Oswaks levain-like bread which will soon be available in his new bakery in Los Alamos, www.bobswellbread.com. “When I bring home a loaf of that fresh killer bread, I make a sandwich with Farmers’ Market vegetables, a slice of Rinconada Dairy cheese, and some salami or prosciutto, spread with my homemade aioli and Dijon mustard. The next day I use it for a panzanella salad with heirloom tomatoes. On the second day cooking the bread livens it back up for making amazing panini. I love it with Figueroa Mountain Hoppy Poppy pale ale or Hurricane Deck IPA.”

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I borrowed this picture from Brian when he was chef at Full of Life Flatbread in Los Alamos

Vintner Brian Talley, www.talleyvineyards.com, loves to cook which I know from experience. “With leftover grilled chicken or pork, I cut the meat into small pieces, brown it in a skillet seasoned with salt, garlic powder, and cumin. Add chile verde sauce to make a green chili or paprika and red chile powder to made a red chili, and thin it with a little chicken stock or water. Serve it with tortillas and don’t forget a side salad of Talley Farm’s Fresh Harvest vegetables. We enjoy this wine with our Bishop’s Peak chardonnay or on tap rosé, or Sierra Nevada pale ale.”

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Vintner Brian Talley stands at the gate to the source of his flagship Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs, Rosemary’s Vineyard

Winemaker Ryan Deovlet, www.deovletwines.com, said he has an easy solution for cooking dinner so he can focus on more important things. “The quickest meal for me is roasting chicken with some fingerling potatoes and letting the oven do the work. And I throw together a side salad. My go to wine would be something from Barrel 27.”

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Winemaker Ryan Deovlet, like his peers, is often found in the vineyards

Mike Sinor, www.sinorlavallee.com, stops at Guadalajara Market in Grover Beach for his quick meal. “When we’re in need of good food fast I buy ranchero meats, it’s just a humble strip steak. On the propane barbecue it cooks in about four minutes on each side with some Susie Q’s seasoning and chimichurri sauce. I keep chimichurri sauce in the ice box all the time, he chuckled, “I can’t get enough of it.” The added bonus: Guadalajara Market always has fresh, warm corn tortillas. My go to wine with this meal is Claiborne and Churchill malbec.”

Mike and Kathy

That’s Mike’s icon, the bull, above us. I never miss a chance to taste his extraordinary Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir

Chef Jensen Lorenzen, www.casshouseinn.com,and his team regularly eat one particular superfood. “I have a great fast food I learned about in a unique way. Eating a whole foods diet is the only way I’m able to keep up with the demands of the kitchen lifestyle,” he elaborated. “I was climbing in Peru and fell ill at 12K feet, I could barely breathe or keep food down. The Peruvian porters, on the other hand, carried heavy gear and were literally running up and down the Incan stairs. In addition to their rigorous daily workout, they all swore by the same base diet, quinoa, sprouted or simply steamed exactly like rice.

The easiest way to keep this superfood ready to eat is by keeping a jar of sprouted quinoa refrigerated. Mix it with high quality olive oil, sea salt, and lemon juice. I like mine with avocado, green onion, and cilantro.”

Jensen

 

Chef Jensen Lorenzen’s fine cuisine is frequently noted in nationally published magazines as one of the region’s best dining spots, and I concur

Winemaker Stillman Brown, www.redzeppelinwinery.com, always concise, said: “I stop at Taco Temple.”

Swilly

 

He’s a sharp dressed man, Stillman Brown, as is his stylish lady, Alexis Louise Fontenot

Who needs fast food when you can eat and drink this well at home?

The Central Coast Critic

The irresistible raviolis with trumpet mushrooms at Ember in Arroyo Grande, the best eatery in South County Check out the pristinely fresh  sashimi, rare in most sushi bars, by chef Tony at Kanpai Restaurant in Shell Beach My friends, I…

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Cuisine

A photo of my original review published on July 18, 2013

Direct from Mexico City

This honest Mexican eatery makes it worth the drive to Arroyo Grande

Someone I know casually at my gym was passing by and mentioned that I should try the Mexican cuisine at FrutiLand La Casa Del Sabor in Arroyo Grande. I’m truly sorry that I forgot who it was because I’ve wanted to tell my new friend– thank you so much! This little Mexican eatery turned out to be exactly what I’ve been I’ve been searching for, for many years. Admittedly, the name sounded silly but only because I don’t speak Spanish and didn’t know that La Casa Del Sabor means “the house of flavor.” Naturally, I became curious and the next day I drove over for lunch–that’s how I roll.

At the first taste of those fragrant chicken tacos served at FrutiLand La Casa Del Sabor, I became ecstatic—this is authentic Mexican cuisine! Admittedly, it looks like a roadside stand serving fast food and there are only a few small patio tables on each side of the bright yellow building. I remember approaching FrutiLand warily, unsure if I wanted to order food from the take-out window. It was a quiet Tuesday and I had arrived late for lunch so the lack of customers didn’t deter me.

 A Husband and wife team

Chef Jose Rojas and his wife and partner Grissel (I learned their names after the third visit) were busily prepping foods for dinner service. That gave me the opportunity to steal some looks into the kitchen, which was impressively clean and tidy. When Jose came up to take my order I started with the simplest taste test: I ordered two tacos with grilled chicken, bell peppers, and onions ($8.50).

“Do you want mild or hot salsa,” Jose asked, but seeing my hesitation advised: “You want mild.” My first surprise: This is not fast food, either Jose or Grissel cooks your food to order and that takes longer; secondly, they don’t take your money until they hand over your order. Later, I wished I had paid upon ordering to get it home faster. The generously portioned tacos are served on locally-made, fresh blue corn tortillas, with housemade green salsa, queso fresco, and cilantro. The delicious aromas of those wrapped tacos taunted me during the five minute drive home. I raced inside to devour them and left not a morsel behind—it became an addiction.

Two days later I was back for more with my husband Dan so we could order many other foods to taste test. Dan ordered the three fish (Tilapia) tacos ($8.95) with fruit salsa. I asked for two huaraches, one beef, and one chicken ($7.49 each). Jose’s eyes widened a bit then he insisted: “No, no, that’s too much food for you.” Talk about impressive, I’ve been in upscale restaurants where less honest servers didn’t warn us we had ordered way too much food.

 Nice plate dish 4 beef Dish 1

Honesty means everything

“I never let my customers over-order, we serve big portions and I wouldn’t want them to waste their money,” said Jose. During three visits I never found anything disappointing. I didn’t care for the fish tacos as much as Dan did because the salsa was sweet (naturally) and I prefer savory. Their delicious, freshly-cooked cuisine made me love this restaurant, and after interviewing Jose I had even more respect for what he and Grissel have accomplished.

The Rojas’ offer a very different menu that features an array of irresistible dishes, every one of them layered in flavor and texture. Most of Jose’s original dishes aren’t commonly found in taquerias in California, and he won’t make most of the foods those eateries serve, like guacamole, enchiladas, or burritos.

 Direct from Mexico, honest cuisine

“I’m from Mexico City,” Jose noted after my third lunch visit when I finally handed the chef my card. “We don’t make guacamole. We prefer adding sliced avocado to our foods.” The name FrutiLand refers to their interesting fruit based drinks, fish tacos with pineapple salsa, fruit desserts, and other Mexican delicacies that can’t be found anywhere else within a short-drive from SLO.

“I cook like I’m cooking for me. If I don’t eat it, it’s not good enough,” Jose explained then told me of his past. “I started cooking when I was seven-years-old in my home in Mexico City.” Since it’s not considered macho for Mexican men to work in the kitchen his uncle derided him. “I decided I would come to America for the opportunity to do what I want. This (being a chef) is what I love and what I like. All of my recipes are in my head.”

The religious couple met in junior high, became best friends, and eventually got married in their church. Celebrating 11-years with their three children, Josh, Michael, and Kelly, they hope to teach them their good work ethics. “I wanted to show my kids I didn’t need parents or anybody else to do what I wanted with my life. I tell them if they’re strong and work hard they can be anything they want”

Dish 2hot chopNice plate

 

The Rojas’ make nearly everything from scratch, except mayonnaise and ice cream. He buys from local farmers and the Farmers’ Markets to constantly bring in fresh produce and fruit. Most of it used for their smoothies and drinks like “cucumber water,” a tasty, frothy sweet soda. It’s worth visiting Yelp.com (where they’ve earned outstanding reviews) to check out the photos of their beautiful food platters catered for private parties and weddings.

“Everything we make is healthy, and we never cook with lard,” Jose pointed out. “We use turkey hotdogs in the torta Cubana ($11.45), marinate chicken and beef with fruit juice, and we don’t add extra oil while cooking it.”  

Some locals have said they’re put off by the psychedelic yellow, take-out place. They reminded me of the cynics who used to say they never dined at Chef Rick’s in Orcutt because it was in strip mall. Seriously? It’s puzzling to hear that anyone would miss out on some of the best tasting, freshest local foods served on the Central Coast simply because they don’t like the location. FrutiLand, on Grand Avenue near Halcyon, is no upscale restaurant but I’ll be a regular patron who craves their delicious cuisine and friendly service. 

 I’m a loyal fan who returns often

The soulful chef candidly added: “It’s my dream that people will come here often because me and my wife take good care of them. I try to do my best to make people feel they’re at home here.” 

Frutiland crew

Chef Jose and Grisell Rojas and their fine crew at Frutiland

Stay up to date with their latest dishes, all made from scratch, on Facebook at Frutiland La Casa Del Sabor

Recipes from chefs Jensen Lorenzen & Maegen Loring

My dear friends, Here’s a post to introduce my new webpage, CentralCoastCritic.com. Although it’s not available online quite yet, it will be soon. I will have a special link to provide recipes from the Central Coast’s fine chefs. They will…

Kathy’s Choice

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Chehalem 2012 Pinot Noir Three Vineyard Willamette Valley
A very good deal from this consistently good winery, winemaker and owner Harry Peterson-Nedry makes this boldly fruity Pinot a standout for the price. It offers ripe aromas and flavors of black cherries, blackberries, and currants nicely nuanced with notes of spice, earth, and pepper. Full-bodied and rich, it’s layered in flavors and texture. If you didn’t tell anyone what you paid, they would swear you paid dearly for it. Available online at www.chehalemwines.com . In this case, if you should find the Chehalem 2012 Pinot Gris Three Vineyards wine, snag it while you can. Amazingly rich and delicious, I couldn’t resist a sip with every bite from a bowl of steamed clams, sausage, and grilled garlic bread at Higgins Restaurant, www.higginsportland.com in downtown SW Portland.

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Ponzi 2013 Pinot Gris Willamette Valley
Winemaker Luisa Ponzi’s flagship white wine, we consistently enjoyed this bright, crisp white having ordered it several times. I loved the fresh fruit flavors of ripe apple, juicy lemon and floral notes, yet it was quite dry. Certified Sustainable, it’s a wine I could easily enjoy on its own or with food. I would pair this with any salad, pizza, or sandwich that features soft goat cheese. It’s also a great choice for slightly spicy Mexican or Asian dishes, and with a vegetarian omelet. It’s available at www.ponziwines.com and often carried by BevMo! It’s a very good value at only $17 retail. If you come across any of their delightful Ponzi 2013 Rose Willamette Valley, do grab some, it’s quite tasty.

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Soter 2011 Pinot Noir Mineral Springs Ranch Yamhill-Carlton AVA
You have to love Oregon’s winemakers, they’re very concerned about the environment and making outstanding wines from Oregon Certified Sustainable Vineyards. In this case, winemaker James Cahill was inspired in making such an outstanding Pinot at this value price. I thoroughly enjoyed the ripe flavors of black cherries, cranberries, minerals, and exotic spices that make it such a standout from the crowd. This is reasonably priced so that you could drink it as an everyday wine, but you’ll want to enjoy it with great meals such as prime rib, New York steak, wild Oregon salmon, or seared peppered ahi. And you’ll definitely want to pull it out of the cellar anytime you want to impress your guests. I only wish I had purchased more of it! You can still get it online, or in restaurants, at www.sotervineyards.com where it’s priced $55 retail.