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Santa Margarita's The Range elevates cuisine to high art!

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It’s Friday, June 5, and I’ve already eaten half my salad and pizzette before I remember I’m supposed to be writing about this meal and taking photos. Oops! My bad!

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I can’t help it. The food at The Range is incredible—at once simple but prepared with such care and finesse that every element, right down to the perfectly cooked veggies or cinnamon-stick-pickled beets, is memorable.

Let me backtrack a second. As soon as we walk in the door, co-owner Lindsay Jackson comes out of the kitchen and greets my wife and me, showing us to a table where two friends will join us momentarily. Our server, a friendly gal named Marti, makes quick work of bringing us some beer and chilled glasses, or in the case of my wife, a bottle of See Canyon hard cider and a champagne flute.

- GET YOUR EATS ON!:  The Range (22317 El Camino Real, Santa Margarita; 438-4500) is open for dinner Tuesdays through Saturdays beginning at 5 p.m. They don’t take reservations or credit cards, but they’re worth the wait, and it’s cash well spent. -
  • GET YOUR EATS ON!: The Range (22317 El Camino Real, Santa Margarita; 438-4500) is open for dinner Tuesdays through Saturdays beginning at 5 p.m. They don’t take reservations or credit cards, but they’re worth the wait, and it’s cash well spent.

Marti deftly goes through tonight’s specials, and we settle on the pizzette with Los Osos organic pork sausage, caramelized onion, fennel, mozzarella, and Parmesan over spicy marinara and the baby spinach salad with gorgonzola, croutons, pickled free-range eggs, mushrooms, and red onion, with warm bacon dressing. We also order the pickled beets.

Like I said, when the food arrives, we dig in before I remember the photos. Dang it! The presentation is fantastic. Each item is rife with rich flavors and complexity, but the thing about The Range is it’s not pretentious or fancy. No one’s putting on airs. The staff is warm and friendly, even server Jono Kinkade, who—full disclosure—is a full-time staff writer at New Times who’s worked at the restaurant for five years, long before he started interning at the paper in 2013.

HALF EATEN PIZZETTE:  Sorry, but I ate half of this organic pork sausage pizzette before I remembered to take a photo. - PHOTO BY GLEN STARKEY
  • PHOTO BY GLEN STARKEY
  • HALF EATEN PIZZETTE: Sorry, but I ate half of this organic pork sausage pizzette before I remembered to take a photo.

Country music plays over the sound system. We’re sitting around a sturdy wooden picnic table on the patio. One of the servers has on a cowboy hat. Diners are dressed casually. The whole place has the feeling of a gourmet backyard barbecue with family and friends.

I sink my teeth into my second serving of pizzette and am met by a mouthful of rich, spicy sausage and melted cheese. The crust is amazing—firm, chewy, and every bit as wonderful as the basket of various breads Marti brought to our table.

Likewise, my salad is marvelous—it feels so fresh, with crisp red onion (not too hot!) and crunchy croutons, tender mushrooms, and a bright pink, quartered pickled egg with a deep yellow yolk. Best of all, the dressing—despite being bacon-based—is light and not overpowering. This is some tasty business.

HALF-EATEN SALAD:  Oops, I did it again with this baby spinach salad with pickled free-range eggs and warm bacon dressing. - PHOTO BY GLEN STARKEY
  • PHOTO BY GLEN STARKEY
  • HALF-EATEN SALAD: Oops, I did it again with this baby spinach salad with pickled free-range eggs and warm bacon dressing.

My wife and I can’t seem to stop ourselves from ordering the 8-ounce filet of beef, which we get every time we come here because, I’m sorry, but it’s the best fucking steak I’ve ever had, and dammit I’m going to keep ordering it until it’s not. Excuse my French, but I’m not fucking kidding! It’s prepared with a rosemary and wine sauce in which they deglaze the fry pan with butter, and the filet has melted gorgonzola cheese on it and garlic mashed potatoes and veggies on the side and we get it medium rare and it’s the most tender thing in the world with incredible flavor. Damn. It’s so fine.

Luckily our dinner companions are a bit more adventurous. One orders the pork chops from Vintage Organics in Los Osos with mission fig pan jus served with bourbon-whipped sweet potatoes and black-eyed peas. The other orders the elk medallions with the cherry bordelaise sauce and garlic mashed potatoes and veggies. They’re even nice enough to let my wife and I have a bite. Both dishes are deliciously dreamy. The pecan crust of the pork, the thinly sliced, lean elk—oh my God—it’s all so good!

FILET OF BEEF:  So tender is this filet of beef that it nearly melts in your mouth. - PHOTO BY GLEN STARKEY
  • PHOTO BY GLEN STARKEY
  • FILET OF BEEF: So tender is this filet of beef that it nearly melts in your mouth.

When Marti comes to see if we want dessert, we do, but we’re all smuggling food babies and we’re afraid we might already be missing the beginning of Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, so we pay the tab (remember, cash only!), and race north up Highway 101 to the concert, fat and happy.

Glen Starkey takes a beating and keeps on bleating. Keep up with him via twitter at twitter.com/glenstarkey, friend him at facebook.com/glenstarkey, or contact him at gstarkey@newtimesslo.com.

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