Last year at this time I was envious of my sister, who lives in Washington, D.C. She’d spent most of January dining at her area’s upscale eateries for Restaurant Month, when many establishments offered prix fix, threecourse menus for a mere $30.
My coveting ceased this month when the Visitors & Conference Bureau launched Restaurant Month in SLO County. Many prominent local restaurants are of fering three course prix fix menus for $30 for the entire month of January.
Hoppe’s Garden Bistro quickly made my must-visit list as many of its entrees exceed $30 on a normal night. Under the helm of chef and owner Bill Hoppe, the Cayucos restaurant has never failed to exceed my expectations.
But would local chefs offer only low-cost items such as chicken or pasta, I wondered? I soon found this is definitely not the case.
An eclectic menu
On Wednesday night, Hoppe’s prix-fix menu was enticing and eclectic—Wild Boar Osso Bucco and Spiny Lobster Ravioli were both on the menu.
For my first course, I had the delicate and ample butter lettuce salad, the crisp leaves topped with sweet and spicy walnuts and slices of organic apples. All were tossed in a slightly creamy champagne vinaigrette that was just tangy enough to offset the candied nuts.
The alternative first course option was local wild mushrooms served under a puff pastry. The silky pile of sliced, sautéed mushrooms was large, nearly a meal in itself, and delicious, tasting slightly of sweet fortified wine and cream, all the better when topped with flaky, buttery pastry.
For the second course, spiny lobster meat was stuffed into a large homemade ravioli and smothered in a saffron cream sauce. Rustic and flavorful green beans, carrots and cauliflower, along with baby bok choy, circled the pasta.
The generous serving of lobster meat was a nice surprise, and the vegetables were cooked just right, a fresh and crunchy contrast to the smooth and creamy lobster meat. I never found out if this dish is on Hoppe’s regular menu. I sure hope so — it was a knockout.
A rustic dish
The Braised Wild Boar Osso Bucco was an earthy, rustic dish that paired perfectly with a glass of local pinot noir.
The rich meat had been slowly cooked down for more than 24 hours, our server told us, until it fell off the bone when gently touched by a fork. Served atop a dense bed of mixed root vegetables, this was a real Restaurant Month bargain because it’s normally priced at $26 on the menu.
Choosing a wine for these meals was no problem. I think Hoppe’s wine list is one of the best in the county, offering international picks that are often not accessible to the public, but also including local favorites such as Wolff Vineyards, Domaine Alfred and Wild Horse. A nice selection of local dessert wines, as well as ports from Portugal, is also available. I opted for the cheapest port, just $5, and was delighted by the sweet and fruity wine to accompany my dessert.
Desserts served for “Restaurant Month” are unchanged from Hoppe’s regular menu. Choices ranged from sorbet with a glass of champagne to Chocolate Oblivion, a flourless chocolate torte. I sampled the sautéed banana sundae, a scoop of vanilla ice cream topped with a housemade caramel sauce and cooked-down banana slices over a warm brownie. Candied nuts finished the rich dish, making it a favorite with my table. The Chocolate Oblivion was dense, rich and smooth, and the sweet bread pudding was light and fluffy and topped with an excellent fresh whipped cream.
Thirty dollars for a meal may not seem like a bargain to diners who count their pennies. But if you want to enjoy a three-course meal from some of the county’s finest restaurants, it’s a great excuse to indulge. If you’re going to partake, however, you’d better hurry. Restaurant Month ends in nine days.