Il Cortile Ristorante – Paso Robles

Central Coast, Food Adventures

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On our recent trip to Central Coast Wine Country, we were overwhelmed by our dining options in downtown Paso Robles. After all, where there’s good wine, there’s good food, right? But in our search for dinner plans, Il Cortile stood out with its homemade pastas, stunning dishes, and (because first impressions matter) clean and modern website.

Upon our arrival, we were pleased to find that our first impressions were just the beginning of a wonderful experience. It was a warm summer evening so we elected to dine al fresco on the inviting semi-enclosed patio. Our server Andrew was friendly, and somewhere along the way, we learned that a surprising number of Paso residents (including himself and the Chef Santos MacDonal) are LA transplants!

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Even after having partaken in an entire afternoon of wine tasting, we could not resist yet another opportunity to sample the Central Coast, so I had the Rose flight while Martin chose the Italian flight to start our meal.

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We love grilled octopus so despite other tempting offerings such as mozzarella di bufalo, coppa con burrata, and carpaccio di anatra (duck), we went with our first instinct: grilled octopus with fresh vegetables marinati in a spicy vinaigrette. The octopus was charred to perfection and oh so tender. It was served over a hearty bed of cannelini beans and tomato, reminding us that we are indeed in an Italian ristorante.

We mentioned wanting to try two different entrees and sharing so that we could sample two of their famed dishes. But without any indication or request, our server went ahead and asked the kitchen to split the plates so that we could each have our own portions, beautifully plated. So thoughtful!

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Following our antipasti was our primi of pappardelle al aragosta – squid ink pasta with a lobster ragu finished with salmon roe. Remember when we said we love grilled octopus? Well we LOVE squid ink pasta. Guaranteed, at least one of us will order it given the option. The lobster ragu was rich and packed with generous bits of lobster meat, while the roe (which I believe was actually tobiko, or flying fish roe, as it was much smaller than the distinct size of ikura) added a welcomed touch of saltiness. The pasta itself, made in-house, had the distinct texture that only fresh pasta has, and it was cooked just until al dente. Absolute perfection, we enjoyed every bite of this. (Editor’s Note: I noticed this dish is no longer listed on the current menu on the website and has been replaced with a lobster ravioli dish instead.)

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Our secondi was a very special dish, one that everyone will tell you to order if you come here but never seems to make a permanent appearance on the menu: osso buco – overnight-braised pork shank with parmesan risotto. It was customary to serve me easier-to-daintily-eat slices and chunks of braised meat while the gentleman got the rest of the bone-in shank in all its glory. What they didn’t know was that this lady has a strong stomach and ended up devouring some of her date’s portion as well, it was just so good! Quick research on the history of osso buco tells me that this was a more “modern” preparation with its tomatoes and mirepoix, but modern or traditional, it was an impressive dish that felt decadent and yet comforting at the same time. Don’t miss it!

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For dessert, Martin was in the mood for something less sweet and made a special request for an affogato – hot espresso poured table-side over vanilla ice cream. I opted for the vanilla panna cotta which was garnished with fresh strawberries and a berry coulis. I loved being able to actually see the flecks of vanilla bean, and the flavor was delicate. Delicious!

From beginning to end, we had an amazing experience. Be sure to include Il Cortile in your next Central Coast adventure!

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Check out Il Cortile – ilcortileristorante.com

608 12th St
Paso Robles, CA 93446

See their Yelp reviews here!

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Hoover’s Beef Palace – Templeton, CA

Central Coast, Food Adventures

Our trip to the Central Coast was wrought with visits to awesome places with hilariously awesome names. After our dinner at Crazy Sushi Fever in Atascadero, we woke up the next morning ready to continue our Central Coast adventure. First, we needed some fuel to start our day, and where better to brunch than a place called Hoover’s Beef Palace? Seriously.

Hoover's Beef Palace

Hoover’s Beef Palace

Hoover’s Beef Palace, a quaint little greasy spoon just off the 101 freeway, is a down-to-earth, no-frills, country-style diner. A pit stop for many truckers and locals, it was the kind of place where I got some funny looks for taking pictures of my food. It was also the kind of place where about 1/4 of the menu was filled with “Meat & Eggs” plates. My kind of breakfast!

But first, coffee.

But first, coffee.

There’s nothing quite like diner coffee. Good ol’ basic black coffee, no fancy origins or special roasts, but most importantly, it didn’t have that gross acidic aftertaste. Sip on a cup o’ Joe while admiring the walls adorned with photos of county fair prized pigs, John Deere memorabilia, and portraits of cowboy hat wearing sheriffs (mayors? city officials? hard to say).

Martin's Tri-Tip Steak and Eggs

Martin’s Tri-Tip Steak & Eggs

Martin shared a fascinating tidbit with me recently. Did you know that tri-tip roasts were originally made popular by the Central Coast? Since we were in the ‘hood, Martin decided to pick the West Coast’s contribution to barbecue for his meat & eggs. The steak was a bit chewy for my taste, but temperature (rare) was perfect and the seasoning was spot on.

Alice's Rib Eye Steak & Eggs

Alice’s Rib Eye Steak & Eggs

I decided to go with the rib eye steak and eggs. Mine too was cooked perfectly rare and seasoned generously with a simple combination of garlic salt and black pepper. Just like Dad used to make! The farm fresh eggs were beautiful sunny side up with their golden runny yolks. The hash browns were crispy they way I like them. Just when I thought I couldn’t be happier….

Biscuits and Sausage Gravy

Biscuits and Sausage Gravy

… our side orders of biscuits & gravy arrived! We each got a half order that came alongside our meat & eggs plates, but it was a ton of food and we could have easily shared one. The white gravy had bits of sausage sprinkled throughout and the buttermilk biscuits hidden underneath soaked up all of that hearty goodness. I had a soft spot for Southern comfort food and these biscuits and gravy really hit the spot.

So if you’re visiting SLO County, be sure to swing by Hoover’s Beef Palace for a satisfying rancher’s breakfast before heading up to Paso Robles for wine tasting or nearby cities for fruit picking. Don’t be alarmed if people give us city folks funny looks for “checking in” on our phones or snapping a photo or two. The regulars seem to know exactly what they want and come here for the large portions and small town vibe.

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Check out Hoover’s Beef Palace Restaurant:

401 N Main St
Templeton, CA 93465

See their Yelp reviews here!

Avila Valley Barn – San Luis Obispo, CA

Central Coast, Food Adventures

Our trip up to the Central Coast earlier this month was pretty haphazardly planned. In fact, we had booked our hotel room only an hour before we hopped in the car! But Martin was excited to discover things to do along the way (it’s about the journey, after all) and he was especially looking forward to fruit picking. U Pick is the term for farms that open to the public and allow patrons to pick their own fruit which they can later purchase by the pound. Some farms even let you enjoy the fruit in the field or orchard, the absolute freshest you can get! The best one we had found was the Avila Valley Barn in Avila Beach, a small city in San Luis Obispo County.

Avila Valley Barn - The General Store

Avila Valley Barn – The General Store

Situated immediately off the coast-hugging, scenic 101, the first thing you see when you turn off Avila Beach Drive is a quaint series of buildings that house the general store, a roasted corn stand, and an ice cream shop. Gather just in front of the general store and wait for the tractor to pull up. There is only one and it arrives to pick up new visitors every hour or so. We had arrived around 4 and managed to catch the very last tractor ride of the day!

The Tractor

The Tractor

The complimentary tractor ride took us back to the orchards, giving us a tour of the property that was deceptively expansive. Hang on tight because your seat is really just a wooden flatbed covered in hay, and there are quite a few bumps along the way (haha – like my rhyme?).

Field of Corn

Field of Corn

First we passed by the seemingly endless field of corn. Our fellow passengers made jokes referencing Children of the Corn. The farm has a cute little stand that sells sweet roasted corn, either whole cobs or sliced off the cob for your dining convenience. I wish we had tried one – they must be wonderfully fresh!

Sunflower Fields Forever

Sunflower Fields Forever

Aside from the cornfield, pumpkin patch, berry patch, and rows and rows of apple and peach trees, the farm also had a mini labyrinth of tall, gorgeous sunflowers. I wanted to run through them and frolic like a carefree bunny.

The Orchard

The Orchard

Finally, we arrived at the orchard. We were a bit too early for apple picking, but with autumn approaching, they should be ripe for the picking. According to their website, there are 10 varieties of apples all ready in September! But for us, beautiful blush-pink yellow peaches awaited.

Don't pick the green ones!

Don’t pick the green ones!

Our friendly tractor driver announced just one rule – don’t pick the green ones. Other than that, we were welcome to eat as many peaches as we wanted during our time in the orchard, and they provided cardboard boxes for us to take some back to purchase at $1.50 a pound. Martin and I were excited to get going.

Up Close and Personal

Up Close and Personal

The peaches looked amazing. Stunning gradients of reddish pink to golden yellow with delicate fuzz, I could not wait to sample one right off the tree. Warmed by the sun and perfectly ripe, these yellow peaches were sweet and tart.

Teeny tiny peach!

Teeny tiny peach!

It was cool being able to pick them from the trees because we had never seen peaches so small (but fully ripened and ready). Super cute and great for snacking. They also made unique souvenirs for our friends back home since they look like miniature versions of the standard sized peach.

The best ones are at the top of the tree

The best ones are at the top of the tree

I grabbed the easy to pick ones within reach that were not already devoured by birds. Martin, however, enjoyed the challenge almost more than eating the actual peaches! He reached up on his tippy toes to get these beauties. He gently bent branches to pick the ones he had his sights set on. Nothing could deter him. It was awesome.

Our Peaches

Our Peaches

We ended up filling a shallow box of the freshest peaches I’ve ever had the pleasure to eat. We were one of the last people to make it back to the tractor (luckily they didn’t leave us behind!) and before long, we were on our way to the main shop.

Honey Display

Honey Display

The general store at Avila Valley Barn sells a huge variety of local products – honey, apple cider, baked goods, farm fresh vegetables, flowers, jams, dried fruit, chips, and more. The jams are pretty darn good and come in teeny tiny jars for gifting (and more “normal” sized jars for regular consumption). The apricot was my favorite.

Why hello, Mr. Rooster!

Why hello, Mr. Rooster!

After we browsed their wares, we went to pay for our picked peaches. But I’ll admit – I was startled by the surprise visitor while we were standing in line: a crowing rooster! We saw a man come out with slices of bread, as if leaving an offering for the Mighty Rooster; I think it crows to demand food just like our cats do.

Painted Signs

Painted Signs

We’re sad that summer is coming to an end, but with fall coming up, we hope to make a return visit to pick apples and perhaps bring home a handpicked pumpkin for Halloween. If you’re looking for a U Pick farm in the SLO County area, we definitely recommend swinging by Avila Valley Barn for a tractor ride adventure!

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Check out Avila Valley Barn: avilavalleybarn.com

560 Avila Beach Dr
San Luis Obispo, CA 93405

See their Yelp reviews here!

Wear closed-toe shoes and be prepared to be poked by hay. Also – say hello to the llamas!

Giovanni’s Fish Market – Morro Bay, CA

Central Coast, Food Adventures

Oh, Morro Bay — this sleepy beach-side town in the Central Coast is one of our favorite weekend getaways. Though we often catch a fancy seafood feast at The Galley to celebrate a special occasion, we decided to keep it simple this time with a stop at Giovanni’s Fish Market and Galley. With a large menu filled with long lists of fried seafood (anything from halibut to calamari), raw and BBQ’d oysters topped with various sauces (including sriracha lime butter!), fish tacos, burgers, quesadillas, and chowder, Giovanni’s has something for everyone.

Giovanni's Fish Market and Galley

Giovanni’s Fish Market and Galley

After our first visit to Giovanni’s a few months ago, we knew to check around online for specials. After checking in on my Yelp! app, I was greeted with a pop-up that announced a free cup of clam chowder with any $10 purchase. Sweet! Creamy New England style clam chowder, chock full of clams and potato cubes and sprinkled with parsley and a dash of Old Bay, this soup is simply perfect on a cool breezy day. And to add to the small-town charm, it’s worth noting that Giovanni’s clam chowder won the Morro Bay annual chowder cook-off three years in a row!

New England Clam Chowder

New England Clam Chowder

Another item that was just as good as we remembered the first time — the garlic fries. Crispy, fried-to-order pommes frites topped with shredded parmesan, garlicky oil, and chopped parsley. Always served hot and fresh, these fries make for an excellent snack while enjoying the salty sea breeze. They are also a great accompaniment for strips of fried cod or halibut to create a more interesting order of fish & chips.

Garlic Fries

Garlic Fries

Fried food aside, a major part of Giovanni’s menu features oysters, served up raw on the half shell or barbecued and topped with one of an assortment of sauces. They source many of their oysters from Grassy Bar, a local family business with an oyster bed in neighboring Cayucos. I really enjoyed these Grassy Bars; their flavor was a great balance between briny and creamy. Delicious on their own or with a twist of lemon and a dab of Giovanni’s spicy cocktail sauce.

Grassy Bar Oysters on the Half Shell

Grassy Bar Oysters on the Half Shell

Like the sauce? Apparently you can purchase it in the market, along with smoked fish, salmon “candy,” and shark jerky.

Enjoy the view of Morro Rock

Enjoy the view of Morro Rock

The consistently long lines outside the ordering window here at Giovanni’s attests to their popularity and, after trying their food for ourselves, we think it’s well-deserved. Enjoy your meal in the patio area which offers an gorgeous view of Morro Bay’s iconic rock formation, or pack up your order to-go and walk or drive down to the beach surrounding the rock itself. Just be prepared to fight off hoards of persistent seagulls. They’re fearless. But if you survive them, at least you can explore the nearby tide pools!

The otter says, "Relax."

The otter says, “Relax.” I think I’ll call him Frankie.

Or take the first option. After a leisurely meal on the adjoining patio, go on a stroll through the town, take a deep breath, and just relax. Morro Bay is a wonderful place to escape the hustle and bustle of city life, and while you’re here, be sure to join the queue at Giovanni’s and try a few items off their extensive menu. Just be sure to order your own cup of chowder… you probably won’t want to share.

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Check out Giovanni’s Fish Market & Galley: giovannisfishmarket.com

1001 Front St
Morro Bay, CA 93442

See their Yelp reviews here!

 

Crazy Sushi Fever – Atascadero, CA

Central Coast, Food Adventures

What had initially started out as a joke turned out to be an awesome dinner date. To celebrate our three-year anniversary, Martin and I took a few days off work and drove up to the Central Coast. Searching our Yelp! app for a place to eat near our hotel in Atascadero, we noticed a distinctly odd and kitschy name – Crazy Sushi Fever. You’ve got to be kidding me. But the reviews were great, the photos looked appetizing, and it was a mere half mile away. We looked at each other and decided, let’s go for it!

Crazy Sushi Fever - Pismo Boat

Crazy Sushi Fever – Pismo Boat

After an abysmally long walk (GPS, you lied to me), we arrived at this humble sushi joint exhausted. Fortunately, our spirits were immediately lifted by the welcoming smiles of the chefs behind the counter. We grabbed seats right in front of the main counter and ordered a pair of Asahi Kuronama to quench our thirst.

Asahi Kuronama (Asahi Black)

Asahi Kuronama (Asahi Black)

We typically enjoy Asahi Kuronama with yakitori, but it paired surprising well with our sushi as well. Noticing the prices of the a la carte nigiri sushi ($4+ per pair), we decided to share a boat – the Pismo Boat, an omakase creation of 10 pieces of nigiri sushi and 20 pieces of sashimi. All for $60. Meanwhile, we admired the gleaming slabs of salmon and maguro sitting in the refrigerated case. I couldn’t wait.

Ginger, Wasabi, and... Banchan?

Ginger, Wasabi, and… Banchan?

Okay, so it turned out that the chefs behind the counter were actually Korean. On the bright side, that meant that our customary dish of wasabi and gari (pickled ginger) was served alongside generous mountains of cucumber sunomono and wakame (seaweed salad)… suspiciously reminiscent of the variety of banchan at the start of any Korean meal. No complaints from me!

The Pismo Boat

The Pismo Boat

At last, the glorious boat was proudly presented to us. From left to right: maguro (tuna), hamachi (yellowtail), sake (salmon), shiro maguro (albacore), and ono (escolar). All of which looked stunning and tasted wonderful. We dug in, nigiri first. After just one or two pieces, the chef who made our boat caught my attention by waving a mysterious white packet.

Fresh Wasabi

Fresh Wasabi

“Would you like to try some fresh wasabi?” he offered. Of course I said yes! I think I remembered to say please… In any case, he hooked us up with a dollop of chopped wasabi root marinated in a bit of salt. OMG SO GOOD. It’s infinitely better than the pale green paste from the tube or can, and though some may say it’s not the same as fresh grated wasabi root, I think the salt really makes a difference in this prepared version. It pulled out some of the liquid and made this saucy, spicy glaze that tasted amazing on the fresh fish. I’m now on a mission to track down this elusive pouch of kizami wasabi.

Back to the Boat

Back to the Boat

I’m usually not a huge fan of maguro, but the one here was a gorgeous bright red. The hamachi was buttery and shimmered with fat. Salmon is always our favorite, and theirs was sweet and melt-in-your-mouth good. We were thankful for the ridiculously thick sashimi slices of all of the varieties, but especially the salmon! Finally we moved on to the sauced pieces – shiro maguro and ono. Typical preparation on the shiro maguro, with a drizzle of ponzu and sprinkling of negi (green onions). The ono, which I had only seen served at Sushi Central here in West LA, was drizzled in a ponzu and chili oil dressing and topped with a mound of masago (Capelin roe). By the time we polished off the last bite, we were both completely satiated… although, they say there’s always room for dessert…

Tempura Green Tea Ice Cream

Tempura Green Tea Ice Cream

Tempura green tea ice cream is my guilty pleasure. A perfect sphere of matcha ice cream dipped in tempura batter and rolled in panko bread crumbs, then deep fried to a golden hue. The artsy swirls of chocolate syrup really brought the dessert together and we enjoyed each decadent bite. They also have a tempura cheesecake on their menu… talk about avoiding temptation!

If you ever find yourself in the Central Coast / Paso Robles area with a craving for sushi, we suggest stopping by Crazy Sushi Fever. Peculiar name aside, they are a great place with prompt, friendly service and delicious sushi. And if you ask nicely, maybe they’ll share a bit of their fresh wasabi stash.

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Check out Crazy Sushi Fever:

8050 El Camino Real
Atascadero, CA 93422

See their Yelp reviews here!