Chef Spencer Johnston of Granada Bistro may have proven that, yes, you can go home again.
Fans of Kimberly Walker’s first Granada Bistro were dismayed to see the intimate wine bar close in March 2012, but their spirits were buoyed upon learning that the construction project next door was to be a new Granada concept.
After a year and a half of planning, retrofitting and remodeling, that incarnation opened in October 2012 as both a restaurant and an upscale 17-room boutique hotel with modern amenities amid a century-old ambience.
“We all loved Granada Bistro,” said Walker, “and everyone connected with it wanted to see it grow.” For inspiration, she and her business partners looked to the property’s original purpose and footprint — that of the circa 1920s Hotel Granada.
In keeping with that era, exposed brick walls set the tone for the restaurant, and the mood is deftly enhanced with vintage touches such as a tin ceiling and simple, utilitarian furniture. The inviting outdoor patio area is creatively anchored by a fire pit and striking tree sculpture (made from the building’s original tin ceilings) crafted by local artists Stephen Plowman and Carol Paulson.
The next step was “finding a chef and a general manager that could take a vision and see it come to life,” said Walker. “Spencer and Dennis (Severse) are without question those two people.”
A longtime friend of Walker’s, Severse brought considerable experience to the project via some very well-respected restaurants in Los Angeles.
For Johnston, Granada Bistro is a return to his San Luis Obispo roots. A county native, he “grew up growing all our own food — that was a huge part of my life.”
Drawn to cooking, he worked in such local kitchens as Bistro Laurent and Windows on the Water before going to San Diego and Los Angeles “to find my own legs.”
In developing the bistro’s menu, the team took a cue from “Granada” and established the underlying theme of “the Spanish spice trade philosophy,” Walker said.
From there, Johnston and his staff continually strive to incorporate local and seasonal into every aspect, and Severse noted that “we’ve also developed a craft cocktail program to match our food menu.”
All the menus change frequently, and everything possible is made from scratch — even handmade vinegars are on the horizon. A recent lunch menu included a house-smoked salmon salad with breakfast radishes and English cucumber, a scallop panzanella with local cherry tomatoes and basil pesto, and a roasted Berkshire pork loin sandwich served with house-cut fries.
Some of the latest dinner fare has ranged from a roasted Brussels sprouts appetizer with house-made bacon to a roasted bone marrow appetizer, from organic brick chicken with chili-garlic broccolini to a house-ground burger with bacon-onion jam, from farmers market risotto to paella with house-made chorizo and five types of seafood.
For weekend brunch, opt for dishes such as a breakfast sandwich with house-cured bacon, eggs Benedict with chipotle hollandaise, or a black truffle omelet with local mushrooms.
“(I) always knew I wanted to come back here,” Johnston said, and his local roots have helped him reconnect with the county’s food purveyors. He’s clearly relishing the chance to take full advantage of that “to utilize the bounty here, but there’s definitely always more to use.”