The Garden – Santa Maria, CA | Restaurant Review

Off Broadway in Santa Maria stands a Mediterranean paradise with the fluffiest falafel you’ve ever had the pleasure of eating.

The Vegetarian Plate at The Garden - tabbouleh, falafel, baba ganoush, hummus, pita, and a tahini sauce.
The Vegetarian Plate at The Garden, Santa Maria

Tucked away off the main streets of Santa Maria lies this hidden gem – The Garden Mediterranean Restaurant & Cafe. Serving up Mediterranean classics like falafel, kofta, and tabbouleh, The Garden is definitely worth a visit!

The outdoor dining is spacious and comfortable. The staff incredibly warm and friendly, and seemingly as enthusiastic about The Garden’s tasty offerings as we were.

Spicy fries
Spicy Fries appetizer.

We started off with the Spicy Fries. Smothered in a mixture of spicy house sauce, garlic, and cilantro, these fries pack a punch! Served hot and fresh, a great appetizer for any spicy-lover.

Next on the menu, an item listed under The Garden Homemade Bakery section simply titled “Cheese”. Using housemade bread, topped with a Mediterannead cheese, this appetizer was reminiscent of a pizza. Instead of cheese sprinkled on top before baking, it seemed the cheese was added to the dough, and the crust folded over and formed around it.

The Garden Homemade Bakery Cheese appetizer.

The result: a beautiful cheese boat! Though this may look like a kind of pizza, the dough was soft and incredibly fluffy, without any crunch of a crust like you’d find on a pizza.

Judging by these two appetizers, I’d say select something that sounds intriguing to you, that caters to your specific tastes (like say, you like spicy or cheese) and order your appetizers based on that alone. You may have never tried anything like what you’ll get, but based on this experience, I’m going to bet you’ll love it.

Entree highlights include the kebabs: chicken; beef; and kofta – a traditional kebab made of seasoned ground beef. The kebab plates are plentiful, and of the four of us that had dinner, no one was able to clear their plate (not for lack of trying).

The rice rich with saffron, peppers perfectly charred — the details in the meals were immaculate. The tahini sauce provided a nice compliment, but the real star of the sauces was that incredible garlic sauce tied so deeply into Mediterranean cuisine. Have it with the kebab, the rice, some pita, on the fries, really anything. I’d by it by the pound if I could.

Vegetarians rejoice! There’s options for you at The Garden too. I had the Vegetarian platter (first photo in post) so I could sample all my favorites of Mediterranean cooking — tabbouleh, baba ghanoush, hummus, warak enab, falafel, and pita. I also requested a side of that delectable garlic sauce for my meal which they accommodated graciously. If you aren’t familiar with Mediterranean cuisine, here’s a quick description of everything that came on the Vegetarian Combo Plate:

Tabbouleh

Salad of finely chopped parsley, crushed bulgur wheat, tomatoes, onions, and spices, mixed in fresh lemon juice and extra virgin olive oil.

TASTING NOTES: If you like greek salad, try tabbouleh. It’s got a great zesty kick and powerful freshness to each bite.

Baba ghanoush

Smoky roasted eggplant pureed and blended with tahini, garlic, lemon juice and extra virgin olive oil.

TASTING NOTES: A very basic description of baba ghanoush is like a hummus with roasted eggplant. It’s got a stronger flavor and smoother texture than typical hummus. Eat it with pita!

Hummus

Puree of garbanzo beans (chickpeas) with tahini, garlic, lemon and extra virgin olive oil.

TASTING NOTES: Most of us have eaten hummus by now, but this one deserves a bit of extra credit because The Garden hummus was just so creamy. If you aren’t a hummus fan, I’d recommend you try this one. It may change your mind!

Warak Enab

Grape leaves stuffed with rice, tomatoes, onions, parsley and spices. Served cold.

TASTING NOTES: Warak Enab is a Lebanese-style stuffed grape leaf — different than the Greek-style that’s served hot and filled with ground beef. Instead, Warak Enab is vegetarian-friendly and taste great with that tahini sauce.

Falafel

Fresh garbanzo beans mixed with spices, ground, formed into balls and fried.

TASTING NOTES: Falafel is a cornerstone of Mediterranean cuisine. Typically crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside, it’s delicious and filling!

A special note about The Garden’s falafel: They are, without a doubt, the fluffiest falafel I’ve ever had. Sometimes falafel can be more dense on the inside, but still maintain that crunchy exterior. These falafel were different. With the perfect golden brown crust and as light and fluffy as can be on the inside. Perfection.

All in all, I can see why The Garden maintains its 5-star rating. It’s friendly staff and consistently tasty food make it a great place to eat, enjoy, and try new things.


Industrial Eats – Buellton, CA | Restaurant Review

A Brief Prologue

I last dined in at Industrial Eats in February of 2020, before the lockdown. Since then, so much has changed for our local restaurants, including a slew of constantly changing Covid-19 health standards. Because of this, I pushed the publication of this review back month after month, waiting for things to “go back to normal” before sharing it. Now, five months later, I’ve decided it’s now or never. Our local restaurants need our support now more than ever, and that’s why I am sharing this review.

While some of the content of the review may not apply at the moment (see: dining indoors), what hasn’t changed is Industrial Eats commitment to serve the community incredible food made from locally sourced ingredients. Currently Industrial Eats is offering limited outdoor dining and take out. Visit their website or their Instagram page for current information.

Lauren and Kori in front of Industrial Eats, posing with a cow sculpture. Graffiti of different foods is painted on the wall beside them.
March 10, 2018 – Outside the entrance of Industrial Eats

Industrial Eats Restaurant Review

If you’ve driven any length of the 101 up from Santa Barbara or down from beyond Paso Robles, you’ve seen them. The great overbearing billboards, advertising, “Everything for the traveler!” Anderson’s Split Pea soup, seemingly the only landmark in Buellton putting the small town on the map. And it may have been, until 2014, when a small restaurant opened just down the road from the famous Anderson’s on Industrial Way.

Where an old warehouse once stood, Industrial Eats made its home. Though it may be in its name, the food here is anything but industrial.

The restaurant is located in a small open space, with high ceilings and two wood-fired pizza ovens in the back. The tables are large, with open seating, community-style. Everything about the welcoming atmosphere seems casual, laid-back and open. That may be why the food, which combines fine dining ingredients and techniques stands out so brightly against the overtly casual come-as-you-are vibe that permeates throughout.

Interior picture of Industrial Eats, showing stacks of plates on the counter entrance and a patina skull.
Casual decor

If this is your first time here, and the seats are available, I recommend sitting at the bar seating facing the ovens. On the counter in front of you, you’ll find a diverse array of cookbooks on topics from bread baking to how to use the whole animal, nose to tail. While I find these books fascinating, and admire the confidence required to put such a book on a restaurant table, the real amazing feats are happening at those wood-fired ovens.

Yes those ovens, and the cooks working in their smoke and flames to produce miraculously tasty pizza, and churning out so much more.

One stand out wood-fired dish is the White Shrimp, cooked in the oven with copious amounts of butter, garlic and herbs, finished with a perfectly toasted hunk of crusty bread. The dish seems simple written on paper but the quality of ingredients and finesse with which its assembled proves anything but. This is the Industrial Eats experience codified: what seems straightforward on the menu arrives on the plate an impossibly complex layering of flavors and techniques. These are the dishes that make you say. “That is so good,” out loud, without a thought, as a simple instinctual reaction to the seemingly impossible tastiness on your tongue.

For so long, I struggled to quantify the exact unique quality that embodies every aspect of dining at Industrial Eats. There’s nothing quite like it that I’ve seen anywhere else, so without a comparable counterpart, I struggled to define it. It left me, for lack of a better term, speechless.

Here you will not find abstract names of any dish. The menu items are described and identified solely by their featured ingredients. That’s all you have to base your order on, and here, that’s all you need.

Interior picture of menu hanging on the wall at Industrial Eats.

It’s common to encounter an ingredient that makes you go “What is that?”. And while you’ll feel wholly uncool asking the person behind the counter to describe Vadovan to you, you should. Because if an unidentified ingredient is what holds you back from ordering an intriguing dish, you are missing out.

Take for example, the Smoked Pheasant Salad. Have I ever ate pheasant before Industrial Eats? No. Could I find it again elsewhere? Maybe. But like this, with the freshest local ingredients, a perfectly balanced dish of rich smokiness, bright citrus and crisp greens? No way.

This is food with attitude. Not a bad attitude — a rebellious one. Where traditional fine dining says, “You can’t do that,” Industrial Eats says, “Watch me.”

This is the indescribable trait of the restaurant and it permeates every corner. From the Mall Rats poster in the restroom to the purposeful absence of structure on the menu. It is this quality that abruptly jolts you from your culinary comfort zone and propels you into a dining experience wherein anything is possible.

There is an acute lack of pretentiousness in Industrial Eats, every aspect of the experience solidifying their philosophy to create a restaurant where they would want to eat, where everyone is welcome, no matter your palate or budget. In its inclusively rebellious way, Industrial Eats pioneers the theory that good food should not require an unlimited budget, or a dress code and should always be accompanied by a sense of humor.

Good food is not defined by the starchiness of the table linens or whether or not your server is wearing a tie. Fine dining here is instead about feeding the community exquisite food, sharing the same values held so near and dear to us all on the Central Coast. That food is about bringing people, all people, together at the same table, enjoying local, organic products, feeding not only our palates (starving for culinary adventure) but satisfying our souls.

Recommended Eats

181 Industrial Way
Buellton, CA 93427

(805) 688-8807 | Website: www.industrialeats.com

Online ordering is currently available. We recommend browsing the Clipboards and Small Plates sections of their menu online — this is where you will find the Smoked Pheasant Salad and White Shrimp mentioned in the review.

However, if you are simply looking for a delicious way to feed your family, Industrial Eats also offers Family Meals. Add a Pizza to your Bolognese or Meatball family meal for an extra Industrial experience!

All opinions shared in this review belong to the author, Lauren Harvey. No compensation was received for this review and is solely based on the author’s previous experiences.

Far Western Tavern – Orcutt, CA | Restaurant Review

On the edge of Old Town Orcutt stands Far Western Tavern, housed in a two-story building, illuminated by romantic twinkling lights on the corner of E Clark Avenue and S Pacific Street.

Enter in the high-ceiling double doors to be greeted by a friendly hostess, a dimly lit bar to your immediate right. The atmosphere in here is clear in intent and executed to a single purpose — the trademarks of a classic Steakhouse with a California Ranch twist.

Dinner begins with a quintessential steakhouse starter, a cool veggie tray of pickles and fresh chopped carrots and celery. The dinner menu is small, yet focused. A single page of appetizers, a sprinkling of soup and salad and the main event, 1958 oak-grilled dinner classics.

Given Far Western Tavern’s proximity to the city itself, the influence of Santa-Maria style barbecue is a natural, welcome introduction to the menu selections.

We started with the proscuitto-wrapped jalapenos, stuffed with cream cheese and served with a delectable salsa verde. The jalapeños were pleasantly spicy complemented by the salty prosciutto and the much needed cool creaminess of melted cheese.

Other appetizers on the menu include an equally appealing artichoke dip, or, for the more adventurous, a plate of pan-fried sweetbreads.

Each dinner classic entree begins with Bay Shrimp situated in a small bowl, covered in a house-made cocktail sauce.

Choose from green salad or farmer’s market soup for the second course. The green salad (our choice over the soup) was simple and satisfying, full of fresh baby lettuces, a mild shredding of carrot, cherry tomatoes and croutons with the perfect crunch.

For entrees, we went big. The special Surf and Turf for him, a 6 oz lobster tail atop an 8 ounce sirloin served with a baked potato.

For me, a 10 ounce filet and the grilled polenta.

The entrees are rounded out Santa Maria style, served with a bowl of pinquito beans, salsa and garlic bread.

The steaks were cooked to perfection, both as ordered.

Decadent and buttery, the lobster was equally well-executed. While the baked potato lacked adornment, the grilled polenta provided a wonderful complement to the filet mignon. A crispy charred outside held the creamy, smooth polenta balanced deliciously.

Dessert proved a pleasant surprise, seeing one of our favorites on the menu. Affogatto is an Italian dessert, a shot of espresso served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. To eat, pour the espresso over the ice cream. The sweet cool of the ice cream swirling in the bitter espresso is one of my palate’s favored contrasts.

Far Western Tavern features McConnell’s on their dessert menu, a Santa Barbara based company known for their high quality ice cream. (Check out their new shop in downtown SLO!)

At Far Western Tavern, each dish is well-portioned and despite the potentially overwhelming amount that is served, we left full, but not over-stuffed.

Though perhaps the most notable feature of Far Western Tavern is not the steaks — but the service.

Greeted with a smile upon entry, every employee that passed our table, to fill a water glass or to clear a recently emptied dish, was friendly, accommodating and genuinely seemed happy to serve. Our waitress was quick and even offered creative non-alcoholic substitutes for the liqueur shot typically served with the Affogatto.

While certainly upscale, Far Western Tavern maintains the atmosphere of welcoming hospitality you’d receive in a ranch kitchen, that serves up fresh cuts of meat. Cattle brands adorned the dishware in clear homage to the humble origin of the cuisine and the food itself.

For high quality Santa Maria style barbecue in an intimate, comfortable atmosphere, take the drive out to Orcutt to visit Far Western Tavern. If a lavish weekend brunch, or hearty lunch are more your speed, they offer menus for both as well.

***

Far Western Tavern

300 East Clark Avenue

Orcutt, CA

website

Tuesday – Thursday 11 AM – 10 PM

Friday & Saturday 11 AM – 12 PM

Sunday 10 AM – 9 PM

Hapy Bistro – Pismo Beach, CA | Restaurant Review

Finding a Hapy Home

My search for the perfect Greek cuisine leads me from a Pasadena hole-in-the-wall, through the streets of New York to a wine bar and restaurant in Pismo Beach.

2008: Pasadena, CA

The front of house is about the size of my living room. A thin countertop runs parallel to the order counter, happy customers perched atop each available stool, with hungry patrons standing in line to their backs. Bodies are crammed in one top of another and all the tables are full. The remaining outside tables, situated on a small patio about the same size as the interior, are quickly filling up. The line — full of students, businessmen on lunch break, friends and local families — is rapidly growing out the door. A menu hangs over the order/pickup counter, but there is really only one thing to order…the kebab plate.

The plate is overflowing with different elements that work together to create a flavorful, textural, delightful meal: tangy tzatziki full of garlic; thick hummus nestled under a slab of warm pita bread; a rough-chopped Greek salad bursting with fresh tomatoes, cucumber and generous hunks of salty feta cheese. Rice pilaf spills over the dividers in the styrofoam container. And the juicy, perfectly spiced, brimming with flavor kebabs. The staff here furiously churn out one kebab plate after another, filling orders almost as fast as the line grows.

This is my favorite hole-in-the-wall Greek cafe off the main streets of Pasadena. This place has no front entrance. Enter through the back door, the one that faces the parking lot, not the street, and indulge in this experience.

It is here that I fall in love with this kebab plate, this cuisine, these flavors. It becomes a part of me, connecting with some ancestral thread leading back to my familial roots in the islands of the Mediterranean Sea. This is food that I crave deeply. I move away from Pasadena for college, never to return to this local gem.

2012: New York, NY

I’m living in New York during college, on a student’s budget and, of course, on a student’s schedule. Weekends consist of late night food runs, meandering back to the apartment after a night of exploration. Weekdays bring the desire for something outside of the norm of readily available cafeteria, as comforting to my wallet as to my hungry stomach — and stat! Speed is key in New York City, where everyone moves at a mile a minute.

Food carts are as integral to Manhattan as the horse-drawn carriages that gallivant around Central Park. Here, I find my next love of Greek food – the glorious Gyro sandwich.

Here it is — a perfect, handheld meal that holds, in my mind, as worthy of a rank as a burger or the quintessential New York bodega bacon-egg-and-cheese sandwich. The glorious Gyro sandwich gives me all the best parts of the kebab plate in a portable, cheaper vessel. I don’t want to go to a restaurant for this here. I want the nearest food cart, the one that can make it the fastest, because I know, no matter what, it will always be this good.

After college I flee the harsh winters of the east coast in favor of my homeland, the sunny, perpetually dry land of the California coast.

2018: Pismo Beach, CA

Three and a half years into living in San Luis Obispo County and no glorious Gyro to be found. Surely, someone, somewhere has to open an eatery as a testament to the highlights of Greek cuisine. Where is my Gyro? Who has my kebab? My search continues, fruitless.

I hear of a new wine bar & restaurant that’s opened on Oak Park. It’s called H-A-P-Y. What happened to the second P? I don’t drink wine, and am apprehensive. Ultimately, curiosity grips me. I go.

Perusing the menu, I see lamb, beef, chicken, baklava, hummus and bacon wrapped dates! Could this be it? Could this be the Mediterranean paradise I’ve been missing in my life here on the Central Coast? I flip a page in the menu and see it — the kebab plate. One more — the Gyro. The glorious gyro.

And so I order. I take the chance. Will this be a worthy replica of the street Gyros of yesteryear? Craveable Greek food has yet eluded me here. That is, until I order the Hapy Gyro.

If first one eats with their eyes, I am already satisfied. The pita, impossibly soft and fluffy, yet withstanding the generous helping of lettuce, tomato, tzatziki and meat. I scoop it up and take a bite. Incredible. This tastes as good as the authentic food cart gyro sandwich found in the streets of Manhattan. And somehow, its better.

It’s better because situated in the offset corner of a retail shopping complex, this slice of Greek delight resides. Innumerable bottles of wine line the shelves behind and in front of me. Off to my right, a humidor full of cigars. The ceiling above the bar twinkles with the most creative LED light display mimicking the empty sky at night.

I leave, ecstatic.

Most recently, I had the Beef Kebab plate at Hapy, made with filet mignon. I chose for my sides Greek salad and rice pilaf. Again, simply incredible. The generous portions of beef on each kebab were at once, charred to perfection, kissed with the black lines of the grill, and perfectly tender, moist, easy to eat and completely saturated with spices.

I found the tzatziki pleasantly packed with fresh garlic, and the Greek salad leveled up from its usual three ingredient garb, dressed with capers and fresh baby lettuces.

Hapy proved itself two Greek favorites, the Gyro and the Kebab plate, with class, finesse and creativity. After this, I knew I had found my Hapy home.

+ + + + +

Hapy Bistro features a variety of dishes with Greek influence. We recommend:

  • Ahi Tuna Bruschetta
  • Bacon Wrapped Dates
  • Baklava
  • Kebab Plates
  • Gyro
  • Lamb Burger

You can visit Hapy Bistro:

  • Sunday-Wednesday 11 am – 9 pm
  • Thursday 11 am – 9:30 pm
  • Friday & Saturday 11 am – 10 pm

821 N Oak Park Blvd + Pismo Beach, CA + 93449 + 805.270.4327

https://www.hapybistro.com/

La Bodega – Pismo Beach, CA | Restaurant Review

La Bodega, (meaning The Cellar in Spanish) is a tapas restaurant & wine bar located in downtown Pismo Beach.

On a sunny summer Thursday night, the wait at well-known Giuseppe’s is 45 minutes long. Stroll down the block and across the street to La Bodega, an oft overlooked gem, hiding in plain sight.

La Bodega is fairly new to Price Street in Pismo, celebrating their one year anniversary this past April. The vibrant restaurant is frequented by faithful locals and curious tourists alike. Talented live musicians draw a crowd every Wednesday from 6-9 pm and Sunday from 4-7 pm.

Most recently, we visited on a Thursday around 6:30 pm, and it was relatively quiet, a few tables occupied and no more. Throughout the night, the place filled up as couples and friends alike wandered in for some delicious small bites and cocktails.

La Bodega’s menu changes monthly, highlighting local and seasonal produce. As a local foodie, I greatly support this monthly menu change, as it means I can come back time and time again and try something new!

The plates are small, as tapas should be. The lighter portions are intended to be slowly enjoyed between sips of your favorite wine, cocktail, or house special White Sangria. However, the ratio of each component placed on the dish is simply impeccable.

Take for example, the Layers of Dungeness crab cakes. The cakes stand tall, and are packed to the gills (pun intended) with fresh, flaky crab. They sit atop a bed of fire cracker slaw. There is just enough crab and slaw on the plate to eat together in every bite, and the perfect amount of sweet honey ginger sauce on the plate to drizzle on top. Nothing is leftover, and no bite must go without one component of the dish as a whole. This, my friends, is no small feat. Of course, it is up to you to eat with intention the perfect plate set before you.

The empanadas (your choice of beef or vegetarian) are a constant on the menu, and a classic in Spanish cuisine. As a first time visitor, start there.

Next, you’ll find an array of small protein-driven bites. On the July menu, we tried the Pork Tenderloin Bites, wrapped in Bacon served with a Cherry Port Reduction. With the feel of a five-star entree, sweet halved cherries adorn the juicy pork accompanied by fried polenta and the fresh crunch of green beans. Each bite so balanced it borders on the edge of bliss.

Order a signature flatbread, like July’s “Fig and Pig”, featuring Fresh Black Mission Figs, decadent chunks of prosciutto and a creamy, dreamy, goat cheese spotted bechamel base.

La Bodega is a tapas bar, one of high caliber, and to that end they succeed exceptionally well. A playful, unique menu full of quality ingredients, an extensive drink list and live music to entertain. However, dessert typically falls short of the standard the tapas plates set. It is a high standard indeed.

The tapas of La Bodega are playfully executed and wonderfully balanced with a flair for the experimental. Whether its in a drizzle of honey with a swirl of balsamic vinegar or the perfectly fried basil leaf atop a bed of burrata and warm grilled peach. Each plate is executed with utmost quality, crafted with a calculated consideration for each facet of the palate.

La Bodega has undoubtedly found its place in Pismo Beach — casual enough to stroll in from a day at the beach, comfortable enough to frequent with friends, and intimate enough to visit on date night. The atmosphere is as warm and inviting as the owners themselves, who make it a point to visit each table to ask -genuinely- about the food and your evening. They make you feel welcomed, and individually cared for. It is clear that La Bodega is a product of care and passion for quality. In that, they succeed exceptionally well.

La Bodega + 790 Price St + Pismo Beach + 93449 + 805.595.5400 + labodegapismo.com

Ember Restaurant Review | Arroyo Grande, CA

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.)

Lobster and fried green tomato salad
Lobster and Fried Green Tomato Salad

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.

Burrata prosciutto and peach salad
Burrata, Prosciutto. and Peach Salad

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.

Wood fired oven scallops
Wood-Fired Oven Scallops

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!”

Cauliflower steak with pine nut chili stuffing
Cauliflower Steak with Pine Nut Chili Stuffing

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.

Oink peppercorn meringue, strawberries, shortcake and balsamic pearls
pink peppercorn meringue, strawberries, shortcake, balsamic pearls

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.

Coffee. Trifle
Coffee Trifle

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.

Kori and I at ember

Wednesday, Thursday, & Sunday 4:00pm-9:00pm

Friday & Saturday 4:00pm-10:00pm

La Locanda Restaurant Review | San Luis Obispo, CA

all images via lalocandaslo.com

Off a quiet side street in downtown San Luis, La Locanda provides a quaint and relaxed dining experience.

The restaurant is small and leaves you feeling you’ve had an incredible meal at a close friend’s house.

We visited on May 12 (Mother’s Day) as a family outing. The pizza oven was in need of repairs and was inoperable for the night. Initially we were disappointed (we love pizza!) but as we browsed the menu and heard the multiplicity of nightly specials, all was soon forgiven.

To start: the burrata caprese, beef carpaccio and escargot. The burrata cheese was extra creamy with a hint of tang. Peppery arugula and sharp Parmesan cheese served as the classic complement to beef carpaccio. On a personal note, I do not eat escargot, however, those in my party who did highly recommend it!

Dinner was a mix of classic Italian pasta (Lasagne, Gnocchi and Cacio e Pepe) and French-influenced entrees (Duck L’Orange, Rack of Lamb with mustard sauce and Baked Salmon).

The pasta at La Locanda is fresh and handmade. You can truly taste the difference! Cacio e Pepe is a simple dish, and when done right like at La Locanda, simply irresistible. Sharp pepper, smooth cheese and fresh al dente tagliatelle. A delight!

The gnocchi is served in your choice of sauce, in this case a Gorgonzola cream. The pillows of gnocchi were impossibly fluffy. Lasagne is served with a whipped bechemel and bolognese sauce adding a layer of depth and richness. I recommend an order to share for the table, just to try it.

The special entrees were well-executed and equally delicious. For a first time visit, I highly recommend the pasta dishes.

Dessert was, like dinner, a mix of Italian and French influence. The chocolate mousse towered above all else, soft and rich.

For something out-of-the-box, try the poached pears for dessert.

We are looking forward to going back to La Locanda to try the rest of the menu — and a pizza or two!

La Locanda + 1137 Garden Street + San Luis Obispo, CA + 93401 + 805.548.1750 + http://www.lalocandaslo.com

Flour House Restaurant Review | San Luis Obispo, CA

Authentic Italian with a Coastal Vibe.

Flour House is unassuming — it’s name and décor is simplistic, sleek and modern. A stark contrast to the food, which is, as a whole, vehemently steeped in Italian tradition, executed with compassion, care and obvious knowledge of the cuisine.

This place does not look like your run-of-the-mill ‘upscale’ Italian eatery, because, simply put, it’s not.

There is a bar complete with sports TV, where you may sit and enjoy a cocktail, and a fair-sized floor for table seating as well as a heated back patio. I recommend eating inside, primarily because of the two glass-paneled sections where you can watch the creation of pizza and the fabrication of pasta, respectively.

Yes, you can literally watch your pasta being made, pressed and carefully cut all before you eat it. Pizza making on display is not uncommon — but the making of pasta is a different story. The fact that Flour House takes the time to handcraft their pasta is something they should, rightfully, be proud of.

I recommend ordering like you really should at any Italian eatery — family style. Share everything, that way you can try more.

For four people, we ordered the Pane al Forno (pizza bread, basically), Arancini to share and the Carpaccio di Bresaola salad for starters. The Arancini was crispy on the outside and luxuriously cheesy inside, just as expected.

The Carpaccio di Bresaola salad was a highlight. Thin slices of Bresaola (wine-cured beef) topped with arugula, tomatoes, Parmesan and a light lemon pesto dressing. Refreshing, salty and absolutely delicious!

a meter of pizza at flour house slo
A meter long pizza, one of their specialties. Try different toppings on each section of pizza!

For Napoletana pizza, we ordered two: the Americana and the Capricoisa. Both were great, though I favored the Americana, with sopressata and basil. The pizza selection is generous, and there is something to satisfy everyone’s appetite.

A note on Flour House’s pizza: as the menu explicitly states, it is in the style of Naples pizza. That means fired in a 1,000 degree oven. The fresh mozzarella — a prerequisite of any pizza on the menu, clearly sitting at the edge of the pizza prep table, slowly draining in a giant colander — is left melty and moist, so the bottom of the pizza is not firm. It may not be what you are expecting, or used to, but it is how traditional Naples pizza is made. And in Naples, they are dead serious about pizza.

On to the pasta. You can try whatever you fancy at Flour House, but please, you must order the Paccheri. Handmade pasta stuffed with crispy cured meats (mortadella), a decadent cream sauce and topped with pistachio crumble. It is possible one of the best pasta dishes I’ve had — ever. Yes, I’d rank it next to the handmade gnocchi I ate in a back alley of Florence, Italy. It was that good.

In general, the pasta dishes at Flour House have a creative edge. Not your standard meatballs and marinara, Flour House balances Italian tradition with culinary creativity.

meatballs at flour house slo

But wait, dessert! The tiramisu was moist, with a perfect balance of espresso bitterness and sugary sweetness. The Millefoglie with pistachio and Chantilly cream was equally delightful.

millefoillege at flour house slo

Overall, Flour House was a worthy experience. The waitstaff was friendly and cheerful and the experience of watching our food made by hand was at the same time fascinating and familial.

One last note: order a Chinotto (Italian Coke). It’s a San Pellegrino beverage with hints of orange and anise. Palate cleansing and complimentary to the heavy cheese-laden Italian dishes, it’s as unique as the experience Flour House offers: classic Italian cuisine, prepared with respect for antiquity and just a dash of modern experimentation.


690 Higuera Street
San Luis Obispo, CA, CA 93401

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