Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Ode to Tomatoes Day 1: Artisan, Paso Robles Wines & Apple Farm Inn Dinner

Grapes at Opolo
Paso Robles wines have piqued my curiosity for a long time but visiting the area itself has—until recently—eluded me, since I either didn't have enough time to make a side trip en route to Northern California, or I just get lazy and sooner make my vino-focused daytrip with Santa Barbara County wineries instead.

So, when the Boutique Hotel Collection had invited me for an "Ode to Tomatoes" weekend to check out what their resorts and restaurants have to offer, I decided to pad the already long weekend with a few extra excursions of my own.

And it was so worth it.

The three and a half hour drive up the 5 and then westward on the 46 was largely uneventful, but it was a great opportunity to polish off my podcast backlog (a mish mash of This American Life, Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me, Slate Gabfests, The Table Set, and Science Friday.)

Upon arriving in Paso Robles, I was ravenous - so I heeded the advice of a friend and went to Artisan, a casual-chic restaurant in downtown that does local-seasonal fare. 
And I'm so thankful for that rec, my lunch there was delectable: a luscious potato soup gratin made with pork stock and topped with gooey aged white cheddar and crispy lardons, followed by a meltingly tender lamb leg French dip with an almost gravy-like lamb neck jus; the latter was beautifully paired with Talley Vineyard's 2011 Estate Pinot Noir.

My only regret was not having a dining companion (or a few) so I can sample more of their dishes and drinks (many of which utilize locally made spirits.)
Paso Robles wineries
After lunch, I spent a few hours going through Paso Robles Wine Country, which was really mellow and laid-back (reminded of the back roads of Sonoma wineries, and in contrast to the touristy Napa.) Of the wineries I tasted, these three were my favorite stops:
  • Tablas Creek - no stranger to the lovely wines they make, so I was thrilled to finally visit their winery. My only grievance, they had already sold out of their amazing Mouvedre-dominant dry rosé when I went. On the other hand, I did discover several new wines from their label that I loved, including the 2011 Esprit de Tablas red blend and the 2012 Vermentino.
  • Villicana - my "hidden gem" find of the roadtrip, they had an amazing Roussanne—which I got a bottle of—and also distill their grape juices to make vodkas and gins under the Re:Find label, and having sampled them, I can vouch for the tastiness of their gin and cucumber-flavored vodka (and kicking myself for not getting a bottle of those too!)
  • Daou - being one of the highest vineyards in the Paso Robles region, this place offered an amazing view of the whole area, and their gorgeous tasting room and patio makes it a perfect spot for lazying a day away with a picnic and a bottle of their wine (which, from my tastings, lean on the big, bold red side—not exactly my type considering the warm weather and that I was tasting them on their own, but I could see potential for chillier times and when paired with meaty dishes)
After my pleasant afternoon of wine tasting, I finally made my way back down to San Luis Obispo to Apple Farm Inn & Restaurant, the first official stop on the "Ode to Tomatoes" tour.
Apple Farm Inn
I had heard & read about Apple Farm Inn before, but was unprepared for delightful country decor of the property and warm hospitality of the staff. It was like getting the charms of a bed and breakfast with the amenities of a boutique hotel.

After checking in and freshening up, I went to the restaurant for their backyard winemaker dinner with Le Vigne winery. Of course, given the theme, every dish was infused with freshly harvested tomatoes -- which taste worlds beyond what one would find in a supermarket aisle. 
Ode to Tomatoes dinner @ Apple Farm Inn
With tomatoes this vibrant-tasting, there is very little that needs to be done to them, so I am glad that every dish really highlights their fresh essences than muddle them up with other strong flavors. While the entire five-course meal was solid, I was particularly delighted by the bright heirloom tomato gazpacho with green zebra tomato sorbet; the oxtail ravioli with beefsteak tomato sauce, Thai basil and crispy shallots; and the caramel-poached green tomato goat cheesecake. The last of which I hope to reverse-engineer at home (unless Chef Smeets can bear to part of that recipe!)

Needless to say, I went to bed that night with my tastebuds thoroughly satisfied (though for good measure, Apple Farm did have two gigantic chocolate chip cookies on the nightstand and sparkling apple cider in the fridge waiting for me, in case I get any late night snack attacks.)

And this is the only the beginning of the epic 3-day journey, more to come in a future post...

Additional photos on Flickr set here

843 12th St
Paso Robles, CA 93446
(805) 237-8084

9339 Adelaida Rd  
Paso Robles, CA 93446
(805) 237-1231

2725 Adelaida Road
Paso Robles, CA 93446 
(805) 239-9456
Facebook (Villicana)
Twitter (Villicana)
Facebook (Re:Find)
Twitter (Re:Find)

2777 Hidden Mountain Road
Paso Robles, CA 93446
(805) 226-5460

2015 Monterey St. 
San Luis Obispo, California 93401
(805) 544-2040

Disclosure: My meal & accomodations at Apple Farm Inn & Restaurant were hosted. 

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