Fifty Favorite Restaurants in SLO County – 1994 as described by Jill Anderson, former restaurant reviewer for the San Luis Obispo Telegram-Tribune.
Archie McLaren, noted wine consultant and connoisseur, reviewed the first book written as a guide for those of us looking to pair good local wines with good local food on the Central Coast in the year 1994. He reviewed Jill Anderson’s book, Dining Out, stating that “the cuisine of San Luis Obispo County has become increasingly sophisticated and multi-cultural. Local gourmet, Jill Anderson has for years reported on our fine restaurant scene. Here she discusses fifty of her favorites, their cuisine, atmosphere, and service. All posses special attributes, assuring a pleasant dining experience. Dining Out should become a necessary reference work for all local and visiting gourmets at whatever level of culinary evolution they inhabit.”
Jill highlighted the major changes from 1984 to 1994 which included serving varietal wines by the glass, abandoning the local salad bar for beautiful composed salads with a variety of greens including arugula, radicchio, walnuts and goat cheese and best of all – new desserts including crème brulee, chocolate flourless cake with raspberry coulis and vacherin glace.
There were only three 3-star (the highest rating) restaurants; Ian’s in Cambria, Hoppe’s 901 in Morro Bay and Café Roma in San Luis Obispo. Ian McPhee, the man who brought the California Food Revolution to SLO County with new menus designed weekly with fresh and locally sourced ingredients, still holds the title of one of the best chefs in the county; since 1994, Ian and June McPhee have owned McPhee’s Grill in Templeton. Hoppe’s moved to Cayucos around the year 2000; Wilhelm Hoppe owned and operated it until his death. Café Roma is still family owned, located near the railroad station, serving special pastas and other Italian delights.
In reading the reviews of 50 Restaurants written twenty-four years ago, I was struck by how many of the restaurants are still operating today.
The Sow’s Ear and Robins are still serving food at their original locations in Cambria. The Bayside Café is located in the small marina in Morro Bay, serving lunch and dinner. Buona Tavola, Café Roma, The Spirit of San Luis, The Apple Farm, Del Monte Café, McLintock’s Saloon, and the Madonna Inn with their special cakes are thriving in San Luis Obispo. The Olde Port Inn located at the end of the pier at the fishing port just beyond Avila Beach still provides wonderful fresh fish and lovely views. The Custom House was rebuilt at 404 Front Street, and the Gardens of Avila at Sycamore Mineral Springs is well known for its seasonal and spontaneous garden cuisines. The Sea Venture and Giuseppe’s, recently rebuilt after a devastating fire, still serve food at their original locations in Pismo Beach, not far from the new pier which was opened with great fanfare on Saturday, October 20, 2018.
Jill Anderson was the restaurant reviewer for the San Luis Obispo County Telegram-Tribune and the former edition of the Los Angeles edition of WHERE Magazine. In addition to good wine and food, she has a passion for music.
The Restaurant Review
Ian’s (Three Star Restaurant)
2150 Center Street
Open daily for dinner only
Ian’s has been successfully operating in the same locations on a quiet corner in Cambria for nine years now – so successfully, in fact, that the restaurant has doubled in size and add a glitzy new bar. The menu has gone through several evolutions too – in the beginning, it was more extensive and varied. Prices were cheaper, and soup and salad used to come with the entrée (now it is a la carte).
One thing that didn’t change, though, was the quality and creativity of the food. The original chef, Ian McPhee, has departed recently to start a new venture, but his successor Chef mark Sahaydak, vows to continue the same menu and recipes featuring “California cuisine” at its most innovative.
Especially creative are the appetizers of which there are many. On one recent visit, I tried the duck quesadilla, which was bursting with the fresh flavors of cilantro, tomato, and onion overlaying the sweetness of the shredded duck meat. Other appealing appetizers include lamb wontons and a daily special pizza.
Salads are also a good bet, and there are four different variations listed. One is the standard house salad, which has been offered since the beginning – mixed greens tossed with a delicate vinaigrette made of walnut oil and balsamic vinegar and topped with a choice of crumbled blue cheese, goat cheese or bay shrimp. There is also a salad of grilled vegetables and one of butter lettuce with pine nuts, which was light and palate cleansing.
The menu lists just eight entrees priced from $10 to $17 (though there are always a few nightly specials). These include beef, veal, fish and chicken in various preparations. We tried a serving of fresh salmon with Dijon honey/mustard butter, which was succulent; and a portion of seared ahi tuna, served medium rare on a sauce of port wine and green peppercorns – also excellent. Both were garnished with al dente sugar snap peas and a masterful pilaf combining white rice, wild rice, pine nuts, and raisins.
There is a tempting dessert menu, including a chocolate decadence which is as rich as fudge and a white chocolate cheesecake, which is suave and creamy on a pool of raspberry sauce. Desserts are $4 apiece.
It is because of Ian’s consistent attempt to provide elegant surroundings, top-quality creative cuisine, and professional service that it has remained one of the county’s three or four best restaurants since its inception in 1984.