Downtown Paso Robles appears to be the new restaurant hot spot. Artisan opened to rave reviews last year and other notables such as Villa Creek and Bistro Laurent have loyal followings of culinary enthusiasts.
Recently, Matthew's on Spring joined the impressive lineup after owner Matthew Riley opened his second Paso Robles location in three years. His other restaurant, Matthew's at the Airport, has seen success despite its outof- downtown location and was deemed 'best airport restaurant' by the $100 Hamburger Flying Club.
The new Matthew's has a menu similar to the airport location with subtle changes, such as the seafood selection and wine list. The restaurant's decor is elegant, with linen-covered tables and oversized booths. Italian inspirations are found throughout from the fauxfinished walls to the large Roman-style columns draped in chiffon.
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My fiance and I recently stopped by the restaurant on a weeknight without having made a reservation.
The restaurant was bustling for a Thursday night and we were pleasantly surprised by the chic ambience. We were told no tables were available without a reservation despite seeing numerous empty tables, so we offered to eat at the bar.
We were served by the bartender, who was friendly and fairly knowledgeable. The wine selection was extensive and obviously loyal to Paso Robles wineries. Other than champagne, there were no wines from outside the area. I support the "buy local" idea but I like to see a bit of variety in terms of wine selection. But being fairly familiar with local wines and their prices, Matthew's weren't marked up much and wine lovers will appreciate that.
I opted for a glass of pinot noir to accompany our shrimp
bisque ($8) and lobster flan ($12) appetizers.
The bisque arrived quickly and was topped with a large, succulent prawn. The flavor of the shrimp within the soup was strong, and I considered it a bit much for me, especially since I was switching off with the rich lobster flan.
The flan was a buttery pastry shell filled with chunks of lobster, custard and a variety of veggies such as asparagus and peas. It was rich but lacked much lobster, but it was also more than an appetizer -- it could have been a meal in itself.
The appetizers were a bit heavy for my taste but I'll take some of the blame. I should have ordered something light, such as a salad. Next time, I'll try the vegetable terrine, gazpacho blanco soup or Cal-terranean salad, all of which sounded delicious.
For the main course, we tried the roasted quail ($26) and the rib-eye stuffed with Gorgonzola cheese ($31).
The rib-eye was cooked to a perfect medium-rare and was smothered in a red-wine reduction and melted Gorgonzola. The steak was large and smoky, covering nearly the entire plate, and could easily be split between two people, as we saw another couple do at the bar.
My quail (there were two) were also plentiful, and were wrapped in grape leaves and then roasted. The meat was tender, but there was too much saltiness in the sauce and the grape leaves. It was also served with risotto-like pilaf rather than Lyonnaise potatoes as the menu promised. It was not a big deal as the risotto was good, but someone should have mentioned the switch, especially at these prices.
Even so, no one could complain that the portions were small for the price. We had plenty of food and boxed up our leftovers so that we'd have a bit of room left for dessert.
The bartender recommended the fruit bread pudding ($7.50) topped with housemade cinnamon ice cream. The bread pudding was delicious, a bit dense and warm, making it a perfect companion to the ice cream. The cinnamon flavor was robust and perhaps a bit overwhelming, but if you like cinnamon, this is right up your alley.
We may return to Matthew's after it's had some time to find its groove. The restaurant was only open for three weeks when we visited and they were using presentation folders to hold their temporary menus until the final ones arrived.
While we enjoyed the ambience, the service and the extensive menu, we found our choices of dishes to be a bit on the heavy side. Even so, if you desire a rich Frenchinspired dining experience, Matthew's is the restaurant for you.
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MATTHEW'S ON SPRING
1215 Spring St., Paso Robles 237-7333
Hours: 11 a.m. to close daily The scene: Upscale downtown Paso Robles restaurant
The cuisine: French-inspired dishes for lunch and dinner Expect to spend: $8 to $33