She’s vivacious, exciting, beautiful, and delicious. I don’t see her as often as I’d like but when I do, she’s mesmerizing! Her name is California, specifically Central California. She stretches from Santa Barbara to San Simeon with beautiful and delightful gems in between. She satiates your thirst with world class wines, she feeds you some of the most enticing dishes imaginable, and she wows you with absolutely stunning scenery.
My last trip up to Central California included stops in Avila Beach, San Luis Obispo, Arroyo Grande, Paso Robles, and Casmalia. If you plan on visiting there soon, you won’t go wrong making your base camp at Avila La Fonda Hotel in Avila Beach. It’s a beautiful little gem of a hotel just a block from delightful Avila Beach. Adorned in colonial Mexican style, the rooms are spacious with lots of thoughtful amenities. They have a nightly wine reception featuring local wines. The nights we were there they were pouring Claiborne & Churchill wines. We stopped at Claiborne & Churchill to visit with Coby Parker-Garcia, their very talented winemaker. Coby is a good friend who is making some of the best wines coming out of Central California. His work at Claiborne & Churchill produces wines that are balanced, nuanced, and exciting. He produces some of the best domestic riesling and gewurtztraminer that I have come across. They possess brilliant minerality and finish with lovely brightness and lift. Coby also has his own label called El Lugar – The Place en espanol. At El Lugar Coby produces a pinot noir blanc, not to be confused with pinot blanc. Pinot noir blanc is the red pinot noir grape made into a white wine. His 2016 Pinot Noir Blanc is outstanding! Sensuous mouthfeel with lovely fruit and bright acidity. Refreshing aromatics abound and the low alcohol level really pleases me. You really should try this wine as we do have it at The Bottle Shop, but you better hurry because we don’t have much left and it is small production.
Tasting exceptional wine means you must match it with exceptional food and the Central Coast has that in abundance. If you are in the mood for seafood, you must make the trek to Cambria and eat at Sea Chest Oyster Bar and Restaurant. Ask for a seat at the bar and watch chef Andy turn out some outstanding dishes. I usually rate a place on how well they do cioppino, clam chowder, and calamari. Andy and his crew do all of those insane! The cioppino is chock full of crab, fish, shrimp, and clams in a perfect tomato seafood broth that begs to be sopped up with their tasty garlic bread. The clam chowder is superb. It isn’t a gooey thick paste but rather a well proportioned broth that has the right consistency and flavor. Plenty of clams adorn the soup bowl and I know I didn’t leave a drop. The calamari was one of the best if not the best calamari I have ever had. The coating was light and delicate and did not overpower the squid. I could eat that every single day if I lived in Cambria! Do not pass up the chance to eat at this wonderful restaurant. They don’t take reservations and it is cash only. It opens at 5 so get there early with a bottle of wine to enjoy while you wait in line with all the other smart and savvy diners!
On the drive home we stopped in Casmalia to eat at the world famous Hitching Post Restaurant. It is in the middle of nowhere but sometimes it is good to be in the middle of nowhere and if you’re in the middle of nowhere you might as well eat some of the best steaks around! You may be familiar with the Hitching Post in Buellton near Solvang. That is owned by the another family member and that is a very good place. However, I must say that the Casmalia restaurant really took hold of my heart and stomach. This place has been around for 65 years and if anyone knows how to grill a great steak, this is the place! Grilled over red oak in a rustic Santa Maria style brick grill, the steaks are grilled to perfection. I also had the grilled artichokes which were delicious. The dinner is served with an old fashioned relish tray – carrot sticks, celery sticks, green onions – along with a small shrimp cocktail and your choice of potato and dessert. Chef Luis Meza has been working at Hitching Post since he was a kid growing up in Casmalia. His daughter works there when she is home from college as well as his son and other relatives. This place is worth the drive. My son suggested we stay in Santa Maria after we eat here instead of driving all the way home as we usually do. He has a very valid point, this is the type of place that gives you great food and wine and makes you feel at home. What better way to end the day then to go somewhere close and take a nap!
So, get in the car, put the top down, turn on your favorite playlist – Grateful Dead, Guy Clark, Sabrina Claudio – and cruise up to one of the most beautiful areas in the world. You’ll feel as if you’re a million miles away from all the stress and worries of daily life. Vivacious, exciting, beautiful, and delicious – that’s the Central California you will fall in love with!
Next post – Ember Restaurant in Arroyo Grande – the best food in SLO County!