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Tuesday, 29 September 2020 18:16

Returning to San Luis Obispo

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Friendly San Luis Obispo Has Delightful Alfresco Dining Friendly San Luis Obispo Has Delightful Alfresco Dining

By Michael Eady

Quaint, picturesque San Luis Obispo. Once upon a time during my first sojourn there some 40-plus years ago, was a sleepy little college town where the choices of lodgings were fairly limited, beginning with the garish Madonna Inn, with all its pink and white gingerbread and which was the signature hotel in the area.

Cerro Hotel exterior PicmonkeyAll of downtown is easy walking frm Cerro Hotel

The other end of the spectrum was the shopworn Travelodge on Higuera Street. No longer. This darling little berg has, over the years, been transformed into a California Central Coast travel destination. Close to the ocean, yet amidst cattle and wine country, it provides entertainment and recreation options for just about everybody. The town has also become well-known for its Thursday Night Farmers’ Market, of which it is currently bereft thanks to COVID-19. Still, the townsfolk and students carry on the best they can and the streets and shops continue to remain busy with shoppers and street-side diners. This was made obvious by the throngs of folks I observed dining in the streets and patios on Thursday evening.

Naturally, as this transformation has taken place over the years, the choice of lodgings has greatly increased. One of the newest of these is a boutique lodging called the Hotel Cerro, located on Garden Street in downtown SLO. This is an excellent location as San Luis Obispo is an eminently walkable town, with little need for an automobile. The Hotel Cerro opened this past January in a location once inhabited by the SLO Brew company. Not coincidentally, the owners of SLO Brew also own the Hotel Cerro, along with the appurtenant Brasserie SLO, which functions as the hotel restaurant along with the soon-to-open Life of Pie bakery. 

The hotel opening in January of this year was abbreviated in fairly short order by the incursion of the COVID-19 pandemic which forced the temporary closure of the business in March. It re-opened in June with expanded sanitation protocols to establish heightened safety for both guests and hotel staff.

Hotel Cerro is brand-spanking new and is decorated in a spare, light style. There are clean lines and a lot of white tiles. Artwork decorates the hallways. There are some unique touches, such as the large free-standing bathtub that is filled with water that streams from a hole in the ceiling. Visitor amenities rule here as well. Many of the rooma have an enclosed patio with a gas fireplace for evening entertaining. There is a rooftop pool and patio that offers comfortable lounging and views of the surrounding area.  On the second floor, an outdoor garden grows the fresh produce that the Brasserie uses in their kitchen.


Brasserie SLO

Brasserie SLO diners PicmonkeyBrasserie SLO diners enjoy sophisticated food in casual settingAs noted, the Brasserie SLO is appurtenant to and a part of the hotel itself, serving as the hotel restaurant. It strives to source food products locally to the extent possible, even taking the step of creating a roof garden on the second floor patio from which the produce used in their dishes is grown.

The wine list is wide-ranging, featuring many wines of local distinction from the Edna Valley and nearby Paso Robles, but also includes a plethora of many foreign wines from France, Germany, Italy and Spain. In keeping with the local theme, I chose to stick to the local products with my meal. The menu itself is generally country French in constitution with limited choices, but a few specials are offered each night. Given the COVID limitations, service was on the patio outside the lobby. The evening was lovely, which made it a perfectly comfortable choice.

Dinner began with Harissa grilled prawns served on a bed of thinly sliced summer squash and watercress, washed down with a glass of Grüner Veltliner. Popular in Austria, this white wine grape is grown in a few locations on California’s Central Coast. Our 2018 vintage Grüner Veltliner, locally sourced from the Fableist Wine Co. of Paso Robles, was dry and crisp with undertones of peach.

Brasserie SLO kitchen PicmonkeyA busy moment at Brasserie SLO's grill

Then the chef flexed his culinary muscles and brought out a couple of samples from the kitchen. The first was grilled Padrón peppers served with a romesco sauce and topped with shredded Asiago and chopped hazelnuts.  That was followed with a superb black truffle risotto with Parmigiano-Reggiano that was creamy yet firm enough to allow the rice to stand out. With these deftly handled samples, I enjoyed a local rosé from the Field Recordings. It was slightly effervescent and fairly dark in color for a rosé. On a balmy summer evening, few wines could be more refreshing.

The main course was one of the nightly specials, a skirt steak with aioli and pommes frites. (As soon as the price of the dish exceeds $15, the French fries become pommes frites). I always drift to skirt steak when I have the chance to order it. As Bruce Aidells notes in his authoritative book, Meat, skirt steak has a deep, rich, beefy flavor. It is one of the tougher cuts of beef and can be chewy but when properly marinated and grilled it is delicious. It was cooked rare without me asking and was tender and as flavorful as Mr. Aidells promised. The steak was accompanied with a Groundwork Mourvèdre from nearby Paso Robles of the 2016 vintage. The Mourvèdre was a sturdy red wine redolent of black pepper and currant and stood up well to the deep beefy flavor of the skirt steak.

The dessert was from a new company also associated with the Hotel Cerro called Life of Pie, which is due to open soon. I enjoyed the peach and blackberry pie with a golden latticed crust. I mean, who doesn’t like pie?

Brasserie SLO is not inexpensive. It is haute cuisine and is appropriately priced as such.  It is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner daily. Service was attentive, professional and courteous. 

SLO Brew Fruit Beers ME PicmonkeyTime to sample the Cali-Squeeze options at SLO RockSLO Brew

SLO Brew has been a staple of the San Luis Obispo drinking scene since 1988. It was voted “Brew Pub of the Year” at the Great American Beer Festival in 2001.  Over the years the craft brewing industry has faced changes in demographics and public tastes. Most craft breweries offer a standard line of products which consist of IPA’s, porters, stouts, pale ales and lagers. However, over the past few years various hybrids and new styles have been introduced to the marketplace. The younger generation of drinkers has made products like White Claw and assorted hard seltzers popular. Thus, many of the craft breweries are expanding their lines of products to take advantage of this shift in drinking demographics and remain relevant by producing their own craft versions of these products.

One of the first to do so was Firestone Walker, which started out in the same vein as SLO but has expanded operations and is now widely distributed. Following in these footsteps, SLO Brew has also expanded operations and is producing new products intended to appeal to these new tastes. In order to do so, they have moved out of the old downtown building and into a newer and much larger facility near the airport. It is called SLO Rock owing to the gigantic boulder that sits right out in front of the building. In addition to their regular line of beers, they are now producing what is called a Michelada, essentially a red beer (that is, beer with tomato juice added that in bygone days was the morning eye-opener to assuage a pounding headache). The one produced by SLO is called Tio Rodrigo.

Another line of beverages being introduced by SLO, commonly known as fruit beers, is a line named Cali-Squeeze. These are hefeweizen beers that are infused with a fruit flavors by adding a puree of a variety of fruits. In SLO’s case, it is blood orange and one called Tropical P.O.G. (passionfruit, orange, guava).  The result is a light, fruity, carbonated drink that makes for a refreshing pause on a hot summer day.

SLO Brew has expanded into the canned wine market, producing a canned premium wine called Porch Pounder. Yet another facet of the ever-expanding business operation is Rod & Hammer’s SLO Stills, which is producing boutique craft rye and bourbon whiskeys. This operation allows local customers the opportunity to purchase their own private cask and age their own whiskey on-site.


ME at Lo Brau mug Picmonkey

First there was Graham Kerr as the Galloping Gourmet. Now there is Mike Eady, the Bibulous Gourmand. Mike has been a decades-long contributing writer to Taste California Travel and its predecessor, California Wine and Food, as well as a part-time fiction author. He is a constant cook-off competitor. Years of prodigious consumption of booze and chow combined with his ability to type and form opinions have helped to burnish his exhaustive resume within the food and beverage scene.

Read 745 times Last modified on Tuesday, 06 October 2020 10:31

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