Restaurant News & Reviews

Dining Out: A new level in Paso

This story was corrected April 10, 2008: A Dining Out review of Level Four restaurant incorrectly stated that Chris New was previously employed by French Laundry, a Bay Area restaurant. New worked with the former sous chef of French Laundry at a restaurant in Chicago but never worked at French Laundry.Tucked between a sandwich shop and F. McLintocks Saloon in downtown Paso Robles is a dark elevator that descends to a stylish new nighttime hub, Level Four Restaurant & Lounge.

It’s the newest fashionable restaurant to open in downtown Paso Robles, and it’s so easy to miss that many locals have yet to discover the chic lounge and dining room that pays tribute to the glamour of the Prohibition era.

It’s hidden design evokes a bit of mystery while its elegance brings a new level of sophistication to the city.

Under the helm of executive chef Chris New, the menu’s haute cuisine puts equal emphasis on aesthetics and taste, both of which exceeded my expectations.

Chef with a pedigree

New’s resume is impressive — he’s done stints at the Ritz Carlton and French Laundry in San Francisco and Deborah’s Room at Justin Winery in Paso Robles.

Patrons have the choice of sitting in the contemporary dining room or in the lounge with its plush curved booths and tall bar tables where a corner stage with a piano is vibrant and lively on the weekends when jazz musicians perform. On quieter weeknights, it sits as a decorative backdrop.

Level Four’s menu is briefer than at most fine-dining restaurants with fewer than 10 entrees and a handful of appetizers, salads and a soup du jour.

While the restaurant’s cuisine is tasteful and elegant, the greater emphasis is on the bar and lounge with its four-page wine list and two pages of liquors, ports and beers on tap. California wines include local favorites such as Justin and Linne Calado, and there are also wines from Spain, New Zealand, Italy and South America.

I visited on a stormy evening so I skipped the chilled white asparagus soup for the seared ahi appetizer ($12). Thick slices are coated with black and white sesame seeds and seared so quickly that almost none of the delicate fish is cooked. Its rareness is what makes this ahi so delicious. The fish sits atop a white rice cake and a slaw of diced red onion, jalapeños and spicy miso sauce. Smoked roe is sprinkled atop to add an enticing and slightly salty bite to the dish, making it spicy and refreshing.

The crispy pork belly ($12) is stacked over a fruit chutney and creamy custard. Delicious and eclectic, this is another savory start to dinner.

The filet mignon entrée ($34) is seared a pink medium rare and served with rustic sautéed vegetables, Parmesan mashed potatoes and a red wine reduction. The dish is rich and flavorful and went well with a glass of Falcone syrah.

Scallops ($26) are lined up on a rectangular platter with Spanish chorizo crisps and vegetable puree. The plump shellfish is cooked medium rare, giving it a perfect silky and creamy texture inside a crisped exterior.

Servings are petite yet elegant at Level Four with the chef hoping for all of his dishes to delight the senses. His creativity shines through most dishes, as on the lemon custard tart ($8). A tiny pile of Pop Rocks candy on the side adds a bit of fizzle to the tart dessert.

Level Four offers a fine-dining experience that is still somewhat of a rarity on the Central Coast. The tab runs up quickly, but many diners will find the inventive and eclectic setting well worth the price tag.

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