Paso Robles, California: We woke to beautiful clear skies and it wasn't even 80 degrees. Such a shock coming from La Quinta where it doesn't even get down to 80 overnight lately. As early as we could muster ourselves, we hit the streets to cover as many miles as possible (for us) in an hour. Less than four, but we didn't walk that fast, as there was too much to see. The areas adjacent to downtown Paso Robles hold interesting old neighborhoods, with quaint historical homes. A few pristine Victorians, next to a few "need to be flipped" Victorians, next to a cute Craftsman, a few Spanish-inspired adobe houses, and then a random Salt Box house. A few were obvious Airbnb rentals (flipped and super cute), and an abundance of ADU's and rear garages turned into apartments/rentals. Quite the mix... and many of the old homes are no longer homes, but attorney offices, dental clinics.
We had a reservation for an early lunch at Niner Vineyards, just outside of town. Known as one of the best restaurants in the area, it was impossible to book a table for dinner (even weeks ago), so we opted for the next-best thing: lunch. Lunch is often the very best thing. Same menu as dinner, but smaller portions and smaller prices. If the restaurant is not buzzing, it is often possible to quiz your server and learn a lot about the menu, ingredients, the chef, and the vineyard. Because we arrived at 11:30a, we were best friends with Matt before he needed to attend to other tables. We dined on the outdoor patio, and the tables were very well spaced.
This huge and gorgeous bar greets visitors to the Niner Vineyard tasting rooms and restaurant.
From our table, we had a great vista to the heart-shaped grove of trees on the hillside. Once known as Valentine Hill, this grove is famous in the local area. It is now called the Heart Hill vineyard - one of three vineyards under the Niner family realm.
We did not do a tasting, just dined from the menu and enjoyed a light white wine with our choices.
We shared this gorgeous salad with burrata, grilled stone fruit, berries, summer beets, shallot jam vinaigrette and basil. The black flecks on the cheese are - get this! - dried and crumbled black olives. Even though the menu clearly stated "grilled" stone fruits, I was surprised to find the peaches warm. How fun. Much of the produce is grown on-site in the chef's garden (which is visible from the patio). We also tried their prize-winning sourdough focaccia bread and found it to be outstanding - served with their estate-bottled olive oil.
Dave ordered the pasta with Dungeness crab. He ate every bite. Dave's bride had the fried chicken thigh (pictured below). The thigh was skinless and bone-free, and was resting on a bed of fennel slaw. I also cleaned my plate. All the foods were oddly served in Asian stainless steel bento stacking dishes with snap-on lids, apparently due to the chef living in SE Asia for years? I say oddly, because the foods were not Asian. Though we too lived in SE Asia for years, we were confused if we were to eat from the containers or transfer the foods to small appetizer-sized plates offered... probably because every food we have eaten from steel tins needed chopsticks. I transferred my chicken (only because it was impossible to get in there with a knife/fork); DT ate from the tin.
Obviously: we are not hipsters.
No room for dessert. We returned to our hotel room for a nap.
After napping and blog updating, we again walked around the square (no shopping!) to prepare our bellies for yet another epic dining experience. (Happily, this trip will be less than ten days!) We had dinner reservations at Buona Tavola (right around the corner from our hotel and suggested by the lovely Olivia at the hotel concierge) and we were so surprised that this little place was the real Italian deal. Very well staffed (a pandemic problem) and everything we ordered was just wonderful. Again, vaccinated servers were not wearing masks, so I was a bit (okay, a very very bit) freaked out. At least we were outside and there was a very good gusty wind. Does alcohol kill germs?
This restaurant makes an olive tapanade in-house and serves it gratis to every table. The first thing I tasted in the tapanade was lemon, then herbs, then finally the salty olives. What a wonderful treat. I wish we were in our motorcoach (with a fridge) so we could have bought several jars of this tapanade (they recommend it be refrigerated). (Insert sad face here.)
I chose two of the specials for my meal tonight. They offered an asparagus soup (chicken stock) that sounded good - and it was:
For my main course, I chose another special - only because I can't ever remember having lamb scaloppini. Ever. Little filets of lamb, pounded down, and sautéed with wilted greens, roasted butternut squash and Yukon Gold potatoes. I only finished a bit, but what a lovely bit I enjoyed. I am going to do research to figure out how to scaloppini lamb (and which part of lamb one can scaloppini) to recreate this marvel.
My Driver, on a serious quest to make up for all the shellfish he cannot eat at home (and let's face it, he has eaten basically every meal at home since March 2020), continued his shellfish quest (don't forget his lunch!) with a crazy wonderful salad with grilled shrimp.
Though not seen in this photo - there were a good dozen shrimp in his salad.
I wish we had found Buona Tavola five years ago when we were visiting Paso Robles.
Until my next update, I remain, your well-fed correspondent.