Restaurant News & Reviews

Templeton chef's crispy quail showcases summer flavors

Chef Ian McPhee is in his 20th year at his restaurant McPhee's Grill in Templeton, following 10 years at his eatery in Cambria.
Chef Ian McPhee is in his 20th year at his restaurant McPhee's Grill in Templeton, following 10 years at his eatery in Cambria.

Cal Poly grad Ian McPhee has spent more than three decades in the Central Coast restaurant business, gaining experience at several local establishments before operating Ian’s in Cambria from 1983 to 1993.

This year, he and his wife, June, are celebrating their 20th year at McPhee’s Grill, which was recently named Business of the Year by the Templeton Chamber of Commerce.

The McPhees have been longtime champions of the local wine industry, and also support local food purveyors whenever possible when creating their wine-friendly cuisine.

Q: What is your favorite local/seasonal ingredient that you’re currently using in your menu?

A: Quail is a favorite product for me to use, especially when it can be locally sourced — it makes it so much better.

(Note: Though it may require an advance order, quail can be found at several local markets, including Nature’s Touch and J&R Meats in Templeton, Arroyo Grande Meat Market in the Village of Arroyo Grande, and California Fresh Market in Pismo Beach.)

Q: How are you currently using quail?

A: Crispy quail with watermelon mint salsa and sriracha ranch dipping sauce. This isn’t a dish you should try to eat with a knife and fork — use your fingers to get all the morsels!

Q: How does this particular dish represent your culinary style/philosophy?

A: I’m not sure I have a style, I serve what I like to cook and eat. That’s my philosophy.

Q: How would home cooks approach quail in their own kitchens?

A: I think anyone can cook the recipe below — it’s all in the prep and having everything ready so when you fry the quail everything else just comes together. Don’t make it complicated.

Q: What is your favorite dish to cook at home?

A: Anything on the barbecue. Why? Because if I don’t smell like smoke, I haven’t had a good day!

Q: What is your favorite food and wine pairing?

A: Yes! I haven’t met one I didn’t enjoy!

McPhee’s Grill

416 S. Main St., Templeton | 434-3204 |

Hours: Lunch Monday-Saturday 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m., dinner nightly at 5 p.m.

The scene: A popular spot for locals and visitors, located in a historic building (circa 1860) on Main Street.

The cuisine: Wine-friendly fare with bold, balanced flavors and textures; the wine list has always celebrated local labels.

Expect to spend: Lunch $14-20; dinner entrées $24-42, pizzas and burgers $12-18; desserts $8.

Recipe: Crispy Quail with watermelon mint salsa and sriracha ranch dipping sauce

Makes: 6 servings

Make the brine, tempura, salsa and dipping sauce using the recipes below.

Rinse 12 whole quail, and split them into four pieces each (2 breasts, 2 legs/thighs).

Add quail to simple brine and refrigerate for 1 hour. 

Remove from brine and pat completely dry.

Set deep fryer to 350 degrees or use a deep pot filled with 2 inches cooking oil and a cooking thermometer to monitor temperature.

Dip quail pieces into tempura and then into fryer. Cook until dark golden brown.

Drain on paper towels.

To serve, plate two quail per person — stack pieces on plate, place salsa next to quail and then place a puddle or ramekin of dipping sauce on the plate.

Simple brine

Combine 1/2 cup kosher salt and 1/2 cup granulated sugar in 2 quarts water and stir until dissolved.

Quick tempura

Mix together 1 cup of flour and 1 tablespoon cornstarch in 1-1/2 cups of seltzer water and keep cold.

Sriracha ranch dipping sauce

Mix together 1 cup favorite ranch dressing, 1/4 cup sriracha sauce, 1 teaspoon fresh lime juice and 1 teaspoon sesame seeds.

Watermelon mint salsa

Mix all ingredients together and chill.

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