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paso robles, better with age (2)

by Jon Rusciano

Before arriving in Paso Robles, I looked through Trip Advisor for some references on restaurants. Under seafood, there is no higher recommendation than Paso Terra, located on Pine Street in the Downtown area.  Thus it became our second evening’s dinner outing.  It is a small storefront, owned and operated by Cristine Averseng and her Avignon Culinary School trained husband Chef Andre.  We were the first to arrive for the evening, a concern for some, but not seasoned early diners.  We were warmly greeted by Cristine, who to me eerily resembled the proprietor of the women’s New York City boarding house in the 1967 movie “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” actress Beatrice Lillie.  If she had whispered, “Sad to be alone in the world,” I might have bolted. She proved not the villain, but a wonderfully gracious host who served us free hors d-oeuvres and champagne before even offering a menu.  Who does that anymore/ever?

The menu offered an array of seafood dishes as well as more hearty fare, as would be expected in a French Bistro.  Starter selections were crab cakes, escargot and crawfish/crab fondue.  Main plates included lamb and beef filets, but the more interesting of their creations were from the sea, such as parmesan horseradish salmon, scallops with caviar vodka sauce and Moroccan style monkfish.  The catch of the day was Andre’s special, offering incredible combinations of ingredients and flavors.  Not being a cook, I am unqualified to comment more on these dishes.  Yet suffice it to say that we asked for reservations to return on our final evening in town.  It was French cooking artistry at its finest.  We had no room for desserts but the menu described the likes of Andre’s lemon cheesecake, Andre’s macarons filled with mango sorbet and his coffee parfait with Kalua. It will not take long for this spot to require reservations weeks in advance.

It rained that evening, sprinkling just enough to make you annoyed for having dashed to the car without an umbrella…not a soaker.  Back inside we were into our rooms and out for the evening.  The next day we had planned something different, a visit to Hearst Castle in nearby San Simeon.  Dave had been there before, but Calvin and I had not.  We signed up for the “Accessible Tour,” allowing Calvin to be wheeled around in a wheelchair, something that benefitted not only his recovering framework but all of us as well, given the special treatment offered to the disabled. 

Following our Joe’s breakfast, we packed up and drove out to what is a treasure of the California state park system.  The property was donated   following William Randolph Hearst’s death, no doubt some kind of a tradeoff for the whopping Estate Tax owed.  California preserves the surrounding property and the castle complex with funds from the tours offered.  No matter how this megalith is imagined, it will surprise and delight.  The outside pool itself (currently under restoration) was constructed of concrete, plaster and tiles, elevated above ground by columned pillars founded into the rock below.  Given that its size is over 9,000 sf., holding 350,000 gallons of water, it was an incredible feat of engineering and construction, especially considering that it and its pavilions changing rooms were demolished three times before William and his architect Julia Morgan agreed it was adequate.  The “Great Rooms” and grounds made up the body of the main tour.  It takes half a day just to see these areas, and our tour was much more complete than the ones offered those who could climb all the steps.   There were 3 to 4 thousand square feet Spanish styled cabana houses spotted around the perimeter, for the extreme VIP guests he hosted, such as Joseph Kennedy, Calvin Coolidge and Winston Churchill.   It is an amazing testament to what unlimited money and grand scale dreams can accomplish.

Our guide recommended for lunch we visit the Moonstone Beach Bar & Grill in nearby Cambria.  The GPS took us there just fine, but the place proved a disappointment, food wise.  The view of the ocean would have been great if it was warm and calm enough to dine in the outside patio. Another disappointment.  The waitress said the most popular dish they served were the crab cakes.  I have had excellent crab cakes before. These were nowhere close.  We moved onward. 

Returning home we looked out over the mountains, previously covered by fog during the morning’s drive.  As sea mist clouds cleared, the vistas were sights which had multiple motorists pulling over to roadside outlook perches for photos and reflections of the scenic beauty still available on our troubled planet.  Arriving home, we had no energy for more wine adventures.  We took it easy for the balance of the afternoon and planned our dining experience for the evening.  Since we had seafood the night before and would likely be having it again at Paso Terra the following evening, we all agreed that a steakhouse would be the perfect fit.  From what we read online, The Steakhouse at Paso Robles Inn appeared to be our best option.  This turned out to be a mistake.  Very popular among many of the locals, the place lacked decent service (with waiters who appeared unsupervised high school kids), good food (with one of the steaks rendered uneatable by undercooking and loads of untrimmed gristle and fat) and no policy for assuaging the disappointment of dissatisfied customers.   Unfortunately Dave received the worst of it, making the evening a bust for us all.  That one will remain on our “never return” list.  Slight redemption came from the Outpost Zinfandel bottle that we brought, opened and enjoyed.

The evening concluded without dessert or a stop by the yogurt place.  We were not in the mood for sweets following our experience.  The balance of the trip would be a positive experience.  Please see the next issue of Sally’s Place for the conclusion.


Paso Terra Restaurant

Hearst Castle

Moonstone Beach Bar & Grill

The Steakhouse at Paso Robles Inn

Note: This information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the businesses in question before making your plans.

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