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From farm to table

Joe and Debbie Thomas with their wonderfully talented chef Julie Simon have created one of the very finest wine-country restaurants

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IMPRESSIVE :  A lovely day in the Paso Robles wine country would include a meal at Thomas Hill Organics Market Bistro &Wine Bar. Owner Debbie Thomas is on the left above and chef Julie Simon is on the right. - PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • IMPRESSIVE : A lovely day in the Paso Robles wine country would include a meal at Thomas Hill Organics Market Bistro &Wine Bar. Owner Debbie Thomas is on the left above and chef Julie Simon is on the right.
I just discovered a talented young chef named Julie Simon at Thomas Hill Organics who is rapidly earning fame as one of the Central Coast’s star chefs. This French-born gem, remarkable because she’s only 23 years old, is preparing sensational dishes at Paso Robles’s new bistro and wine bar. Thomas Hill Organics (THO) is a restaurant that was created by owners Joe and Debbie Thomas to serve locals fresh foods grown by their original business, Thomas Hill Farm. As expected, the seasonal menu is enhanced by a wine list featuring some great SLO County wines. THO is the dining destination tourists seek out when they visit Central Coast wine country. Although still fairly new, THO is already a local favorite.

PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
  When the Thomas’s created THO, they designed it as a public outlet for their organic Meyer lemons, broccoli rabe, Italian arugula, and herbs, freshly-harvested from their certified organic Thomas Hill Farm. The ingredients they don’t grow are purchased from other specialty farms. THO’s chef procures grass-fed beef and pork from Charter Oak in Templeton, free-range poultry from local ranches, and wild fish from local fisheries. The breads are custom made by such artisan bakeries as Pure & Simple, and Skipping Stone Productions. Open for lunch, dinner and Sunday brunch, the menu changes daily according to the season and ingredient availability. “We’ve never closed ourselves to one certain kind of cuisine,” Simon pointed out. “Our menu is ingredient-oriented. I go to the farmers’ markets and get food at its peak.”

 I first visited THO at lunch with my mate, Dan Hardesty. We shared two salads: the earthy, delicious roasted beets with Humboldt Fog cheese, candied pecans, and vanilla-bean vinaigrette ($12); and the house salad of quinoa, shaved fennel, cauliflower and carrots, with preserved lemon vinaigrette and candied Kalamata olives ($7). The latter would have satisfied me had I ordered it for lunch, but we ate up both delicious treats. Several people have told me they think THO is expensive but I don’t agree. This is gourmet food of excellent quality, and the servings are generous.

 

- FIND IT IN PASO:  Thomas Hill Organics - Market Bistro & Wine Bar - 1305 Park St., Paso Robles - 226-5888 -
  • FIND IT IN PASO: Thomas Hill Organics
    Market Bistro & Wine Bar
    1305 Park St., Paso Robles
    226-5888
  After eating those delicious, filling salads, I was shocked when our sandwiches arrived. Not only did they look huge, the side “field salad” was very large. We loved the Vietnamese barbecued pork belly served on focaccia with a delightful, crunchy medley of pickled carrots, jalapenos and red onion, topped with avocado, cilantro and aioli ($14). The THO burger of Charter Oak Beef and chorizo had roasted onions, cambozola cheese, bacon, and roasted garlic aioli sauce on focaccia, and also is served with field salad ($14). We shared everything but barely ate half of it all, despite the delicious combination of flavors and textures. Though we claimed we were full, we nonetheless ate up Simon’s upside-down cheesecake made with her fresh ricotta, chocolate crust, and candied kumquats (desserts average $8 to $10).

 I praise owner/manager Debbie Thomas for her wine list devoted to SLO County’s best. Not only does she offer excellent by-the-glass selections, you can order a half glass of any of them ($4 to $13 average). “Sometimes I want a little more wine but not another glass with my meal,” she noted. “That’s why I added the half-glass choice.”

 

PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
  Thomas Hill Farm, located in Paso Robles wine country, features heirloom varieties of fruits, vegetables, and nuts. The ten-acre organic farm has 800 fruit and nut trees, a vineyard planted exclusively to Italian varietals, lettuces, garlic, tomatoes, among many other seasonal vegetables and herbs. “Julie’s enthusiasm for fresh, seasonal, organic ingredients, and her creative ability for unique pairings made her a perfect match for Thomas Hill Organics,” explained Thomas. “She believes in nurturing strong relationships with local ranchers, winemakers, and food artisans.”

Dan and I visited a week later for dinner, and I could hardly wait to return. We always order new dishes, this time trying: early spring pea salad with sugar-snap peas, mint salsa verde, and housemade saffron ricotta ($8); and grilled tiger shrimp with snow peas, lychees, and bean thread noodles in sweet Thai chile sauce ($14); all quite impressive. We also loved the entrées: tamarind-glazed halibut with coconut baby bok choy, smoked shiitakes, and garlic chips ($23); and fire-roasted Charter Oak pork chile verde with kumquat and radish slices ($22). The pork came with Simon’s freshly baked jalapeno corn bread with smoked paprika butter, irresistible. Each dish was amazingly different and beautifully prepared.

PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
Born in Paris, Simon was 12 years old when her family moved to southwest France and opened a bar serving bistro food. The family’s love of sharing good food and stories at the table, and her grandmother’s cooking inspired her.

 Simon’s aunt and uncle, Clotilde and Yves Julien, own Olea Farm Olive Oil. She lived with them in Templeton in 2004 when she moved to the U.S., and wrote the Julien’s Olea Farms cookbook. When chef Pandee Pearson began buying from Olea Farm, Simon delivered Olea Farm’s award-winning olive oil to Windows on the Water. With the support of her aunt and uncle, she was hired by the chef. “It was perfect timing, we needed someone to plate desserts,” Pandee remembered. “In two years she learned every station in the kitchen and I promoted her to sous chef. Julie has that European mindset about food, she gets it.” Simon was 17 then and had never cooked professionally, but her passion and enthusiasm put her on the fast track. When Pandee left Windows to open Adelina’s Bistro in Nipomo, Simon moved on.

PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
Simon visited chef Maegen Loring at the Park and they immediately hit it off. After vacationing with family in France, she returned to work with her next mentor. Maegen noted: “Julie is very soulful and passionate about what she does; she’s fearless. Whenever we worked on menus, there was no ego involved. It didn’t matter where the idea came from as long as it resulted in a great dish. Julie is coming around with amazing style.”

After working with the best women chefs in SLO County, Simon is grateful for the opportunities that befell her. “I feel so extremely fortunate and lucky to have met great people who gave me a chance when I had no professional experience,” Simon said appreciatively. “It was fantastic working for Pandee, a dream come true. And I was lucky to work with Maegen where we were more in tune with wine country food. We made wine friendly food all the time; she taught me so much.”

PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
  I look forward to trying Sunday brunch with such delicacies as omelets made with farm-fresh eggs, with seasonal fruits and vegetables. Paso Robles’ climate allows alfresco dining on the lovely patio nearly year ‘round. There, the wood-burning oven fills up with mouth-watering pizzas topped with oyster mushrooms, truffle goat cheese, or Simon’s housemade pork-fennel sausage. The Thomases and their talented chef, Simon, have created a wine country dining experience that no food or wine lover should miss.

You can reach New Times’ Cuisine columnist at khardesty@newtimesslo.com

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