Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Good Eats: Custom House, Avila Beach, California


Custom House  404 Front St., (805) 595-7555.  B-L-D daily; $$$.  This is a new incarnation of the town’s historic 1927 custom house, which served as a restaurant under that name from 1971 to 2002.  A gigantic wide-open, high-ceilinged dining room is lined with comfortable oversize black-leather booths, and seating is also available outside on both sheltered and unsheltered patios.  Located just across the street from the beach, it has great views of the ocean and people-watching is also primo.




The restaurant is known for big breakfasts and its Bloody Mary, plus great steamers, seafood, prime steaks, and oven-fired flatbreads.  Machaca--scrambled eggs mixed with marinated beef, sweet red onions, sliced peppers, corn chips, and salsa, then topped with queso fresco and scallions and served with refried beans and crispy hash browns--is getting popular, and I really liked the double-decker BLT with avocado and what might be the world’s largest onion rings (the waiter told me the onions they are made from are the size of a human head).  Olallieberry pie from the Avila Valley Barn is a dessert option.




Custom House on Urbanspoon

When you’re not in town, you can keep up with what is happening in real time via a webcam that is posted atop the restaurant. 
Mr Rick’s bar (805) 595-7425. is adjacent.  The beach-front patio is a great place to watch a sunset, and live music is often scheduled. 

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images ©2015 Carole Terwilliger Meyers


Monday, February 23, 2015

Things to Do: Kelsey See Canyon Vineyards, San Luis Obispo, California


Kelsey See Canyon Vineyards  1947 See Canyon Rd., San Luis Obispo, (805) 595-9700.  Tasting daily; tour sometimes available by request.  Located on a scenic back road us a few miles from Avila Beach, this small winery is a charmer.  More than 100 wild peacocks roam the land, and an inviting picnic area with a creek and rows of grapevines is just off the informal tasting room.

peacock at Kelsey See Canyon Vineyards in San Luis Obispo, California


It is a family operation, started by a tugboat captain to get the family back together.  The owner’s nephew sometimes leads an informal tour, and art by the owner’s niece decorates the tasting room walls and some of the wine bottle labels.  

tasting room at Kelsey See Canyon Vineyards in San Luis Obispo, California


They only produce 5,000 cases per year, and it sells out fast to locals and wine club members.  Tasting standouts included a crisp 2013 Albarino with pineapple and grapefruit notes, the gold medal-winning 2013 Golden Delicious--a sweet 50 percent blend of apple cider and Chardonnay—and a nice, smooth 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon.  The unusual 2013 Estate “In-a-gadda-da-vino” Chardonnay, described as the “Iron Butterfly of Chardonnay,” is a trip and has a tie-dyed label to match.  The winery also makes a sweet end-of-season effervescent hard apple cider wine.  Owner Keith Kelsey says, “We’re an adventure.”  Live music with food and crafts stalls is scheduled on summer weekends.

wine bottles at Kelsey See Canyon Vineyards in San Luis Obispo, California


For more area wine adventures, see Avila Wine Trail

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images ©2015 Carole Terwilliger Meyers

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Things to Do: Alapay Cellars, Avila Beach, California


Alapay Cellars  415 1st St., (805) 595‐2632.  Daily 10:30am-6pm.  $10 tasting fee, free with purchase of one bottle.  Set back a block from the beach, this colorful tasting room features creative floor tiling and has several tasting areas with comfy upholstered high stools.  Doubling as a gift shop, a plethora of items is also displayed throughout the spacious room.  My tasting started with a buttery 2013 Central Coast Chardonnay that had rested in French oak for more than two years.  Then came an unusual 2013 Santa Barbara County 100% Cinsault Rhone varietal that makes for nice sipping.  An Old World-style 2013 Bien Nacido Reserve Pinot Noir from 40-year-old vines was nice and smooth, and a tasty silver medal-winning 2013 Central Coast Grenache displayed spicy black pepper notes.  I like dessert wines and so enjoyed ending with a jammy Paso Robles Zinfandel Port that had been in the barrel for four years and had pleasing berry notes. 

sign for Alapay Cellars in Avila Beach, California

tasting bar at Alapay Cellars in Avila Beach, California

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images ©2015 Carole Terwilliger Meyers

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Great Sleeps: Avila La Fonda Hotel, Avila Beach, California


Avila La Fonda Hotel  101 San Miguel St., 1 blk. to beach, (805) 595-1700.  28 rooms.  All gas fireplaces; some kitchens; some steam showers & saunas.  Afternoon wine and appetizers; evening pie; continental breakfast.  Dogs ok.  Free covered subterranean parking.  Mimicking the varied architecture of a Mexican village on the exterior, this hotel’s lobby continues the motif with a south-of-the-border courtyard feel.
exterior of Avila La Fonda Hotel in Avila Beach, California


In December, when I visited, seasonal cheer includes countless red poinsettias and a two-story-high decorated tree.
lobby at Christmas at Avila La Fonda Hotel in Avila Beach, California


An informal snack room off the lobby provides chocolate chip cookies, coffee, fruited water, and sometimes tangerines and nuts.  A typical afternoon appetizer spread can pass for dinner if you’re not particularly hungry--olives, a tasty garbanzo salad, ravioli, and cheesecake squares.  The intoxicating fragrance of baking pies begins permeating the inn around 7 p.m,, and at 8 p.m. heavenly pies from the nearby Avila Valley Barn--perhaps peach-raspberry, apple-peach, and boysenberry--are served up.
pie time at Avila La Fonda Hotel in Avila Beach, California


Breakfast features both extraordinarily delicious chocolate croissants and regular croissants from a talented local baker along with orange juice, coffee, and tea.  Should you stay two nights and be here at noon, a nacho bar with salsas as well as Mexican beer and coke is provided.  Each guest room is also stocked with a complimentary welcome snack basket filled with sodas, waters, chips, and more.  No one goes hungry at the La Fonda!  Books, board games, and movies are available to borrow, as are coolers, boogie boards, towels, and chairs for the beach.  A coupon for free wine tasting is also usually available.  Guests have complimentary use of the Avila Bay Athletic Club, located about 2 miles away, and guests who are celebrating a birthday get a special cake and those who are celebrating an anniversary get Champagne.  The entire hotel is nicely decorated with Mexican items, including a large collection of hand-painted Talavera ceramics from the Jalisco area of Mexico and terra cotta-colored Mexican paver-tile floors.  Hand-painted art works are here and there on the walls sponge-painted in lovely warm colors.  Guest rooms are all large, and most have a balcony and a two-person shower with six heads.  All rooms have a two-person Jacuzzi tub, a high undraped canopy bed, and heavy Mexican furniture
guest room at Avila La Fonda Hotel in Avila Beach, California


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images ©2015 Carole Terwilliger Meyers
 

Friday, February 13, 2015

Things to Do: Avila Beach Pier, Harford Pier, and Olde Port Inn; in Avila Beach, California


Avila Beach piers: 

Avila Beach Pier  This 1,685-foot-long pier that extends out from the beach is for pedestrians only.  Recreational fishing is permitted.

Avila Beach Pier in Avila Beach, California



Harford Pier  In Port San Luis, (805) 550‐3347.  This 1878 wood working pier is a great spot to hang for a while and watch the fishing boats unload and perhaps see a few pelicans up close with their own catch.  A few fresh fish markets sell high quality local seafood and fish that is hand-filleted on the spot and packed to go.  Though it is an enjoyable walk, you can also drive on the pier and even park at the end for a meal at Olde Port Inn.

pelican with fish in mouth on Harford Pier in Avila Beach, California


fisherman on Harford Pier in Avila Beach, California



Olde Port Inn on Harford Pier in Avila Beach, California



Olde Port Inn  At end of pier, (805) 595-2515.  14 L Sat-Sun, D daily; $$$.  Dining here includes a drive down the vintage wood Harford Pier and free parking.  Arrive early to allow time to explore the pier itself.  Good water views are available from both dining rooms, but only one has the famous tables with windows in the center that allow viewing right through the wharf to the water below.  Note that you won’t be seeing into the water periscope-style.  Instead the view is from above the water, but if you’re lucky you might see a seal go by.  Though the menu is simple, some of the preparations are not.  I enjoyed a cup of white clam chowder and a fresh Dungeness crab salad with mustard-vinaigrette dressing while my dining partner slurped up the house specialty cioppino.  On my next visit, I plan to try the Dungeness crab cakes, fried fish, and housemade peach cobbler.  Amazingly, corkage is complimentary, so do some wine tasting and bring along a favorite discovery. 

white clam chowder at Olde Port Inn on Harford Pier in Avila Beach, California


cioppino at Olde Port Inn on Harford Pier in Avila Beach, California



Dungeness crab salad at Olde Port Inn on Harford Pier in Avila Beach, California

Olde Port Inn Restaurant on Urbanspoon

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images ©2015 Carole Terwilliger Meyers