#TBT: SLO to the Coast

November 19, 2015 § Leave a comment

This is the final of a three-part series covering my food adventures during a roadtrip to California’s Central Coast this past summer. Need to catch up? Check out #TBT: Central Coast Food Tour, Going SLO and #TBT: A Walking Food Tour of San Luis Obispo.

Generally I don’t like to bring my personal stuff to the blog, but hey, this is a food blog and that means writing about food issues. So, true confession time: what I’ve been a bit cagey about in these trip reports is the fact that prior to hitting the road back in July, I was retooling my personal diet to deal with a slew of moderate food allergies and sensitivities.

By “moderate,” I mean that none of my food allergies are of the must-carry-Epi-Pen kind (although I do own one), but they’re enough to be uncomfortable, and in some cases, require a Benadryl stat. Dealing with this sort of thing as a culinary professional and someone who loves food has been, well, a pain in the ass.  I’m fortunate, though, in that my reactions are manageable and not life-threatening (so far).

This past summer I decided to see what life was like when I 86-ed the biggest offenders: nuts, uncooked stone fruit, avocados, as well as wheat, barley, and rye-based products. Of course, how to manage those choices on the road became an interesting project, but I like a good food challenge. I’m always keeping an eye out for dietary options that extend beyond the basic meat-and-potatoes or fast-food approach.

San Luis Obispo had been a sweet surprise in terms of food options — from the meatiest of meat options for omnivores to the variety of alterna-diet-conscious restaurants for pescetarians, vegetarians, vegans, and gluten-free folks. I’d had a couple of big days out food-wise, already, and as I left SLO and headed to the coast, I was looking for more casual, walk-in fresh food options. Here’s what I found along the way. (Important to know for gluten-free diets: I didn’t ask these restaurants how they’re managing potential gluten cross-contamination, so if you have celiac disease or are allergic to gluten, be sure to contact them directly for more information.)

Mon Ami Creperie Cafe, Pismo Beach
Through some interwebs searching, I found this small cafe, which offers savory and dessert crepes, as well as paninis, smoothies, and coffee drinks. The space has a casual, coffee-shop hangout feel, and the staff is super friendly and accommodating. Crepes and sandwiches are made fresh to order, and there are gluten-free options!

I went with the gluten-free crepes filled with spinach, mushrooms, and cheese (a variation of the vegetarian panini filling).

Gluten-free crepe at Mon Ami Creperie Cafe in Pismo Beach: sauteed spinach, mushrooms, and cheesy goodness

Gluten-free crepe at Mon Ami Creperie Cafe in Pismo Beach: sauteed spinach, mushrooms, and cheesy deliciousness

The crepe was cooked perfectly, and while I was concerned that a gluten-free crepe might have a gummy texture, this was absolutely not the case. The crepe itself was thin and light. The filling had an equal balance of sauteed vegetables and melty mozzarella cheese. The dish was light, yet filling, so I had no room to try the dessert crepes (wom wom), but that’s just another reason to plan a future visit.

Duckie’s Chowder House, Cayucos
For a small town, Cayucos has a good variety of food choices, from upscale dining to gas-station tacos. I spent two nights in Cayucos, which wasn’t nearly enough to try all the places I discovered in town. Sticking to my plan for budget-oriented, casual meals, Duckie’s Chowder House was my first stop.

Duckies is a family-friendly seafood-focused spot where you line up to place your order and staff members deliver it to your table. Touristy? Yep, a bit, but it’s also a solid seafood-based restaurant located across from Cayucos Beach. If you’re looking for a beach-town experience, this is it. The restaurant packs out during warm summer evenings, so if you can’t find a spot to sit, or don’t want to wait for a table, you can always take your order to go.

The menu is broad, American-style and has options for most diets: salads, fried or grilled seafood options, as well as sandwiches. Vegetarian and vegan options include salads and the ubiquitous Gardenburger, as well most of the sides. If you’re a DIY type, you could easily assemble a gluten-free, vegetarian dinner by ordering sides of rice, black beans, steamed veggies, and corn tortillas.

Of course, if you’re pescetarian, Duckie’s is a no-brainer. There are plenty of fried seafood options, but if you’re eating clean or gluten-free, choose the shrimp cocktail, fish tacos, or Duckie’s Bowl. Duckie’s Bowl includes your choice of protein — shrimp or blackened, sautéed or grilled fish — served over rice pilaf and steamed vegetables.

Duckie's Bowl to go, with a view of the beach in the background

Duckie’s Bowl to go, with a view of the beach in the background

Sebastian’s Store, San Simeon
If you’re visiting Hearst Castle, you’re a captive market when it comes to dining choices, and my primary recommendation is to take your own food and picnic in the parking lot. However, if you’re feeling peckish after touring the castle and didn’t BYO, skip the high-priced options at the visitor center and head down to Sebastian’s Store on Highway 1.

The historic building sits in a quiet, pastoral spot on the ocean side of Highway 1, about a mile north of the Hearst Castle Road entrance. (Note that Sebastian’s cafe also shares space with the Hearst Ranch Winery tasting bar, so you can always opt for the liquid snack, if nothing on the food menu suits you.)

Historic Sebastian's Store in San Simeon houses a cafe and wine tasting bar

Historic Sebastian’s Store in San Simeon houses a cafe and wine tasting bar

The blackboard cafe menu includes an assortment of sandwiches and salads, and is definitely meat-heavy, with a focus on burgers made with Hearst Ranch beef. Vegetarian options include the Greek salad, Black Bean Veggie Cheeseburger, and possibly a special request to make one of the sandwiches (turkey, perhaps) vegetarian style.

Pescetarian options are limited to the Swordfish Sandwich and Grilled Fish Tacos. I went with the fish tacos, which are served on corn tortillas with a slaw and creamy sauce. Everything is made to order and tastes fresh. The staff is friendly and service is brisk, and this cafe comes with a good serving of history, not to mention a lovely view.

Ruddell’s Smokehouse, Cayucos
There’s no lack of fish tacos in Cayucos, but Ruddell’s Smokehouse serves some of the best on the Central Coast. This tiny, lunch-only place serves sandwiches, salads, and soft tacos. The kicker? They do their own in-house hot smoking of the meat and fish used in their dishes.

Meat and fish lovers will be happy with the variety of deliciousness, with the taco category providing the largest range of options: choose from shrimp, albacore, ahi, salmon, pork, or chicken (yes, all smoked in-house) for your tacos. Vegetarians get an option in each category, too: taco, sandwich, and salad. Pickin’s are slimmer for gluten-free folks and vegans, as you’re limited to a salad. However, if fish is part of your diet, you must try the house-smoked salmon in some form or another — it’s that good.ruddells-collage

I went with the Smoked Salmon Tacos. They’re dressed with a creamy sauce and a “salad” of apple, carrot, celery, lettuce and tomatoes that provides crunch, sweetness, and a bit of acidity that offsets the complex, rich flavor of the smoked salmon. As I mentioned, Ruddell’s is tiny, with only a couple of tables out front for seating, so most people take their food to go. I found a nice spot across the street at Cayucos Beach where I could people watch and enjoy the warm sunny day along my new favorite fish tacos.

All in all, my roadtrip to the Central Coast and back was a great getaway: perfect weather, a good dose of California history and landmarks, and some memorable food. A couple of towns in particular have captured my heart, and I’m looking forward to future visits (and more fish tacos!).

Have you visited California’s Central Coast? Share your food experiences in the comments below.

Eat Local: Get Yer Sexy On

May 21, 2014 § 2 Comments

It all started with the Sexy Fries: waffle-cut sweet potato fries smothered in melted cheese, grilled onions, a spicy sauce and cubes of Indian cheese called paneer. That was my introduction to CurryUpNow’s “Indian street food” at Off the Grid a couple of years ago. The weather was typical for an August evening at Fort Mason: cool, headed toward freezing. My sister was visiting from Alabama, and we were in the midst of a weekend-long food-palooza. I barely remember what else we ate during our extensive sampling of other food trucks at OTG. But the Sexy Fries? Yeah, baby. Those were memorable. I have been in lust with CurryUpNow ever since. (Not to mention the fact that the biz name is cute enough to make me smile every time I hear it.)

Open since 2009, CurryUpNow is a Bay Area success story. In addition to four food trucks, they now have three — count ’em three — brick-and-mortar locations: one in San Francisco and two in the 650 (San Mateo and Palo Alto). I recently had dinner at the Palo Alto restaurant to see how the brick-and-mortar vs. food truck experience compared. Would it be CurryUpNow as I remembered it — food-truck food, but without the truck — or something completely different?

Turns out the restaurant has the same casual-dining approach and fast service as the food truck, without the truck’s long lines and lack of seating. My dining companion and I scored one of the outdoor tables — in front of the restaurant — perfect for enjoying an extra-warm Palo Alto evening. There’s also plenty of indoor seating, too. Ordering is a bit more posh at the restaurant: you place your order at the counter, take your number, and restaurant staff delivers your order to your table.

CurryUpNow’s menu is a fusion of classic indian dishes and Asian/Mexican street-food presentation. What the heck does that mean? Well, imagine that tikka masalas, saags, rice, and indian-style flatbreads become burritos, quesadillas, and rice bowls. Trust me, it works. Oh, you were expecting a “traditional” Indian food presentation? Not to worry, CUN has you covered. Order the 8-item Thali Platter option, which comes with your choice of two entrees (choose from 13 options), white or brown rice, garbanzo beans, pickles, salad, and flat bread.

One thing that I really appreciate about CurryUpNow is that the menu accommodates almost any diet. Meat-eater? Vegan? Gluten-free? No problem! CUN has something for all of you. Aside from the main menu, which lists all options, vegans and gluten-free folks can peruse menus specifically made for them. There’s also a special Kids’ Menu that lets you customize options for your small humans. The menu consists of eight different “bases” (burrito, quesadilla, rice bowl, and so on) — including vegan and gluten-free choices — and three protein choices. All items on the Kids’ Menu are $6.

With so many options, the big question during my recent visit was: what to order? Sexy fries? Natch. But it’s also good to try new things. I was up for a little sumpin’-sumpin’ from as many categories as possible: vegan, gluten-free, and traditional thali platter. So what did we eat?

Hella Vegan Sexy Fries
Honestly, Hella Vegan wasn’t my first choice for the Sexy Fries, but I’m glad we tried them! The sauces were flavorful, the fries are delish (disclaimer: I haven’t met a sweet potato fry I didn’t like), and the tofu and vegan cheese added more flavor and texture to an already flavorful dish. The full order is enough to share as an appetizer or for one person as a meal.

Hella Vegan Sexy Fries: Criss cut sweet potato fries with vegan cheese and tofu

Hella Vegan Sexy Fries: Criss cut sweet potato fries with vegan cheese and tofu

Gluten-Free Kathi Roll with Aloo Gobi
If I could have ordered every dish with Aloo Gobi, I would have — it’s one of my favorite Indian dishes (saag paneer is my other favorite). Wrap it, stuff it in something, put it over a bowl over rice…whatever. A flavorful “dry” dish, it’s made with potatoes, cauliflower, onions, and spices. The Kathi Roll’s gluten-free flatbread reminded me a bit of a cross between a tortilla and African flatbread called injera. The roll idea was interesting, but as far as I’m concerned, it was an aloo gobi delivery device.

Gluten-Free Kathi Roll: Egg washed pan-fried gluten-free flat bread, pickled onions & chutneys rolled up with aloo gobi

Gluten-Free Kathi Roll: Egg washed pan-fried gluten-free flat bread, pickled onions & chutneys rolled up with aloo gobi

8 Item Thali Platter
Here’s your traditional Indian “buffet plate,” served in the traditional, lunch-tray presentation. We chose Chicken Tikka Masala and Saag Paneer (cooked, pureed spinach with cubes of paneer cheese) for our entrees. They were served with the standard thali accompaniments: garbanzo bean stew, papadum, paratha (flatbread), pickles, and raita. The gluten-free thali comes with gluten-free flatbread, and doesn’t include the papadum.

8 Item Thali Platter: Brown rice, flat bread (paratha), lentil wafter (papadum), garbanzo beans, pickles, salad, chicken tikka masala, saag paneer

8 Item Thali Platter (from upper left): Chicken tikka masala, garbanzo bean stew, saag paneer, papadum on paratha on brown rice, pickles and raita. To the right: mango lassi

The CurryUpNow menu also includes an assortment of Indian beverages, including three variations of lassi, the traditional yogurt-fruit drink (mango, rose mango, and mint mango) and chai tea. I had the mango lassi, which was deliciously fresh, sweet, tart, fruity, and yogurty. It’s also filling, so there was no room for dessert, which was bad planning on my part. CUN’s dessert menu offers an assortment of traditional dessert items, such as gulab jamun (deep-fried dumplings made of reduced milk, soaked in rose syrup), kulfi ice cream, and (yes!) Hot Balls on Ice — gulab jamun on kulfi.

Now that’s definitely going on my list for the next trip to CurryUpNow: Sexy Fries, followed by Hot Balls on Ice. What more could a girl want?

Have you tried Curry Up Now? Food truck or restaurant? Which dishes were your favorites?

Details
What: CurryUpNow
Where: 321 Hamilton Avenue, Palo Alto, CA 94301
Phone: 650-278-4888
Hours: Mon-Fri 11am-10pm; Sat 11:30am-10pm; Sun 11:30am-9pm
Price: $
Bar: No bar per se, but beer on tap

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