It is time for reflection and to access the value we left on the world this year. I had a fantastic year that I was elated to share with you. New eateries dazzled me and old favorites came back to my view. Here are my top ten picks for best restaurants this year:
10. Atari-Ya – I reassessed the first sushi bar I found when I moved here in the 1990’s and was pleased that Atari-Ya still offered the freshest fish, traditional sushi and owned by Keiko Hongo. Sit at the sushi bar and asked what is fresh, they are honest and have the best Albacore anywhere. I like everything, but especially the Temaki sushi of spicy scallops with topiko, radish sprouts and Sriracha mix. Nigiris of Yellow Tail, Salmon, and Tuna, and Snapper are followed by Tamago as Atari-Ya is one of the only Sushi bars that make its own Tamago (egg cake). It is all outstanding, don’t let the neighborhood scare you, magic is waiting behind those doors. Located at 1551 Stowell Center Plaza in Santa Maria, (805) 922-0025.
9. Fig Good Food– Food should serve the soul as well as the body. When a culinary master creates an establishment with the one goal of providing the best nutrition and taste, we are blessed in flavors. Fig good food is such a haven. Run by Chris Dillow, part of the gastronomic royalty of our area. Fig offers the best of a Mediterranean style diet with roasted meats, house made pasta, chutneys, salads and sandwiches that are large in flavor while served in a tiny efficient galley. Fig is small inside with only 14 seats, so take out is their specialty. Fig Good food is at 5945 Traffic Way, Atascadero, (805) 460-9900.
8. Fish Gaucho – This distinct eatery in Paso Robles has captured my Mexican food loving palate. Executive Chef Chris Beckett whose jacket reads “El Jefe”, is a gentle giant who recognizes his stellar staff and wonderful heritage coming together to make Fish Gaucho successful. This restaurant and Tequila Bar offers fresh, healthy twist to traditional Mexican food, with an authentic atmosphere, Latin inspired music and a tequila selection made up of the finest tequilas. Located at 1244 Park Street, Paso Robles, (805) 239-3333.
7. Sea Venture – While the bar boasts the most stunning sunset viewing and a full menu and to enjoy at the bar, the restaurant has at its helm one of the best and brightest chefs in the area, Casey Walcott. Casey changes the menu with the seasons, but my favorite dish is the delectable Lobster Vol-en-Vent. This amazing multi layered tartlet is swollen with sautéed lobster, shrimp, grilled asparagus and cubes of fingerling potatoes, it sits upon a cloud of lobster cream sauce. Every bite is perfect a harmonious experience. Located at 100 Ocean View Avenue in Pismo Beach, (805) 773-4994.
6. Oki Momo – There is a preconception that food that is good for you lacks flavor. That is rarely true. In the hands of a masterful chef, even the healthiest meal can become a symphony of flavor and texture. I pleased we have nourishing cuisine at Oki Momo Asian Grill. The menu includes dishes with Korean, Chinese, Japanese, Thai and Vietnamese influences. Every offering is delightful, but my beloved is Pho, an enchanted street food from Vietnam. It is comfort in a bowl. It sustains and cheers you. I travel to San Francisco for a bowl of this delight, but now (for the first time) it is done correctly in San Luis Obispo. My other favorites there are Korean BBQ chicken wings and the Thai Chopped Salad. Find them at 2256 Broad Street, Suite 120 in San Luis Obispo, (805) 439-4198.
5. Kuma – Kuma Sushi Rolls and Bowls is headed by two of the best sushi chefs that turn fish into a work of art. Sushi Chef’s Hidehiko Nogi and Jeff (Razor) Fujiwara have created a menu that is my culinary utopia. From the Tuna Poke with raw tuna served with a mango salsa with a bit of cayenne and macadamia nuts. To the Kuma Omakase with scallops, salmon roe, fresh local halibut and tobiko. As tasty as beautiful with the lemon carved into a swan and the celery whittled into a bonsai tree. The bowls of noodles are prepared in house daily. Add all the extras, garlic chip, shoyu egg, nori, sweet corn and spicy kimchi to receive the full ramen sensation. But the most unusual and favorite item is the Loco Moco, a Hawaiian influenced dish with white rice, resting under 2 slices of Spam, savory gravy, sliced pineapple and a poached egg. Kuma is located at 2011 10th Street in Los Osos, (805) 528-6767.
4. Rosa’s – Consistency, romance, culinary delights and perfect service. It is always so good to go home to Rosa’s. This is the one restaurant I frequent more than any for all occasions. A business lunch to celebratory meals, Chef and Owner Doug MacMillian is perfection in putting together an impeccable staff, menu and atmosphere. My favorite is the Tuna Capriccio with a thin layer of smoked Ahi tune covered with arugula leaves, onions and capers. They are famous for their Cioppino, Ossobuco and Steaks. If you need to satisfy many, Rosa’s is a sure bet every time. Located at 491 Price Street in Pismo Beach, (805) 773-0551.
3. Ember – They have established themselves as the best of the best in national, regional and local press. They continue to be the first restaurant that locals recommend, and they deserve every accolade. The love and devotion that goes into preparation is stupendous, the heart of each employee is felt in this flawless dinning experience. Brian Collins is the heart of this gastronomic enchantment and a wonderful host.
The menu changes monthly on the first, but some of my favorites is the Prosciutto Wrapped Artichoke that stuffed with burrata mozzarella, the Cayucos Abalone made with crispy pork belly, and The Rib Eye Steak. I usually order as many appetizers as we have quests so we can try everything. Gary always has all the desserts. Ember is located at 1200 East Grand Avenue in Arroyo Grande, (805) 474-7700.
2. Mistura – The ah-ha moment of an idea, the touch of a loved one, the taste of a new food that opens your senses, these are the fabric of a life well lived. Chef Nicola Allegretta is one of those rare artists, and his new offering, Mistura, a Peruvian restaurant is his best canvas to date. I love everything, but my favorite is Habla Causita, a Trio of Causas that is a distinctly Peruvian dish. Seasoned whipped cold potatoes crowned with wild shrimp, king crab and Ahi tuna tartare. My other love is Anticuchos de Carretilla, grilled natural beef heart marinated with aji panca. The Alpaca Carpaccio is so good, I nearly fainted with joy. Thinly sliced served with an aji amarillo, sliced heirloom cherry tomatoes, avocado with a swirl of aji verde. They have a “fajita’s” type dish and empanada’s for the less adventurous, but everything is superb. Mistura is located at 700 Clubhouse Drive in Paso Robles, (805) 238-3333.
1. The Spoon Trade – Rarely has a new restaurant so captured this writer’s soul like this one. It is a special place and I find myself dining here once a week. I can say I have successfully eaten every item on the menu and each one superior to the next.
Coming home after years in the big city dining game is a gift that Brooke and Jason Town has bestowed on us in the venue of The Spoon Trader. With their partner Patrick Bergseid, they have built a culinary oasis.
Comfort food is our first pleasure, representing the memory and flavors of our youth. When we revisit the sensory effect it is more than taste buds and fullness, it’s literally a remembrance of grandma, our childhood, and our life. This is a restaurant with a palette and imagination to combine comfort and haute cuisine. Favorites are Chicken and Waffles, the TriTip Tartare, Pepper Crusted New York Steak and everything on the menu. Find them at 295 Grand Avenue in Grover Beach, (805) 904-6773.