Gardens of Avila restaurant at Sycamore Springs resort, Avila Beach
I've been meaning to post this for some time. My wife and I travel from LA up to the SLO area quite a lot for vacations. We love the area and the wineries of the Edna valley, and many of the restaurants. A few years ago, when Chef Brian Collins was working at the Lido in Shell Beach, I thought I had found my restaurant - a place I would return to again and again. It didn't turn out that way as Collins returned to Full of Life Flatbread down in Los Alamos. But in doing so, I've discovered that amazing place and go there each time I'm passing through on a weekend. But I digress. When the old Gardens chef moved to the Lido, a new chef started at Gardens at the Sycamore Springs resort. Robert Trester. I don't enjoy the Lido anymore, but the loss of Brian Collins has been offset by the arrival of Trester at Gardens. I first visited the restaurant just after his arrival last summer. Some of the menu was held over at first from the old chef. But by late summer/early fall, there was a lot of new things going on with the menu - I remember being super impressed by the food, although back then it seemed the chef was using sous vide cooking in almost every main course. I wondered if that would survive, or if clients would accept it - I have friends into that Modernist Cuisine tome, and in cities like LA and NY it is everywhere, but I had doubts. All of this was put to rest last month on my latest visit to the area, while staying in Sycamore Springs itself.
We had a package where we had our breakfasts in the restaurant each day, and we thought we would eat there one night for dinner. We loved our dinner there so much, everything was so amazing--better by far than most restaurants we visit in LA, even on the top level--that we chose not to go to SLO for dinner, or Shell Beach, and just eat all our meals at Gardens. Breakfast pastries in the morning--homemade, and baked fresh. The use of the "farm" on the resort property. The skill and inventiveness of the chef himself. I was really blown away.
While I didn't take photos or record everything we ate--the breads are all baked in house, there are changing amuse dishes sent out by the kitchen--from the Winter menu we tried dishes such as the "garden salad, roasted beets, carrots, and their purees," the "roasted brussels sprouts, pancetta, parmesan, grapes," the "slow cooked beef shortrib, potato emulsion, crisp mushooms, pomegranate gremolata," the "roasted organic chicken, garden peppers, jamon serrano, butternut squash gnocchi," a homemade pasta dish with duck I believe, a sublime soup --
I was just very impressed by the specific way of the chef, the California cuisine lifted and changed in ways that are hard to describe/name. Definitely a chef using the farm and farmer's market. Definitely some influences from fusion cooking--other global cuisines. Everything totally delicious, and wait staff unpretentious and fun, the place not over-crowded.
Which is why I want to post. This place should be drawing in anyone from the area who loves food and great cooking - or others vacationing here or even passing through. Something very special is going down in this kitchen - I don't know the chef, this post is just from a (new) fan. I hope he stays here for a while, and I hope the success of the restaurant is assured. I hope the Sycamore Springs knows they have a real talent on their hands, someone very special. My wife and I will be back, as often as we can with this chef running the restaurant. I was told he is changing and expanding the farm/garden, and the menu seems in constant developement...dishes changing all the time, so what you see online on the hotel website is only of partial use.
I found this good intro article from the newspaper online:
And the chef seems to be using Twitter now to get the word out on his farm, his new dishes, other news about the Gardens of Avila. Lots of good photos here:
Thanks for the review, I'll have to give them a try some evening. I agree about the current chef at Lido. Brian was actually followed by talented chef from Windows on the Water from Morro Bay. The current Chef, Jacob Moss, was brought in as backup. She left after a very short stay and Jacob took over. His food is not inspiring at all to say the least. If you are from out of town and have not eaten there before, you will probably enjoy it. Having had what came before him though, it is a huge let down. I probably won't be back until I've had word that there has been a change again.
Brian Collins was amazing at Lido - but is still amazing the times I've been able to eat at Full of Life in Los Alamos. There is something just as special about Chef Trester. Something I left out of my review is that the wine list is frequently changing based on my visits and is almost all local to Paso and the Edna Valley. A great list to discover things, and celebrating the farm-based menu and the area's bounty, if you bring a local wine in to dinner--I brought in one of my Pinot's from the Edna Valley--they waive corkage completely.
Oh, and I see this dish on his Twitter, that I definitely ordered while up there a few weeks back. It was sublime, roasted beets: