CAPTIVATING : Panini, salads, plates of deliciously ripe fruit with cheese, and a well-chosen array of wines are among the light fare that delights patrons of Granada Bistro, an inviting place to gather in downtown San Luis Obispo.
While I dined at Granada Bistro, the sight of a cute young woman adorned with artistic tattoos who sipped from a little blue bottle of Pommery Champagne through a straw, elicited a smile. She was a reminder of the engaging students who inspired my visit to this fabulous little European-style wine bar. Last May, I was invited to Cal Poly by Dr. Teresa Allen to speak to her journalism class. As it always happens when speaking to students and the teachers, I walked away better informed than when I arrived.
I still smile over one question they asked me: What do you dislike most in restaurants?” I immediately answered I hate restaurants with a dining room that’s too dark; I like to see what I’m eating. “Then don’t go to Granada Bistro!” a young woman retorted with a laugh. It ended up at the top of my list of places to check out, because the bistro came up several times during the 90-minute class discussion on restaurant reviewing. Visiting Granada Bistro at lunch, the lighting wasn’t an issue. The food, the imported wines, the friendly service by Ashley Howard and Nicki Wells, and the ambiance, were all impressive during both visits.
PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
During happy hour, 3 to 5 p.m. weekdays, wines by the glass cost $5 instead of the usual $8. When I arrived at 3 p.m. on my first visit, server-cook-bartender-dishwasher Ashley gave a welcoming smile and accommodating service. There’s just one server during the day, which means there’s a wait if the tiny place suddenly fills. This is not fast food, especially if you visit during the busy lunch hour. But that afternoon, I was the only customer and my late lunch was made promptly. I sat at the bar where I could watch Ashley make the sandwich and we chatted about her travels throughout the world and her articles published in local women’s publications. I had to lie to her when she asked if I worked; I didn’t want to give it away that I was reviewing the place.
The first of the panini was my favorite: the spicy Latini ($10) with carnitas, pickled jalapenos, onions and cotija cheese. The earthy pork, cotija, and onions with the contrast of pickled jalapenos on crunchy, toasted Farb’s sourdough bread were really tasty. The side salad of couscous with dried cranberries, chopped cornichons, red onions, and parsley was pleasant, but dry and not nearly so appealing as the panini. The meal paired deliciously with the Robert Oatley 2009 Rosé of Grenache (Mudgee, Australia); a dry, refreshing pink wine ($8).
FIND IT HERE: Granada Bistro 1126 Morro St. SLO, 556-4211 Open daily
During a second lunch I brought pals from Kennedy Fitness Center: aerobics instructor Peggy Bojduj, who is gluten intolerant; and another enthusiastic athlete, Brad Fleisch, a vegetarian. A consummate carnivore myself, the bistro accommodated all of our preferences. The chicken pesto panini ($10) with grilled chicken, pesto mayo, goat cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, and red onion was good. But it would be improved if the chewy sun-dried tomatoes were replaced by sun-dried tomatoes marinated in olive oil. All paninis are served with the salad-du-jour. I ordered the Oatley Rosé again and it paired well with the rich panini. Peggy ordered the goat-cheese-and-beet salad ($10) with spring lettuce mix, red onion, candied pecans, and citrus vinaigrette. She asked if chicken could be added to the mixture, and Nicki gladly accommodated her. She left only the croutons on the plate. Brad enjoyed the caprese panini ($10), the classic combination of mozzarella, tomatoes, basil, red onion, and balsamic vinegar, with that versatile Rosé.
As it happened, Margaret Walker, mother of the bistro founder-and-owner Kimberly Walker, is a Kennedy Fitness Center member. Until then she hadn’t met me but she knew my friends well. Fortunately, I previously asked them not to give me away. We admitted that I was reviewing the bistro after finishing lunch. Margaret explained that Kimberly had just toured Europe and was in New York preparing to launch a new product, but she couldn’t discuss it until it was officially announced.
Before establishing the Granada Bistro, Kimberly created “Wine Wipes,” a small cotton disk that removes red wine stains from teeth and lips. The novelty: It cleans your mouth without ruining your palate for tasting more red wine. Created with the assistance of certified sommelier Ali Rush, owner of 15 Degrees C wine shop in Templeton, it took two years to develop the recipe, according to Margaret. Once they had the recipe down, Kimberley took it to a licensed U.S. laboratory that produces them. The entrepreneur named her company Borracha. If you speak Spanish you know that means “drunkard,” pretty funny. “Her grandmother was fuming over the name,” Margaret chuckled,” but Kimberly didn’t mean it in a negative way. She meant drunk on life, that’s the way she sees things.” A portion of proceeds from sales of Wine Wipes benefits safe water projects in developing countries. Check out Kimberly’s website at winewipes.com, and don’t miss her promotional video under the media section called, “Perfect Picnic;” it’s a riot.
On Yelp.com I noticed most of the glowing reviews about Grenada Bistro were written by women who mentioned how romantic it is; no men wrote such things. I asked Brad, who’s single, if he would go back: “Yes, I would, I really enjoyed it,” he said. The restaurant is dimly lit at night with an antique chandelier and soy candles, the latter made by Kimberly so they’re fragrance-free and don’t ruin anyone’s sense of taste. The décor did remind me of Europe; it’s quite cozy. One thing surprised me: the Grenada Hotel, home of the bistro, will soon be demolished. Originally scheduled for July, Kimberly attended city meetings and got the date extended to December 2010. Then she’ll have to close her unique eatery. “This was her first restaurant and she loves the business,” Margaret concluded. “She definitely plans to open somewhere else. It may not be the same name but she will open another restaurant.”
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