- PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
On a recent spectacular sunny afternoon in Cayucos, I enjoyed a very good meal at the Full Moon Wine Bar & Bistro. I was invited to drop in by the irrepressible Stillman Brown for an afternoon of wine and food tasting. Stillman, winemaker and owner of Red Zeppelin Wine Co., always keeps himself among good company, but I never expected it to be quite such a memorable afternoon.
First of all, I was impressed by the delicious housemade foods that paired so nicely with the local wines we tasted—particularly Stillman’s 2009 Black Zeppelin, 100 percent Petite Sirah and one of the finest versions of this variety I’ve tasted recently. I was also happy about discovering this friendly, comfortable tasting room and bistro I could recommend to food and wine lovers. The Full Moon also features one-of-a-kind ocean views. While that’s a big draw for tourists, many locals frequent the place they’ve coined “The Moon.”
Most of the loyal regulars call the owner by her childhood nickname, “Jeannettie.” Full Moon was founded by Jeannette Simpson, who opened it to the public on July 4, 2009. A lifelong entrepreneur, she said she started working full-time when she was only 15 years old.
“I’ve always been a Jane of All Trades and had a long career on the human factors side,” she explained. “This has allowed me to mix all the parts of my personality in interacting with people here.”
- PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
Simpson’s last job was in the high-tech industry in the Bay Area, but several visits to the coast convinced her to relocate. She began putting together the idea of creating a place for the tourists who travel here, attracted by Big Sur and Paso Robles wine country. The shop she opened is small and cozy, yet easily accommodates 30 people or more if necessary. The great wraparound veranda also provides alfresco seating with spectacular ocean views.
During my visit, she said she’s always loved cooking, but readily admitted she’s not a professional cook: “I’m not a trained chef, but I have a healthy respect for the institution. I love cooking, but I would never be a good line chef. I’ve been cooking since I was very young.”
She does a great job with the soups, salads, dips, panini, and desserts she makes for the small, wine-friendly menu. Dessert lovers shouldn’t miss her signature dish, called “lost in paradise”: an organic cookie with mascarpone, organic dark chocolate, crème, and pomegranate pear Port sauce.
Simpson’s partner-in-training, Mihaela “Mika” Toke, was born in Romania. This young woman is equally talented in the kitchen and provided us with wonderful dishes she learned to cook from her family. I’m not fond of eggplant, yet her Romanian roasted eggplant spread won me over. She explained how it’s made: “I roast the eggplant whole, then scrape out the interior and let it drain overnight. Then I blend the eggplant with [extra-virgin olive oil] and salt, and serve it with a slice of tomato as we eat it in Romania. It’s an old family recipe that we like to eat over bread.”
- PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
Toke’s family emigrated to L.A. when she was 16, and she studied accounting at Cal Poly, falling in love with the Central Coast along the way. She eventually became Simpson’s neighbor, and they often went hiking together. Toke started helping Simpson at the Moon, and now she’s working toward becoming a partner in the wine bar and bistro. Toke also made an excellent pasta dish topped with fresh local chanterelles.
These dynamic women are part of the charm of the Moon, and they truly enjoy what they’re doing.
“I’m old fashioned and very much a hostess,” Simpson said honestly. “I like people to feel they’ve stepped into our home kitchen. We put a real personal touch on everything when we can, although sometimes we get too busy.”
Simpson considers Cayucos and Full Moon Wine Bar & Bistro to be the gateway to Big Sur and Paso Robles wine country, and she prides herself as the concierge: “I have never sent anyone to a winery tasting room I’ve never visited. I like to help tourists find places that I know are friendly and fun to visit because I’ve been there.”
Simpson has filled the tasting room with such unique local touches as an old-growth redwood tree from San Simeon that a craftsman used to build the bar counter and signs. The original art pieces feature local artists. She also supports the local farmers markets and neighboring businesses, like Ruddell’s Smokehouse where she gets smoked albacore for her menu. She buys her tasty cheese selection at Vivant Fine Cheese in Paso, fresh breads from the new bakery at Hoppe’s Garden Bistro, and deli meats from grocers like Spencer’s, Albertson’s, and Trader Joe’s.
Although the wines poured change frequently, she remains loyal to wineries that have supported her since she opened: Red Zeppelin, Malloy O’Neill, Pomar Junction, Arroyo Robles, Poalillo, Moonstone Cellars, and Radog by Tudor Wines
“Mika and I go out wine tasting in Paso Robles every two weeks to see what’s out there, and order wines we like for the Moon. I wanted to bring together the beauty of the Central Coast,” Simpson concluded, “the array of fresh local foods, great wines, craftsmen, and artists. I’ve tried to bring a little of all of that to the Full Moon.”
Contact New Times Cuisine columnist Kathy Marcks Hardesty at firstname.lastname@example.org.