We drove down to Cambria for a few days of wine tasting and beach combing. The weather didn't quite cooperate for the elephant seals, but it was quiet and romantic so I can't complain. Mixed chow results, with recommendations culled from this board and a few friends.
We had dinner at Robin's, which I enjoyed although I thought it was pricey. We sat in the outside area under heater lamps. Began with the scrumptious lamb and pea spring rolls ($7.75? I thought I was in Napa with prices like these) and then had the Malaysian chicken curry, which I liked but was not especially spicy or complex in falvor. My companion had the Thai green curry which was pleasant but too bland for my taste. These were accompanied by small cups of yogurt and a delicious fruit salsa. Robin is still a welcoming presence; I wished she might have more time in the kitchen. Tiramisu looked very good as did the ice cream sundae for two at the next table.
Dinner on night two was at Ian McPhee's in Templeton; we were craving a good steak. Despite my asking for a warm place to sit, we were seated in the freezing back room and kept our coats on throughout dinner. The shrimp tempura appetizer with peanut sauce and red cabbage slaw was wonderful; a spinach and goat cheese salad was also very good. I didn't like the duck quesadillas or the spare ribs (too smokey and the texture was too chewy). Service was inattentive. I'd have appreciated if anyone had noticed we didn't eat half the food. They did offer to box it for us.
The house-cured pickles are a fine touch, as is the warm bread (but no butter or olive oil offered, and cinnamon raisin bread was kind of a shock with the red onions). I liked the carrots but wished we'd gone somewhere else. Should have stuck to the prime rib, but I blanched at the high prices ($30 and up). The house wines for $25 seemed like the best deal on the menu.
We made a quick stop at Cambria Cappucino in the West Village so I could check e-mail and news. $6 an hour, okay cappucino. Very pink store with more cute than you can shake a stick at.
Finally we had tea at the Tea Cozy in Cambria. Charming space, next door to the wonderful Bridge Street Inn, where we were staying. As previously posted, the scones with Devon cream are better than the full tea. We had finger sandwiches too; mine was roast beef, and was very ordinary. (One of the crusts was accidentally left on!). I liked my tea, but my companion ordered decaf Irish Breakfast, which was a teabag served in a teapot (might be nice to be warned ahead, so you can make a better choice). Smarties and McVitties for sale. Good stop for a rainy day, not really for the food.
On the way home, we had planned to stop in at Fiesta Tepa-Sahuayo in Watsonville for chiles en nogada but they must have been taking a holiday break. So we waited until we reached Parc Hong Kong in Sunnyvale and a feast of salt and pepper crab and Peking duck. (See my post on the SF board if you're headed this way.)
Thanks to Paul H and Melanie Wong for sending us to Justin to taste. The Paso Robles wine region is just spectacular after the rain, and the hanging moss reminded me of the South. We look forward to returning in spring for cycling. (I make no claims about wine expertise except that I enjoy trying new things and know what I like.)
Justin was the highlight of our tastings. All three wineries that we visited charged a modest fee ($4-5); not refunded against purchase. Very drinkable if light 2001 cabernet sauvignon. The 2002 Isoceles isn't cheap at $55 but so many interesting flavors. We took a half bottle. I couldn't help fantasizing about meals to pair it with. We also liked the non-traditional Obtuse, a moderately sweet port made with their cabernet sauvignon. I didn't know what to make of the petit verdot, more my limitation than the wine's. This seems like a worthwhile wine club, based on the quality and range of what we tasted. I also appreciated the cheeses for sale.
Has anyone eaten at Justin's tiny personal restaurant for brunch or dinner? The friendly young woman who poured our wines doubles as the pastry chef. I gather dinners are $120 with wine. Just curious. I probably wouldn't want to drive back over the pass to the coast afterward.
We also stopped at Tablas Creek and Adelaida. Rhone-style wines abound in Paso Robles. Tablas Creek is co-owned by Robert Haas and the Perrin family; the atmosphere is a bit cool. The 2002 Esprit de Beaucastel was excellent and can be found for roughly $32 retail. I also liked the 2001 Cotes de Tables (a mourvedre/syrah blend) quite a bit. Tablas Creek is selling its first dessert wine, the 2003 Vin de Paille, made from its viognier. A lovely taste, but at $65 a half bottle, I'm not sure who's buying.
Adelaida's 2000 Sangiovese was my favorite of what we tried but $28 a bottle seemed overly steep. The 2001 Schoolhouse Rhone Style Red is perfectly drinkable, but at $13, more than a similarly priced French table wine would cost, despite the awful exchange rate.
We were a bit surprised at the prices in general. A lot of good wine and food in the area but not entirely in our budget.
Bridge Street Inn was a wonderful base, like stepping back in time but not at all fussy like so many B&Bs. They have three private rooms and keep several beds for backpackers; the owners have traveled all over the world, and we met cyclists, parade goers, and a retired couple from North Carolina sitting around the fire, drinking tea and nibbling on panettone.