santa barbara & san lui obispo
Looking for some day trip ideas that involve the local food -- farms where we can pick fruit, suggestions for some not-to-be-missed wineries, and other possible culinary adventures... the wilder the better! We're not afraid to climb trees and dive in the ocean for some good fresh eats.
We stopped in SLO for a few meals on our way back from Tomales Bay to LA. We had a very good dinner at Big Sky on Broad St, and a decent dinner at Vieni Vai on Higuera.
IMHO, Big Sky's menu is relatively ambitious, as their menu items can vary from Italian, to Middle East, to Asian, to many dishes that would broadly fall under American fare. However, the dishes we selected were anywhere from very good to excellent in our eyes. We started out with a Mediterranean salad sampler consisting of their Italian white bean and tuna salad, baba ganoush, hummus,tzaziki, and beet/carrot salads that came with a side of pita wedges. This was a nice way to start out the meal for two adults and two kids. All of the produce was very fresh, the ingredients and preparation was good (hummus), very good (tzaziki), to excellent (white bean/tuna salad, baba ganoush, beet/carrot salad).
The kids ordered mac/cheese and the seafood tacos. The mac/cheese was actually prepared well as it moist and flavorful - not dry and sticky like most places, and the seafood tacos were very rich and filling - not the standard grilled fish but that was gently sauteed in salsa then combined with some sort of cream sauce with a lime and chile seasoning. You need to ask exactly how this is prepared if you're thinking of ordering this dish as it is not the standard taqueria-style seafood tacos. It was delicious, but the cream sauce can be a bit much after a while. Our son normally polishes off adult entrees but he couldn't finish this one.
My wife and I ordered the brown sugar-brined pork roast and the Brazilian churasco chicken breast. Both dishes tasted great with the pork being very moist, tender and flavorful. But the chicken breast was a bit dry but tasted great as well.
Big Sky's wine list had some great selections for us, with quite a few choices available by the glass. We enjoyed the Clautiere Viognier, Ventana Gewurtztraminer, and also a Paso Robles Pinot Noir (can't remember the producer) and the Eberle Syrah. We enjoyed all except the Pinot Noir that was a bit "hot" on the alcohol for our tastes.
For dessert, we ordered the beignets with chocolate sauce and a little rasberry puree and whipped cream. At this point we were pushing it so we only ate about half of what was served. Again, the kitchen did a great job.
If I remember correctly, the meal came out to a little more than $100 before tip, and the service was a bit slow at times, but wine always has a way of smoothing out little details...
Vieni Vai does a respectable job on basic Italian menu items. Our one big gripe that night was the service in general. Our waiter was relatively unschooled on the wine list, was relatively slow in getting around to our table (bread, checking on us, etc.) and the kitchen was very slow in getting the food out.
We ordered the Foccaccia con gorgonzola e pomodoro, grilled vegetables with bread, the sausages with bread, the meat ravioli with pesto sauce, and the Avellino pizza. The dishes came out helter skelter so we all ended up eating a little of everything as it came out. Two of the dishes specifically mentioned "bread" in the menu but bread never showed until the waiter probably felt that we needed something to chomp on to endure the relatively long wait. Don't most restaurants, particularly Italian, bring the bread out first thing? We received a total of four relatively small sections of bread after waiting about 15 minutes, and our first dishes started to show up around 25 minutes after we ordered. All in all, the food was pretty good but our feeling about the service and the kitchen was that they were short on staff - maybe suffering from a couple of sickcalls. The wine list was brief, but we ordered a chianti classico and one of the reds that was from the owner's hometown. Not much to say about the chianti but the "hometown" red was actually quite interesting. Dark, robust, tastes of dark chocolate and ripe berries with just enough dryness to compliment our dishes. I don't know if I'd return here since SLO seems to have quite a few Italian eateries that seem to be as good if not better...
See Canyon near Avila Beach south of San Luis (loo-iss) is a pretty little area known for the anitque apple varieties grown there. There are several farms strung out along a shady creek-bottomed canyon. No u-pick to my knowledge, but a great way to spend a lazy afternoon tasting real apples and cider.
Take the San Luis Drive exit north or southbound, head west; as you approach the end of the downhill run, slow down--the right turn onto SC Rd comes quickly. It is a narrow road so keep to the right. (or as my dad said, 'don taik yor arf owt tmiddle'.
Rutiz Farms in Arroyo Grande/Halcyon is still doing u-pick raspberries on Fridays 1-6:00. On The Pike between Elm and Halcyon.