Last week my brother and his wife were in town and we decided to take a trip up to Paso Robles to do some wine tasting.
We decided to take the scenic route there, going up PCH through Pacific Palisades and Malibu. We stopped in Santa Barbara for lunch. We parked on Stearn’s Wharf and ate at the Harbor Restaurant. I had Ahi Tuna Melt which were OK, but not really what we expected – they were not open faced. M had Mussels in Green Curry Broth, which she enjoyed. We had Hinano Beer, which is from Fiji. The waitress told us it was a Medium to Dark beer, but it turned out to be very light. It wasn’t bad, but I would probably not order it again.
After lunch we walked down the pier and along the beach for a little bit – before heading out again. We again chose the scenic route and took 154 towards Los Olivos. We decided to stop at a Vineyard and randomly ended up at Rusack Vineyards. We tried a wine flight and we all liked the Sangiovese, so we each bought a bottle.
After the wine tasting we headed back up 101 to Paso Robles and easily found our hotel, the Holiday Inn Express Hotel & Suites Paso Robles. The hotel was nice, nothing special, but clean and comfortable. We were in the “new” building across the parking lot from the lobby. We made reservations for dinner at Artisan and opened up one of the bottles that we had bought earlier.
About 20 minutes before dinner we headed to the lobby of the hotel to get them to call us a cab. They warned us that the cab company stopped running at 9:00pm so we could be out of luck on the way home. The cab that showed up was North County Taxi. The fare was only $5.00 to the restaurant.
We got to Artisan at 7:00 and it was fairly busy – there were only 2 open tables, so we were glad we had made reservations. We weren’t expecting it to be so busy on a Wednesday. The food was very good all round. I had a crab cake for appetizer and pumpkin ravioli. M had a Gouda fondue for appetizer and the ravioli as well. I had the trio of creme brulees and M had the Chocolate Pave and Peanut Butter Ice Cream. I would definitely go back there if I was ever in Paso Robles for dinner again. We asked our waitress for a taxi and the same cab driver showed up again.
The next morning we woke up, had some free breakfast at the hotel and hit the wineries. Our first stop was Vina Robles where we had Cuvée Collection Tasting Paired with Artisan Cheeses. The cheeses were great. The Winery was new and very impressive looking. We asked about sparkling wines in the area so she suggested we try Robert Hall which was across the street. We went there, but unfortunately they no longer made the sparkling wine so we moved on.
Our next stop was Falcon Nest Winery. This was a much smaller winery compared to the last two we visited. The owner, Francesco, was pouring the wines in the tasting rooms and telling stories. We had a great time listening to him tell us about his adventures in the hotel and restaurant industries all over the world. We also had some good wines. We were the only ones there the whole time. I guess they don’t get much business on a rainy Thursday in January. After the regular four tastings (one which he poured twice by mistake), he also started giving us various “blends” by simply pouring wine from two different bottles. We ended up buying a Syrah and a Zinfandel from there. They also had lunch there that might be good for next time we are in the area.
Francesco recommended we go see his neighbor, Tom, at Rio Seco. When we got there we asked for just tastings of his red wine, but he insisted we try one white wine he was proud of, the Vio Rio – a Viognier and Orange Muscat blend. We were glad we tried this one, it was very good and we ended up buying 2 bottles. We didn’t like the reds there very much. Tom was an ex-baseball scout, and used to work for the Blue Jays so we talked about baseball and Toronto. There were also two very cute and friendly dogs there who greeted everyone when they heard a car pull up.
Next we headed to Cass Winery, where we knew that lunch was available. For lunch we had crab cakes and split a demi loaf. There was also a wine pairing, but I think our taste buds were shot by that time and we couldn’t really tell if the wine was good. We wanted dessert, but the regular chef was in Las Vegas, so they didn’t have any.
After lunch we headed back to the hotel where my brother and I went to the hot tub and had a few beers while the girls napped. That evening we decided to go to a place called Level 4 for dinner. Once again, we went to the lobby to get a taxi and the same cabbie from the night before showed up. We decided to go downtown a little earlier and see if we could find a place to have a drink before dinner. After wandering around a little bit, we couldn’t really see anything interesting.
We got to Level 4 a little early, so we had a drink at the bar. I had some Firestone DB on tap and everyone else had Algonquins. (Algonquins are 1 1/2 ounces rye whiskey, 3/4 ounce French vermouth and 3/4 ounce pineapple juice – everyone agreed that the drink were better after doubling the amount of pineapple juice.)
We were seated in the dining room which was empty except for one other table. For some reason the hostess decided to seat us right beside the other table. All four of us split an artisan cheese plate and champagne to start. The cheese was OK. For dinner I had garlic fries to start and then halibut on crispy rice. I really enjoyed everything. M had tempura shrimp, which was very good, a Caesar salad and a twice baked potato, which were OK.
As we were getting ready to pay the check the hostess came over and said someone was on the phone asking if we wanted to be picked up. It was our regular cab driver making sure we could get back to the hotel before her shift was over. That was very nice.
The next morning we checked out and drove through the rain and fog to Hearst Castle. We took Tour 2: The Casa Grande Tour. It went through many of the bedrooms, two libraries, the kitchen and the indoor pool. The castle was spectacular and the tour was pretty interesting. We were lucky that we had picked a tour that was mostly inside because it was raining most of the time.
After Hearst Castle drove a few miles up Highway One to go to the Elephant Seal viewing area. January was a great time to go because it is birthing season and there were lots of pups and their mothers on the beach. The pups were very noisy, trying to get attention from their mothers.
We headed back south and stopped in Cambria for lunch. We went to Robin’s Restaurant, which turned out to be a good choice. I had halibut tacos and M had salmon bisque and an avocado sandwich. We had carrot cake for desert. It was all good. After that we headed back to the 101 for the trip back to L.A.