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May 11, 2011 01:28 AM

Local/organic on Central Coast?

We're driving from LA to SF and will spend the night (Mon.) along the way.

We loved Cayucos last year and were certainly impressed with Cass House, but I'm seeking something a bit less rich and studied. Was thinking about Santa Barbara but leaning more northward after frustrating look at accommodations, seafood, etc.

You were all helpful in the past and hope you have some "news."

Thanks in advance.

Cass House
222 N Ocean Ave, Cayucos, CA

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  1. Thomas Hill Organics Bistro in Paso Robles would be a good choice. The produce served comes from their own organic farm. The food is quite good while being more casual and reasonably priced than Cass.

    1. Natural Cafe in Santa Barbara - there are a few of them are certainly less studied. SilverGreens presents itself as LEED and natural. Alchemy Arts and Cafe is new and getting nice reviews. I do not go to these types of restaurants, so I can only pass on their names and not personal recommendations. Other than philosophical nurturing, I have never found these types of restaurants to be good value or even good dining experiences for my own tastes. However, in Santa Barbara you will find a high degree of food consciousness in many local restaurants, though those mentioned above do trade intentionally on this aspect.

      1. We had brunch at Artisan in Paso a few months back. I had a salad of local organic greens and the tomato and burrata sandwich. My friend ordered a flat iron steak from Hearst Ranch. Everything was delicious. Check out their menu's here:

        1401 Park St., Paso Robles, CA 93446

        1. The Neon Carrot in SLO. Breakfast and lunch with Friday evening tapas. Wonderful, simple, marvelous food.

          Neon Carrot
          3536 S Higuera St, San Luis Obispo, CA 93401

          1. We have been to Thomas Hill Organics many times and have enjoy each and everytime. Artisan is also very good. Both are farm to table. If near SLO for coffee/breakfast, try Sally Loo's near the train station. Enjoy!

            Thomas Hill Organics
            1305 Park St, Paso Robles, CA

            6 Replies
            1. re: RestaurantsSanDiego

              I truly wanted to go to Thomas Hill because I support its policy, but virtually every dish on the menu had at least one too many ingredients, usually cheese, which, right or wrong, I have always associated with amateur cooking. IMO, adding cheese to most dishes makes it harder to taste the main ingredients while injecting superfluous richness.

              Alas, Artisan was also unduly rich and its kitchen appeared to lack understanding of how various elements of a dish work toward (or against) its success, as in crab cakes on a bland and rich celery root remoulade that cried out for more acid. And why waste Kobe beef in a (sauce-free) pot roast? My BH is a charter member of the clean plate club but left part of that dish (and couldn't even face coffee the next morning).

              I did like my grass-fed flatiron steak and (also v. rich) jalapeno corn sticks, which would have worked well with honey but veered over the top with honey-butter.

              We over-ordered because the waiter remained silent over the sides that accompanied our main courses.

              I realize I am more health-conscious than the average 'hound, but I also know a bit about food, dining, and cooking and maintain that most dishes have better flavor and texture if added richness is minimized and the foods left to speak for themselves. There seems a real contradiction between emphasizing local produce and organic foods then inundating them in butter or other fatty additions--above and beyond the necessary.

              I used to be more or less a voice in the wilderness, but more and more SF restaurants are moving in what I consider the right direction. I suppose the fanciest places in small towns have always tended to confuse richness with "gourmet cooking," so I should not have been surprised.

              The hosts were friendly, the restaurant busy on a Monday night.

              1. re: Fine

                Being overly richly-agumented has spoiled many a fine ingredient. I concur whole-heartedly.

                Thing is, these are not usually 'local' chefs. They are trained chefs coming in from urban metro areas, drawn to the wine country and generally laid back lifestyle.

                1. re: Fine

                  Alas and alack!!

                  You make your points well, and it's good to have a contrarian viewpoint, but my results at both places have been different. A watermelon gazpacho (no cheese anywhere) at THO was outstanding (and healthy) as was the seared tuna sandwich (well, the bacon did add richness, but it also added bacon). I agree that the wonderful crab cakes at Artisan have not been well paired, but they themselves were good. The halibut I had was outstanding (no cheese, no bacon anywhere). Plus the veal loin and hanger steak were pretty outstanding. Though rich, the homemade pasta with piopinni mushrooms peas and pea shoots was wonderful by my standards.

                  Of course, being from SF, you probably have more sophisticated tastes than us country hayseeds.

                  1. re: Ed Dibble

                    I suspect it has little to do with where I'm from and a lot more to do with where I'm coming from!

                    It's true I've always distrusted what I not so politely call gooped-up food and never understood why cooks add cheese to otherwise complete dishes only, IMO, to make them richer and throw them off balance, but I've also never had much stomach for richness, with the exception of fattier cuts of meat, something I pretty much eschew these days because I made a commitment to eating "low on the hog" some 20-odd years ago. That I'm still here to tell the tale provides at least a modicum of evidence that it was not a bad decision.

                    1. re: Fine

                      I understand your health commitment. And it is good to be around -- not a round. I too watch my weight and my sodium. As an older person, I feel that is a necessity.

                      Mostly I was just joshing you but also defending THO and Artisan, both of which have served me good meals. I think a careful diner could select excellent and reasonably healthy food at both places.

                      I guess I reserve most of my disgust for places like Olive Garden that stuff chicken breasts with cheese and put cream sauces on them. Or take good old fashioned sausage, potato, and kale soup (an old Alice Waters' recipe) and make it a cream soup. Not to mention double bacon cheese whoppers. Do you want an angioplasty with that burger?

                      Olive Garden Restaurant
                      1025 Dana Dr, Redding, CA 96003

                      1. re: Ed Dibble

                        Forgive the quibble, but the inspiration for Alice's soup is the justifiably famous Portuguese caldo verde. (And yes, I've known Alice since the seventies.)

                        I hope it doesn't sound pretentious to say I've never eaten at fast food places*, so would not include them in any comments I made about dining.

                        *One exception years ago when I was with the landlord of a hamburger chain inspecting his property when the franchisee insisted on our tasting his output. I managed by pretending I was eating some brand-new dish I'd never tried before.