Guests, like fish, tend to stink after three days.
As much as we Central Coasters rely on tourism to bring in the bucks, we also relish watching the crowds subside in January, leaving us with a little slice of serenity.
- PHOTO COURTESY OF ROBIN’S RESTAURANT
- SECOND COURSE: Robin’s Restaurant in Cambria is presenting four courses for $40. One option for the second course is a butternut squash, chestnut, and cranberry raviolo with brown butter, pink peppercorns, and sage.
During the off season, local restaurants are calmer, the coffee shops less manic. Winery owners pause before preparing for spring, with its eternal promise of bud break and packed tour buses.
In my book, there are two ways to approach this reflective time of year. You can simply call it “slow,” or and this feels better to me you can call it “Restaurant Month,” the sacred reprieve that allows locals to take back the land and savor its bounty unmolested.
More than 40 restaurants across Arroyo Grande, Avila Beach, Morro Bay, Cambria, Paso Robles, Pismo Beach, and San Luis Obispo are offering up multi-course, prix-fixe meals ranging from $30 to $40 far less than you’d normally shell out for an elevated fine dining experience.
New this year, county wineries are hopping on board with a smattering of Go Local Wine Deals that range from discounted bottles to gourmet pairings served in the tasting room.
Although people are notoriously tightening their belts this month (both figuratively and economically), Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance Director of Communications Chris Taranto said it’s hard to put a price on exploring your own backyard.
“Some wineries are offering two-for-one tasting, and then you have others that are going big with deeper taste discounts and entertainment,” Taranto said. “We know that locals are in that ‘hangover’ of holiday traveling and entertaining. Restaurant Month is about getting back to enjoying a more quiet and serene time, where we can take advantage of all the things that make our region attractive to visitors.”
Testify, Chris! Why shouldn’t we spend the entire day wine tasting along San Miguel’s Pleasant Valley Wine Trail, then cap the experience off with a feast-like dinner at somewhere like Buona Tavola in downtown SLO?
For $30 (the price of one single bottle of wine), I could chew on three courses, like home-cured natural pork salami and Italian cheeses, homemade pumpkin-ricotta tortellini in sage sauce, and a 10-ounce marinated flat iron grilled steak with arugula and balsamic reduction. For an extra $15, I could also be enjoying half-glass local wine pairings with each dish.
Just reading the prix fixe menus up now at visitsanluisobispocounty.com makes my palms sweat and my tongue quiver with anticipation. I suspect that this is exactly the gastronomic response that Stacie Jacob, C.E.O. of Visit SLO County, wants to inspire in the masses.
“This is the only time of year that so many restaurants come together to showcase their best and give you a taste of what is cooking right here,” Jacob said. “Whether you are looking for a small, quaint setting, or a lively night out, there is something for everyone in each community. Consumers won’t have any problem finding a restaurant or maybe even two or three to indulge in.”
- PHOTO BY RICHARD FUSILLO OF FUSILLO FOTO
- FIRST AND ...: Foremost Wine Company may be a newer addition to San Luis Obispo, but that’s not stopping Executive Chef Julie Simon and Sommelier Robin Puricell from offering up three courses for $30, with additional wine pairings for $15, Tuesday through Sunday.
If you think this sort of thing makes cash-strapped diners giddy, just talk to a few hardworking restaurateurs. Carole MacDonal, along with her passionate and dedicated chef husband, Santos MacDonal, own and operate Il Cortile and La Cosecha Bar + Restaurant in downtown Paso Robles.
Although it hasn’t been dead slow for the duo by any means, they are certainly seeing the wave of tourists recede into the mist. This all part of the natural ebb and flow of restaurant life on the Central Coast, Carole assured me.
“Most people are still coming out on the weekends, but there is a bit less traffic during the week. Restaurant Month gives people a chance to experience places they haven’t tried,” Carole said. “That’s mostly what we see in January: people who haven’t been to our restaurants or haven’t been in awhile. Quite a few customers say this is their way of testing out all the local restaurants, and it’s really an affordable way to spend the month exploring all the different tastes across the county.”
Carole knows this because she’s a prominent presence in both the Italian and Honduran hot spots. It’s not unusual to see the good-natured host strolling through the dining room, asking folks about their meal and connecting with regulars over local news.
- PHOTO COURTESY OF NOVO
“The reason why we love this area is because we have great relationships with the wineries, farmers, and purveyors,” she said. “We get the opportunity to work closely with a lot of local people.”
Just what is Chef Santos cooking up for those local peeps? Let’s just say there will be plenty of seasoned beef and potato empanadas (my favorite), roasted pork medallions in chile verde sauce, and coconut flan to spare.
On the Italian side of things, Il Cortile will offer a $40 Wednesday reverse wine dinner from Jan. 14 till the end of the month featuring local wineries. You pick your varietal and Chef Santos will build a momentous meal around that bottle of wine. If this sounds a tad over the top, then you don’t know squat about Restaurant Month.
I suggest you get yourself educated and set off for your own culinary adventure, wherever it may take you. This is your time to shine. Come hungry.
Hayley Thomas is dreaming of Chef Santos’ empanadas at firstname.lastname@example.org.