Chefs can be compared to famous authors, while the house they cook in becomes the novel. Some chefs create masterpiece after masterpiece, and instantly become best sellers. We are lucky enough to have some pretty spectacular creators here, but a chef-d’oeuvre has been born in Brian Collins and his new culinary chateau called Ember. This restaurant is a best selling blockbuster from the first day.
Ember opened their doors the first time to the public on February 5, 2014 and I was a willing participant in their opening night. The space has been transformed into a warm, wood filled ambience with an open kitchen (we can see and hear the chefs creating) and an inviting bar. The entire crew worked at an efficient and joyful pace, it was as if they all had been doing this together for years.
To toast the return to Five Cities of Chef Collins, who I have always been a huge fan, we ordered a bottle of 2010 Justin Isosceles. Gary started by ordering two desserts, as he was excited about their new pastry chef (Matt). His first was a Kiwi-Coconut Napoleon with vanilla bean custard served in a parfait glass. He loved the diced fruit swirled with a coconut cream and the chewy crumbles of top. His next was a Lemon-Raspberry Tart, with meringue bites scattered on the dish and lemon cream stuffed fresh raspberries. This is slated to be my favorite, as I snuck a bite. Gary was in pastry ecstasy.
I started with a Prosciutto Wrapped Artichoke that was lying on a bed of wild arugula with burrata mozzarella and Calabrian pepper salsa verde. After just one bite, I ordered another as the prosciutto clung to the artichoke heart like a glove and enhanced both of these savory favorites of mine. To say this was the best thing I have ever put in my mouth is an understatement. My next gastronomic enchantment was the Cayucos Abalone made with crispy pork belly, house pickled ginger resting on a fanned out bed of avocado and a Meyer lemon hollandaise sauce. This dish was a religious experience. Perfection on every flavor front and unique in its pairing.
Our waitress Lauren was a delight and marveled at the amount of food and wine we enjoyed, while she attentive and anticipatory. Next we tried the Ricotta Gnocchi, a recipe when done right can bring the angels out to sing, and this one was. Resting on a bed of wilted Bloomsdale spinach, the top was crispy with an artichoke fritti and the brown butter sauce enhanced this comfort food pleasure. As the woodstove is the centerpiece of this stunning restaurant, we tried a Six Cheese pizza. More like a flat bread, this amazing amalgamation of flavors included La Quercia pancetta, butternut squash, apples, oregonzola and caramelized onions all diced so it dispersed evenly around the pie, making each bite remarkable.
We returned the next night with friends (as I plan to do often) and Gary began with the Almond Orange Cake with candied Amarena cherries, toasted pistachios and a honey gelato. The cake was cut into bite-sized pieces with a sweet, moist constitution. We started with the Ahi Crudo that had thin slices of raw tuna with a sprinkling of charred jalapeno, fried garlic and a citronette sauce that was both hot and cold. The sliced avocado and cucumbers brought the heat down, and made this an impeccable way to start a meal. We also had the Crispy Pork Belly that included a huge semi circle of delicate meat with a smattering of Rogue Creamery blue cheese, garlic chips and Rutiz Farms sprouting broccoli all in a buttermilk aioli. Our friends were now sure that all my waxing poetically about this amazing chef had not been hyperbole.
The special was Braised Short Ribs that were smoked and slowly cooked in the wood stove until the flavorful meat fell off the bone. It was served with house hand cut pasta, roasted cauliflower and brocclini and was beyond perfection. I had the fish of the day, a Steelhead trout that was cooked on the grill with capers and a lemon sauce, and was a taste sensation. We shared a Wild Mushroom pizza with three kinds of chef foraged mushrooms, wild nettles, smoked leeks and a farm egg in the middle. I am running out of yummy adjectives here, so I will say we fought over every bite. This flatbread was perfectly portioned, created and cooked.
We finished the meal with the Chocolate-Hazelnut Terrine with salted caramel ice cream. This fantastic dessert had texture, flavor and panache. Bottom line- I would like to take back every time in the last 10 years I have reported “the best meal ever”- as I was wrong. Ember has a soul, with so much care and love going into each diner’s experience it is palatable. The prices are beyond reasonable for such perfectly created cuisine. Do yourself a favor; come try this novel approach to a restaurant, good honest food cooked correctly.
Ember is located at 1200 East Grand Avenue in Arroyo Grande. They have an original bar with a wide selection of beer and wines. Open Wednesday through Thursday and Sunday from 4:00 pm to 9:00 pm and Friday and Saturday from 4:00 pm to 10:00 pm.