Tuesday, December 23, 2014

SLO and Santa Barbara

Depart: Tuesday, December 23, 2014
Return: Monday, December 29, 2014
Itinerary: Paradise-Paso Robles-SLO-Santa Barbara-Paso Robles-Paradise


Day 1 (12/23 - Sycamore Mineral Springs)

Drove from Paradise to Paso Robles.

Paso Robles
Arrived for lunch about 1:30. Ate at Panolivo. Tony had the Seafood Croustade ("shrimp, scallops, baby clams, calamari in a creamy mushroom white wine sauce, served in a house made puff pastry with french green beans). It was excellent - one of the best things on the trip. Jhan had a tomato basil soup and crab cake salad. Crab cakes weren't crispy.

We walked around a bit and stopped at We Olive and picked up a few things. Also went to the former cheese shop near Hotel Cheval (now the Haymarket) and bought some fancy chocolate-covered almonds.

Drove from Paso Robles to SLO and then took a detour through the south part of town to visit wineries.

Edna Valley
First stop Baileyana. Was fairly warm outside, but getting late. Liked some of the whites, but didn't stay long.

Edna Valley Vineyards was next. Not too impressed with the wines, but got a few bottles. Jhan bought some grapeseed oil. Strong aroma of cilantro being harvested across the road.

View from Edna Valley Vineyards
Running out of time, we headed to Tolosa Vineyards. Beautiful tasting room, with clean tasting wines. A positive new discovery. Unoaked Chard and pinot were excellent. We left as sun was setting.

Tolosa Vineyards
Sycamore Mineral Springs
We drove from Tolosa to Sycamore Mineral Springs to stay for two nights. Took their golf cart over bridge to our room, which was great considering all the luggage and wine we had just from one day. A very nice cheese plate and bottles of Tolosa Chardonnay and Pinot were waiting for us in our room.

Our room was a very nice suite, complete with both refrigerator and wine fridge, fireplace, double shower and hot springs tub on the patio.





We ate dinner at hotel restaurant, Gardens of Avila. Tony had the mushroom cappuccino soup, which was OK, except for the crema. Jhan had gnocchi with jalapenos, which was less than successful. Jhan and Tony split the quail entree. We had a delicious grenache from Baker and Brain. Unfortunately, we left the bottle behind and the staff finished it.

We went back to room and soaked in the tub.

Day 2 (12/24 - Sycamore Mineral Springs)

Ate leftover cheeses and crackers for breakfast, and then drove into SLO and spent the morning walking around. Visited Formagerie Sophie and decided to pick up cheeses later in the day, after lunch. Walked way out of downtown looking for Middle Eastern food, decided that the Oasis - in downtown - was the best place. Walked back, and had a delicious lunch. Jhan ordered Bastilla (chicken puff pastries with cinnamon). OK, but not great. Tony ordered baba ganoush, which was different and excellent. We shared the lamb special for lunch, which was absolutely fantastic.


It had become cool and overcast, and even a bit drizzly as we went across the street to Central Coast Wines. Jhan bought some cooler wine glasses on our first visit and Tony bought a bottle of the Baker and Brain grenache on the second visit. 

We went to the drug store and picked up some ice and then went back to Fromagerie Sophie to pick up our cheese. Where the store had been empty on our first visit, it was absolutely packed on this visit with a long line of people packed into the tiny shop buying cheese! We got some fromager triple cream with truffles, a Leicester, aged gouda and some racclette. 

From there we attempted to go wine tasting, but everyone was closing early, and we only made it to Clairborne and Churchill. The wines there were surprisingly good. We sat in the parking lot and watched Jen visit Tabby for the first time.

We drove around for a while, but everyone was closed, so we headed back to SLO. We ended up trying to find flip flops late on Christmas eve. Target had none, but we found some in Dicks Sporting Goods. Drove to the mall where Tony used to work, but it had changed too much to find where he used to work.

We had dinner at Gardens of Avila again. We both had the braised short ribs, which were amazing. Jhan ate half, but Tony forced himself to finish them. Excellent service from Michael. Tony had a Glenfiddich after dinner.

Soaked in tub.

Day 3 (12/25 - Harbor View Inn)

Ate snacky breakfast again and decided to climb hill behind the hotel for the view of the ocean. Turned out to be more of a hike than Jhan planned for, but we ultimately made it to the top to an amazing view.





Went back down and checked out. Decided to have lunch somewhere on the coast and found a very nice park in Avila Beach. It was windy and cool, but we finished off our bottle of white wine and ate a wonderful snacky lunch while the seagulls watched.

Then drove down to Pismo Beach and walked out onto the pier, and watched the surfers in the high surf and winds.


From there we drove to Santa Barbara, straight to the hotel (with a slight detour to a different section of State St.).

Initially, Tony was disappointed that they put us in the new part of the hotel, but once we got to the room, we both were amazed. Room 340 had two balconies, looking out over the Santa Barbara beach. Easily the nicest and largest room in the hotel.


There was a bottle of champagne waiting for us with a note congratulating us on our anniversary. We took a walk out onto Stearns Wharf and then came back and sat on the balcony drinking our champagne as the dusk settled.


We walked downtown to eat at the Wine Cask restaurant. The night was cold, and we were seated in their courtyard, but the heaters kept us warm enough. Tony had the lamb chops, which were very good, and Jhan had the salmon. For dessert Tony had a bread pudding and Jhan had an Apple Cobbler. Tony had an Auchentoshan Scotch. Because we ordered an expensive (and amazing) bottle of Qupe Bien Nacido Syrah, the sommelier gave us special attention. 

Jhan fell asleep when we got back to the room, but Tony stood out on the balcony and had some more of the champagne while he watched the world go by.



Day 4 (12/26 Harbor View Inn)

Tony woke early to watch the sunrise over the ocean. 


We ate a snacky breakfast in our room, and then headed out to the downtown mall. We were both a bit disappointed, but Jhan visited the Aveda store and Macy's to spend Tabby's Christmas present. 

After the mall we headed back to the hotel and stopped at the Himalayan Kitchen for lunch. Unfortunately, we had the buffet instead of ordering off the menu, but it was still good. 

After going back to the hotel, we decided to hit the wineries in the Funk Zone. Our first stop was Mountain Air Sports, directly across the street from the hotel, so that Tony could buy a new fleece vest. Then we walked over to  Corks n' Crowns, where we tasted several pinots. We liked the Ellipse and Thorne. Next door was Kunin Wines, where we were very impressed with the syrahs. 


We took our wines back to our room and then headed out again, first to the AVA Project (also run by Kunin). We had a number of nice wines in the relaxed tasting room with the fascinating chalk mural.


Across the way was Pali Wines, which was absolutely packed, but we were less than impressed.

That night, which might have been the coldest, we had dinner at Toma Restaurant. Tony had the Diver Scallops, which were amazing. Jhan had Prawns in Angel Hair pasta. The prawns were huge and excellent. Jhan didn't eat most of the pasta. Our server recommended a wonderful white Weisburgunder to go with the meal. For dessert we had the Phyllo ‘Crisp’ ("Local Strawberries, Strawberry Mousse, Pistachio Pastry, Vanilla Bean Cream, Berry Sauce"), which was good except for the strawberry mousse.

Day 5 (12/27 - Harbor View Inn)

Jhan woke early to watch the sunrise and then we enjoyed our anniversary morning. We ate a breakfast at the hotel restaurant (meh), and then walked on the beach.


We came back and Jhan had a short nap.


Our room was pretty amazing. The bedroom had it's own balcony overlooking State St., as well as a gas fireplace.

There was also a living room with it's own balcony as well as a very large bathroom, with a tub that Tony used several times.





In the afternoon we drove downtown and parked by Wine Cask. We ended up having lunch at Blush, which wasn't impressive. Tony had a clam chowder and Jhan had a large salad.

From there we walked back toward Wine Cask and passed a tiny new shop call Still, with accessories for mixologists. We picked up some tonic water for Jhan. Then we went to Au Bon Climat and tasted a number of amazing pinots. From there we went to Margerum and Happy Canyon Vineyards, neither of which we were at all impressed with. On the recommendation of Kunin, we got in the car and drove out of downtown to visit Jaffurs. Although they were far from other wineries in a rather 'transitional' part of town, they had some excellent wines, particularly the syrahs.

We had dinner at Seagrass. Although we were initially skeptical of the choices of favor combinations on the menu, we ended up loving the meal. Tony had the Antelope, which was tender and mild; more like beef in flavor and like lamb in texture. Not dry or gamy like venison can be. Jhan had the Arctic Char, which was excellent. We had a cheese plate for dessert, which included an epoisse, a boschetta and another cheese. All were amazing. Tony had a Graham's 30 year Tawny port.

Day 6 (12/28 - Paso Robles Inn)

On our last morning in Santa Barbara, we ate a snacky breakfast and then walked toward the marina. It was a beautiful day, and a bit warmer than the previous days.



Our hotel is the building on the left with the red roof.
We walked out past the boats to the end of the breakwater, and then back via the beach.

We drove from Santa Barbara to Los Olivos. By the time we got there we were both starving, so we parked and headed straight for the Wine Merchant.


Jhan had an excellent ahi burger, and Tony devoured a delicious cubano sandwich. Somehow, we avoided buying wines there and headed over to Qupe. One thing we both noticed was that the number of wineries in town seemed have doubled since our last visit. The guy at Qupe said there were now 36 wineries open on a daily basis in town.

Qupe had a number of amazing syrahs and other Rhones, and we really enjoyed tasting there. From there we went to Stolpman, which wasn't all that impressive. The guy at Qupe recommended that we try Barbieri, so we wandered around until we found it. Paulo Barbieri and his young wife Erin Kempe run a brand new tasting room in Los Olivos. She has her own label and he has his. Her wines were very different, and somewhat mystifying, but Paulo's syrahs were nothing short of amazing. He was fascinating to talk with, and we ended up spending over an hour there.

Though Paulo recommended that we visit both Samsara and Dragonette, we had run out of time, and had to head to Paso Robles.

We ended up in the "Pittsburgh Pirates Suite" at the Paso Robles Inn, so named because the Pirates used the hotel and springs for Spring Training back in the 1920's.


The room was large but we were there such a short time that we never got to really enjoy it. We used our private hot tub twice, and enjoyed the sulfury waters.

We had dinner at Il Cortile, which was probably the best overall restaurant we ate at the whole trip. Jhan had the Tortellini Parma Cotto ("tortellini filled with imported parma cotto prosciutto in a creamy truffle sauce"), which was amazing. Tony had the Ravioli di Aragosta ("ravioli with lobster in a pecorino romano sauce"), which he didn't like as much. We ended up sharing dishes. For dessert, we had the beef carpaccio with white truffles ($50!). It was good, but too creamy for Jhan. We went down the street to Artisan where Tony had a Scotch flight (Bruichladdich, Highland Park 15, Glenrothes '98).


Day 7 (12/29 - Home)

Got up early, had breakfast at the hotel restaurant at 7 AM (first people there), gassed the car and headed out. Frost everywhere. Got home around 1:30.

In the end, our wine "haul" was 47 bottles; 14 syrahs, 13 pinot noirs, 5 other reds, and 15 whites. For me, the best wine was the 2009 Qupe Bien Nacido syrah, followed by a couple of the Au Bon Climat pinots.


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