The Restaurant at Justin

Savor the Flavors of Paso Robles

By Amy Lively Jnsen

While delighting in world-class wineries in the charming town of Paso Robles, I was surprised at the spectrum of top-notch eateries. These include two Michelin recommended restaurants, Wine Spectator “Award of Excellence” winners, and innovative local favorites. Over 150 restaurants are available to the one million visitors who experience Paso Robles each year.

Thirty years ago, there were only 20 wineries, and few restaurants. The food followed the boom of the wineries, now totaling 200. According to Jeff Railseack, Membership Director of the Paso Robles Chamber of Commerce, when he was a teenager growing up here, there was little variety. “We were excited when McDonald’s came. Now we have amazing restaurants. After the economic recovery 10 years ago, many chefs who had restaurants in Los Angeles and other cities moved their businesses here for a simpler life. This added greatly to the creativity and diversity of cuisine,” Jeff said.
It was difficult to narrow down the restaurants to feature here, but I included my favorites, along with recommendations by local foodies.

Everyone agrees that Jeffry’s Wine Country BBQ (www.jeffryswinecountrybbq.com) is a mainstay in Paso. Served here is their signature dry rubbed, house smoked meats. Chef Jeff creates award-winning paella and macaroni and cheese.
You will love the southern inspired comfort food of The Hatch Rotisserie and Bar (www.hatchpasorobles.com) This lively eatery has a tempting menu based on wood-fired American fare. The house special of half a roasted chicken with buttermilk dip and house-fermented hot sauce comes on a wood plank.

Fish Gaucho (www.fishgaucho.com ) always has a line outside for this mecca for seafood. Executive chef Chris Beckett crafts ocean-based dishes including perfectly seared fresh diver scallops and richly flavored ahi. For meat lovers, he prepares steaks and chops grilled over oak. This is THE place for a margarita; there is a selection of 250 tequilas and mezcals.

La Cosecha Bar and Restaurant (www.lacosechabr.com) features vibrant flavors of Latin and Spanish fare. The house special is moqueca, a Brazilian seafood stew with coconut milk. Talented executive chef Santos MacDonal, who worked at many great restaurants in Los Angles, adds spiced and herbal touches to his dishes that make them an intriguing match to their Award of Excellence-winning wine list. His wife Carole, sommelier and restauranter, has a fascinating background. In Hollywood, she was a producer of shows such as The Biggest Loser. In addition, she is a published writer. Her husband and she had a passion for wine and food, which led them to open Il Cortile, their first Paso Robles restaurant.

Reservations are a must at Il Cortile Ristorante (www.ilcortileristorante.com) with their seasonal, authentically Italian menu. Superlatives such as “the most amazing osso bucco I’ve ever eaten” and “the boar ragu is the best I’ve had since Italy,” describe the dining experience here. If you love truffles, you’ll find heavenly choices; one favorite is poached egg with polenta and shaved black truffles. With over 300 offerings on their wine list, they have received the Wine Spectator’s Award of Excellence since 2014.
One of the newer restaurants in Paso Robles (and the one with the most difficult name to pronounce) is Leis Petites Canailles. (www.lpcrestaurant.com) It serves traditionally French food made with ingredients sourced locally. Chef and owner Julien Asseo is the son of L’Aventure Winery founder Stephan Asseo, who pioneered wine making in the area. Chef Julien often comes to the tables and chats with guests, making them feel like family. The whole grilled Mediterranean Branzino with charred lemon is amazingly delicious, as are their hot, crispy Pomme Frites with a dollop of Béarnaise sauce. The dessert that steals the show is the XXL profiterole.

In September 6 Test Kitchen (www.sixtestkitchen.com) in Paso Robles was awarded a Michelin list recommendation, a coveted accolade. What chef and owner Ricky Odbert originally started in his parents’ garage has evolved into this incredible restaurant. According to Michelin Guide reviewers, “diners will be riveted from start to finish with dishes that highlight the chef’s unique style and creative vision.” They highlighted the silky chicken liver mousse with shallot-onion jam and arugula; crisp-skinned duck with bay leaf-laced jus and pickled beets; and honey ice cream with cherry blossom syrup and fennel pollen. 6 Test Kitchen has ten tables and serves a 12-course tasting menu. If you are looking to balance your wine tastings with exceptional food on-site, Paso Robles’ wineries have some pretty spectacular offerings.

The Restaurant at Niner Wine Estates (www.ninerwine.com) was listed as the “#1 Best Winery Restaurant in America” in USA Today. If that isn’t impressive enough, they were also named as “One of the Best Winery Restaurants in America” by Food and Wine Magazine. Creative chefs here offer seasonal lunch menus, featuring edible flowers, herbs, fruits, and vegetables from their half acre garden. Presentation and quality of this fine dining restaurant are superb, as is the stunning view of the winery. For flavors that burst in your mouth, try the grilled sea scallops on carrot puree alongside thin, thin ribbons of kale with pomegranate seeds. It is open daily for lunch by appointment.

I had one of the best meals ever at The Restaurant at Justin (www.justinwine.com.) That’s no surprise as Michelin Guide inspectors added it to their exclusive list of recommended restaurants. It was also named one of “The Best Winery Restaurants in America” by Food and Wine Magazine for their best wines, excellent cuisine, and idyllic setting. Another distinction is Justin Winery’s 2015 Wine Enthusiast “Winery of the Year” honor.

Chef Rachel Haggstrum creates a menu of unique dishes that pair perfectly with Justin Wines. She described her favorite entrée: “I am loving our duck dish as it is a burst of so many flavors and textures and is hearty and comforting. The color also makes the dish really beautiful. We are using orange Jarrehdale squash that has a deep rich squash flavor and deep bright orange color; it is a great contrast of colors and flavors against the pickled blackberry and the green kale pasta stuffed with confit duck. There is a seared crispy skin duck breast, a seeded granola for texture, persimmons two ways and pickled mustard seeds. It is a dish that has as much beauty and intrigue on the eyes as it does the tongue. It is paired with a 2009 SAVANT,” Chef Rachel explained.

For the full Justin experience as we did, you can stay at the winery’s JUST Inn in a resplendent suite, the Vintner’s Villa, or the Justin Chateau. The Chateau is a 12,000 square foot mansion that overlooks the winery. If you don’t want to drive to the winery, utilize their Shuttle Service. This will take you to and from the winery from downtown Paso Robles. Also, they recently opened a tasting room in downtown Paso.
The down-home hospitality of Paso Robles makes it distinct from other California wine regions. With award-winning wines and restaurants, you’ll find this is clearly a must-see destination.


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