Ember is a wood-fired farm-to-table fine dining establishment, that boasts a monthly seasonal menu change.
I recommend Ember to everyone I meet.
The two things I hear most: the wait is too long; and skepticism of a menu that typically is an equal balance of the familiar (deconstructed, reconsidered and rearranged), the foreign, and the never-been-done.
Now, here, on the Central Coast, a restaurant like Ember, with a California casual cool atmosphere, and dishes so artfully composed, like mini edible symphonies, is seriously worth the effort to experience.
And so I present to you an easy-to-follow guide to enjoy this SLO County gem…
HOW TO EAT AT EMBER (in five easy steps.)
1. EARLY BIRD GETS THE SEAT.
No, Ember does not take reservations. They open at 4 pm. Arrive at 5 pm on a Saturday night, and it’s already packed.
You have two options. One, arrive early, at 4:30 pm, take a seat next to the wood fired oven and enjoy the view.
Second, arrive at usual dinner time (5pm – 7pm) and expect to wait. Take a seat at the bar for a drink, or enjoy the beautiful Central Coast weather outside.
2. SMALL PLATES = BIG VARIETY.
Ember’s menu, while ever-changing, is broken down into the same categories each month. You have your Salads, Share Plates, Pizza and Entrees. (Check out the full monthly menu on their site, here.)
Try one dish of each category, at least. June’s recommended salad: Grilled Peaches & Baked Goat Cheese (with Prosciutto and Marcona Almonds).
The pizza is always incredible (from the June menu we chose the Six Cheese & Pancetta) and the rib eye is cooked over an open fire by a meat master — but to me, the share plates are where Ember shines. The most delicate combination of flavors, textures, local ingredients and creativity.
Lets take, for example, the Wood-Oven Roasted Sea Scallops with Harissa. A pan is heated into oblivion in the wood fired oven. The scallops are then seared on this pan, and if you watch closely, you can see them dancing in the heat before being cooked in the wood fired oven for mere minutes. They melt like butter.
3. GET OUT OF YOUR COMFORT ZONE AND INTO THE TASTY ZONE.
Ember uses top quality, local ingredients. What does that mean for you? Well, that if there is a dish that includes an ingredient you don’t typically enjoy (let’s say cauliflower or fava beans for example) you should order it anyway.
You may say, “Why are you forcing me to eat those wretched vegetables, Lauren? I trusted you!”
Because, my friend, they will be the best wretched vegetables you’ve ever had. They may even, dare I say, convince you that wretched vegetable actually has potential and encourage you to eat it again. Wow!
Pictured here is the Cauliflower Steak with Pine Nut-chili stuffing. (The picture is blurry because I was too busy drooling over this bounty of food to slow down and take a nice photo…)
Similarly, you may encounter combinations that seem counterintuitive. Do not be afraid! Pink peppercorn in a dessert, on a meringue?
YES. It is so good I once ordered a side of it for dessert and they graciously obliged.
4. DESSERT IS MANDATORY.
I’m all about supporting individual choices. You do you. No judgement.
Except when it comes to dessert.
Dessert is mandatory.
It is not uncommon that in a restaurant with a fantastic dinner, the dessert is notably weaker. Or, vice versa.
Not at Ember. The desserts possess the same creativity, attention to detail and quality of ingredients as everything on their dinner menu.
See something that sounds common? It won’t be. I guarantee it.
Best examples: Mascarpone Cheesecake (left) and Strawberry Shortcake (right).
I must mention it here: the Coffee Trifle is a crowd favorite. Served in a coffee cup, it’s a decadent layered mousse dessert of coffee and chocolate.
5. JUST SIT BACK AND ENJOY IT.
As with any fine dining experience, it’s important to sit back and simply enjoy the experience.
Sit inside with a view of the FOH kitchen, pizzas flying out of the oven, a mouthwatering spread of proteins on the open fire, pans precariously suspended above the flames, and the careful, delicate plating of salads and desserts.
However you eat at Ember, I hope you enjoy it as much as I do. I spent my 21st birthday dinner here, and recently, my 26th. 5 years later, I am a whole new person, the menu at Ember has changed over a dozen times and yet the things that remain unchanged — the quality of food, ingenuity of the dishes, and inviting atmosphere — are the steady constant that brings us back to Ember time after time.