A few weekends back, Y and I decided to head south from Santa Cruz for a 3-day jaunt. I had never been to Hearst Castle before and also wanted to catch the elephant seals beached on the shoreline, so we decided to head down to the San Simeon area via Hwy 1. Needless to say, it was a stunning and curvy drive...Photos of a few meals interspersed w/ touristy shots (I don't ONLY take food photos, ya know) are linked below. Overall, the food portion of our trip was moderately enjoyable. No amazing finds or places that we wished we could transplant to SC, but a few worth mentioning for houndly good...
Pho King, Seaside
Had lunch there on Sat. around noon. Place was about 1/4 full. We shared the goi cuon to start since we're not big on banh xeo. Y ordered the pho dac biet, and I opted for the lighter pho ga. While the goi cuon was rolled well and looked promising, it was sadly devoid of much real flavor. The shrimp and pork didn't taste like much, and the lingering chill of the cold fridge didn't help. The peanut sauce or nuoc leo was too thick and heavy on hoisin while not having enough peanut flavor for me.
In contrast, both pho bowls were better but not particularly stellar. Y's beef broth was very concentrated in flavor such that it became cloying after some time. He appeared happy w/ the array of meat and tendon though. My chicken broth wasn't too greasy, but I wanted a little more chicken on top. Service was adequate but a bit lifeless. There are so many interesting looking places along that stretch of Fremont Blvd. that I'd have to explore before returning to Pho King again...a surprisingly multicultural area along the central coast.
Hoppe's Garden Bistro, Cayucos
After checking into our hotel in Morro Bay (La Serena Inn) and freshening up, we decided to treat ourselves to dinner at Hoppe's, which I had read good praise for here. We were able to land a last-minute reservation for 8pm, and they sounded quite busy up til that time. The space is gentile and charming and is obviously popular w/ locals and tourists alike. We were unfortunately seated at a two-top right smack in the middle of the room...I personally feel more relaxed along the wall, but didn't ask for another table since they were obviously busy. No biggie.
To start, Y ordered raw scallops w/ a Thai marinade and I got a salad w/ butter lettuce, apples, and champagne vinaigrette. The scallops looked lovely presented on their shells. Very fresh tasting, sweet, and buttery. Too bad the Thai marinade didn't match very well. I love butter lettuce salads, but their version was a disappointment. The lettuce leaves were large and tough (not tender like baby lettuce) and it was way overdressed in a too-tart vinaigrette such that a good puddle collected at the bottom of the plate.
For mains, Y got the California-style bouillabaisse while I opted for one of their appetizers...fried quail atop a bed of arugula, roasted pears, blue cheese, pecans, and pomegranate. Y's dish was mixed. The seafood was very fresh (that wild salmon was *incredible*, and I don't remember where they get it from), but the broth was odd. Too light and not unctuous enough, and the basil aioli that he was instructed to mix in while eating kinda curdled once it hit the broth. I guess we prefer French-style. My quail was a highlight...fried perfectly w/ a crispy outside and succulent inside. Unfortunately, the accompaniments distracted and were heavy-handed...the overdose of pecans was blatant.
We each ordered a different glass of wine. I'm blanking on details, but do know that I got a pinot noir while Y got a pinot bianco (or blanc?), which were both recommended by our server. Very nice pours and tastes w/ elegant stemware. We shied away from dessert since we were full and didn't think it would be worth the calories and cost. The total was surprisingly low (around $65 pre-tip) given how much we ate and drank, so it was a fair value for their generous portions. I would def. return, but I think I would prefer to just walk in and sit at the bar to enjoy their wine list and a few apps.
Moonstone Beach Bar & Grill, Moonstone Beach
We were famished after our Hearst Castle tour and headed over to nearby Moonstone Beach since it was a beautiful day. The woman who owns the candy store next to Hoppe's recommended this place for a nice view and solid food. Seeing as how much we love to pair fried seafood w/ ocean air, we took a seat outside.
Y ordered the fish and chips that came w/ coleslaw and tartar sauce. I got the fried calamari sandwich that came w/ fries, coleslaw, and tartar sauce. They offer complimentary champagne during their weekend brunch hours, so we figured, why not. The standout of the meal was def. Y's fried fish which turned out to be generous filets of mahi mahi that were very sweet and almost juicy. I can't remember when I've had better mahi mahi. The thin-cut fries on both platters were also addictive and fried well. Coleslaw, tartar sauce, and my sandwich were all mediocre, as was the free Cook's champagne. Total pre-tip was around $22. Great service, good outdoor seating, and a family-friendly atmosphere and menu.
Taco de Mexico, Morro Bay
Corner of Main & Dune
Since the much touted Taco Temple had already closed by the time we got hungry again around 8pm, we headed back near our hotel to Taco de Mexico which seems to open late (around 10pm) for those parts. We weren't that hungry and the menu didn't particularly inspire us, so we ordered 3 tacos to share: lengua, carnitas, and chile colorado (beef). Each taco was $1.75. The meat wasn't very memorable or that flavorful compared to taquerias in SC/Watsonville. Not super fresh either, but there was something about that place that leaves me curious to try their tostadas. Not much ambiance to speak of.
Great Britain Shop, Morro Bay
In Marina Square along Embarcadero
Small shop w/ British goodies. Teaware and kitschy items in front while the foodstuffs are in the back corner. I imagined a British transplant finding some comfort foods from their childhood here, but alas, I have no personal connection so everything looked rather foreign. I chuckled at the tin can of spotted dick. Bought some tasty vanilla custard creme biscuits, Taylors of Harrogate tea, and Seville orange marmalade.
We decided to drive back home on the 101 and found ourselves in Atascadero around lunchtime. We weren't adventurous eating at In-N-Out, but it hit the spot. The meat patty seemed a tad smaller than I remember in LA, but the french fries tasted better and fresher.
Wine Outlet, Atascadero
Thanks to Eric Eto's post, we stopped here after lunch. While I don't think the prices were bargain basement, they were fair w/ some good deals and a nice selection of both local wines and some imports. Since we didn't do much wine tasting, we appreciated having one central place to buy local wines. We left w/ about 6 various bottles and have been very happy w/ everything we've opened thus far. 2004 Stephen Ross pinot noir was very good, and I'm interested to try the Dark Star Cab that was recommended to us.
Other Wine Stops
Even though we drove around wine country (since we dig the bucolic scenery), we only tasted at a couple places: Opolo and Wild Horse. Service at both places was great, and I appreciate the no charge for tastings (although it does sort of guilt trip us into buying). We were pleasantly surprised by Opolo's late harvest dessert wine, which we bought. And even though Wild Horse's stuff had a "safe" commercial repetition to it, we bought a bottle of the cab, which we liked the best.
All in all, an enjoyable trip. Thanks to all you hounds who took the time to report after your trips to this region. I was able to gather alot of good tips and info from merely searching past posts. We hope to try Taco Temple and/or Chapala Restaurant in MB next time and make it down to SLO. Any feedback or tips for our next trip much appreciated!
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