Road trip to Paso Robles, California: Organic cuisine, downtown stroll, and olive oil - Day 1

Beating the LA traffic is the best way to start any road trip. With minor traffic and construction, it will take 4 to 4.5 hours to get to Paso Robles, CA from Southern California. Once out of the Los Angeles County vicinity, the drive is relaxed as you pass through the Grapevine and into the Central Valley. As you start to drive west toward the coast, the landscape starts to change from farmland to grassland with grazing cattle, picturesque farmhouses, and barns on either side of California Highway 46.

Paso Robles means “Pass of the Oaks” in Spanish. The rolling hills and majestic oaks are what attracted the first settlers here. Paso Robles is now known for their vineyards, olive orchards, farms, and ranches that inspire the cuisine and culture. The “Templeton Gap” in the coastal Santa Lucia mountain range allows marine air to cascade inland and across the Paso Robles wine country. This cooling effect puts a healthy strain on the vines for quality and complex wines. A temperature swing of 50 degrees within a 24-hour period are not uncommon during the late summer months.

The Oaks Hotel is a mile and a half from Downtown Paso Robles and right up the street from the Paso Robles Event Center. It is situated near Highway 101 but it is surprisingly quiet - free of noise from the road and surrounding businesses. The Oaks Hotel opened in the fall of 2012 and the hotel still looks brand new. They have an on-site restaurant, bar, pool, spa, fitness room, and more. The front desk staff is very friendly and helpful.

The King Suite is a very spacious room that has a comfortable king bed, queen-size sofa bed, two 40” flat screen TVs, microwave, in-room safe, mini refrigerator, iPod/mp3 docking station/clock, hairdryer, iron/ironing board, telephone, and a full size bathroom complete with bathrobes and slippers to make you even more comfortable. The windows even open so the fresh Paso air can flow through the room with ease. They also have free high speed Wi-Fi so working and surfing the web are breeze.

After you’re done checking in and have your room situated, it’s lunch time. A great place to start your Paso Robles food experience is at Thomas Hill Organics Bistro and Wine Bar. Debbie Thomas had been in the high-stress advertising world in Los Angeles and wanted to slow the pace down a bit. Debbie had vacationed in Paso Robles and knew this is where she wanted to retire. In 2003, it all started with a farm that began to produce more fruits and vegetables that a family could eat themselves. They started giving away produce to their friends. Eventually, Debbie and her business partner started a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program along with Thomas Hill Farms which had grown to 900 trees and various row crops. With this success and abundance of produce, the organic restaurant route was the next venture. The restaurant has grown with recent expansions of a courtyard patio dining area and wine bar entrance from Park Street. Along with organic produce and locally raised ingredients, they also have unique water glasses made from the bottom half of wine bottles. The top half is used as a votive candlelight disperser on the bar and tables.

Pan Roasted Tolenas Farm Quail Salad contains Bloomsdale spinach, yellow frisee, Belgium endive, feta, toasted pine nuts, and topped with a sherry & bacon vinaigrette. The quail was perfectly roasted with a dark golden brown exterior. The meat was tender and juicy inside. The lettuces were good blend of green, peppery, and bitter flavors which pushed the quail flavor forward. The feta added a salty creaminess. The vinaigrette was the perfect blend of acidity and sweetness and contrasted nicely with the salad ingredients. Rating: 5/5

Cold Smoked Salmon Sandwich contains avocado, sriracha aioli, macerated red onion, and sunflower sprouts. The cold smoked salmon (from Washington) was excellent with good smoky essence and buttery flavor. The bread had a good hearty grain flavor. The accompaniment of a light salad was a nice touch making it a full meal. There were some competing flavors in the sandwich, maybe a less aggressive lettuce choice like bib or romaine or remove the sriracha aioli and replace with a dill aioli. Rating: 4.5/5

After a nice lunch, take a walk around Downtown Paso Robles. When you cross 13th Street, you will be in the heart of downtown with a plethora of restaurants, shops, and wine bars. Take a stroll through City Park. It is 4.8 acres of greenery, lawns, and beautiful oak trees. There is a playground of the kiddies, restrooms, picnic tables, horseshoe pits, barbeque area, and gazebo. Many festivals are held here like Pioneer Day, “Concerts in the Park”, and the Paso Robles Wine Festival (more on this festival later on). Check out the menus for the restaurants posted along the way so you can plan your meals and make reservations.

For an afternoon adventure, hop back in the car and take a drive into wine country. But, instead of wine tasting, how about olive oil tasting? Pasolivo is located in the Paso Robles wine country. Once owned by King Vidor (director of classics such as War & Peace, Northwest Passage, and the black/white portion of The Wizard of Oz), this place was called Willow Creek Ranch. The Dirk family fell in love with the magic of this property and purchased it in 2012. Along with the 6,000-tree olive orchard, majestic oaks, wild turkeys and deer also call this place home. All of the olive oil is crafted on premises from hand-picked harvesting, milling, and pressing. Their olive oil not only tastes good, but is good for your health as well. Cold-pressed olive oils preserve beneficial polyphenols.

Along with Pasolivo Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO), they also have some blends: Kitchen Blend and California Blend use different varietals in the orchard to achieve their flavors just like in winemaking. Basil, Rosemary, Citrus, Lemon, and Lime Olive Oils are made differently than other “infused” olive oils on the market. The herbs and peels are milled with the olives to retain the polyphenols in the olive oil and the natural oil from the herbs and fruits blend naturally. Most flavored olive oils are steeped with an herb or fruit to achieve the flavor and polyphenols are cooked out during this process.

The staff at the tasting room can help you pick the right ingredients to make perfect meals in your own kitchen. They will take you through a tasting of the olive oils, seasonings, and salts to help you combine flavors. It’s just like wine tasting but using the savory senses of your palate. You can also taste some of the local products like balsamic vinegars, tapenades, honey, and more.

After a day working out your taste palate, it might be time to seek dinner options. If you had a long drive in, it might be convenient to just return to the hotel. Indulge is run by Chef Cheryl, who is the daughter of the owners of The Oaks Hotel. Using local ingredients, she does a great job of producing Paso Robles-style cuisine.

  • Savings Tips: Hotel guests receive 15% off their meal (excluding alcohol). If you check in on Yelp, you may receive a FREE draft beer.

BarrelHouse Brewing Company’s Stout is crafted with oats, lactose, Belgian dark syrups, dark malts, and hops. It has a creamy and malty flavor with a hint of chocolate. It is very smooth with a mild bitter bite on the end of the palate. Rating: 5/5

Cheesy Steak Fries are fries topped with steak (grilled to your liking), melted cheddar cheese, caramelized onions, and chipotle aioli. The shoestring fries are quite tasty but could have been fried a tad longer for crispier exterior. The cheddar was melted perfectly for even coverage. The onions were more macerated than caramelized and added a pleasant acidity flavor to balance the dish. The steak was tender, but could have been a bit rarer. Rating: 4.5/5

Fried Brussels Sprouts had crispy outer leaves and tender sweet leaves on the inside. The balsamic reduction worked well and didn’t overpower the brussels sprout flavor. Rating: 4.5/5

Rib Eye Steak is a 16 oz. USDA Choice ribeye steak served with roasted red potatoes, seasonal vegetables, and red wine reduction. The steak is a good size, but would have been better if it were aged. The red wine reduction is really the star of the dish. With its sweet and acidic flavor, it really brightened the flavors of the steak, potatoes, and even the vegetables. The use of purple and white fingerling potatoes added a nice color-composed dish with the vegetables. Rating: 4/5

Crème Brulee infused with rosemary and vanilla bean is topped with fresh berries. The berries were plump and bursting with sweet tart juice. The custard base was creamy and smooth with vanilla flavor. The rosemary flavor was not really apparent. Rating: 4/5

First impression day of Paso Robles was fabulous! A good night’s sleep is well deserved as the adventure begins again in the morning.

To view more photos, please visit OC Food Diva's Facebook page.

For more information:
3000 Riverside Ave
Paso Robles, CA 93446
+1.888.298.4141 (Hotel)
+1.805.237.8700 (Restaurant)
Restaurant hours: Wednesday through Monday from 5pm to 9pm (closed on Tuesday)

1313 Park St
Paso Robles, CA 93446
Hours: Sunday from 10am to 3pm (brunch) and 5pm to 9pm (dinner); Monday through Thursday from 11am to 3pm (lunch) and 5pm to 9pm (dinner); Friday and Saturday from 11am to 3pm (lunch) and 5pm-10pm (dinner)

8530 Vineyard Dr
Paso Robles, CA 93446
Hours: Daily from 11am to 5pm

Trip was sponsored in part by Travel Paso

Thomas Hill Organics on Urbanspoon


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