Chef Erich Koberl and his wife, Patricia, have owned and operated Koberl at Blue in downtown San Luis Obispo since 2005. Both have extensive experience in all aspects of the hospitality industry, and have brought it to bear in creating their stylish and popular restaurant and bar.
Erich Koberl’s resume ranges from jobs at small fine dining establishments to a stint as vice president of food and beverage at the five-diamond Grand Wailea Resort and Spa in Maui, to several years with Hilton International Hotels in such locales as London, Chicago and Venezuela.
At Koberl at Blue, his menus feature “wine country cuisine to complement the Central Coast’s wine region,” according to the restaurant’s website.
What is your favorite local/seasonal ingredient that you’re currently using?
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It’s hard to choose just one from all the wonderful fresh fruits and vegetables we get here, but let’s go with yellow onions from Avila Valley Barn in Avila Beach. They’re a simple ingredient, but I think the biggest impact we can have on our local growers is using more foods like that every day. We have such a tendency to focus on all the more glamorous local foods.
How are you currently using the onions?
I’m using them in a caramelized Avila Valley onion, speck and Gruyère tart with microgreens in a grapeseed oil vinaigrette, paired with a Zocker grüner veltliner from Edna Valley. (Speck is salt-cured and smoked pork, similar to bacon.) By cooking the onions down very slowly with a little oil and coarse salt, they start to soften and caramelize and become sweet. You’ll want to keep an eye on them, stirring them so they don’t burn.
How does this particular dish represent your culinary style/background/philosophy?
It’s a very classic, rustic type of dish that’s very common where I come from – the Alps region of Austria. That area is very driven by cooking with cheese, and I like to really showcase it, not just put out a cheese plate. With this dish, you’ve got the sweetness of the onion balanced by the saltiness of the speck and the savory Gruyère, which is such a great melting cheese.
It’s also just a wonderfully simple, straightforward dish. There’s gotten to be so much emphasis on elaborate wording that the descriptions have become more important than the food itself.
How would home cooks approach the onions in their own kitchens?
Even just caramelizing onions can be the basis for so many things: this tart, French onion soup or a wonderful spread for bruschetta. In other words, treat the onions very simply. One of the hardest things for a chef – or anyone – to do is keep it simple. If you start with good ingredients, the more you do to them, the more you take away. You end up masking the flavor and you lose the character of the ingredient.
It’s like a homegrown tomato. You can’t beat that. You pick it while it’s still warm, maybe sprinkle it with a little salt and pepper, and when you bite into it, you can taste the sun.
What is your favorite dish to cook at home?
Exactly those types of things – simple dishes. We have a garden at home so we might do a free-range roast chicken with a tomato salad, or fresh fish tacos with cilantro and homemade salsas.
What is your favorite food and wine pairing?
I don’t know that I have a favorite. I’m a big fan of the local craft beer scene, and also of many local wines. I do love sitting out in the garden on a hot day and relaxing with a nice, crisp, light wine such as a sauvignon blanc, pinot gris or chardonnay. There’s really nothing much better than that.
Koberl at Blue
998 Monterey St., San Luis Obispo
783-1135 | epkoberl.com
Hours: Daily, dinner 5-10 p.m., bar 4 p.m.-midnight (sometimes later Thursday-Saturday), appetizers Sunday-Wednesday 4-10 p.m., Thursday-Saturday 4-11 p.m.
The scene: A classy, comfortable restaurant and bar.
The cuisine: Wine-friendly cuisine with an international flair, including upscale appetizers; draft and bottled beer, full bar and good wine list with local vintages and select imports.
Expect to spend: Appetizers and salads $8-16, most entrées $22-30.