Tuesday, July 22, 2014     Volume: 15, Issue: 19
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Santa Maria Sun / Eats

Cambria road trip: Seafood, wine, spa treatments and an afternoon on The Enchanted Hill

BY WENDY THIES SELL


SEAFOOD WITH A VIEW
The large oceanfront patio at Moonstone Beach Bar & Grill in Cambria is popular with locals and tourists every day for lunch and dinner.
PHOTO BY WENDY THIES SELL

Living on California’s Central Coast, we don’t have to travel far from home when we want a weekend “away” in paradise.

One of my favorite getaways is the North Coast of San Luis Obispo County.

This summer, my husband Michael and I met up with friends for two rejuvenating days of wining and dining along the scenic seashore that culminated with an afternoon at the county’s most popular tourist attraction—Hearst Castle.

We started the day early with “the most important meal of the day” in Morro Bay at Dorn’s Original Breakers Café, family owned and operated since 1942. 

Dorn’s has terrific views of the harbor and the ancient, iconic Morro Rock. We started with coffee and omelets, and then fought over the last bite of the outstanding buttermilk pancakes.

Dorn’s is located at 801 Market Ave. in Morro Bay. The website is dornscafe.com. The phone number is 772-4415.

After a short drive up Highway 1, we arrived in Cambria and checked into the stylish and serene El Colibri Boutique Hotel & Spa at 5620 Moonstone Beach Drive. The website is elcolibrihotel.com. The phone number is 924-3003.

Owners Robert and Pragna Mueller opened the boutique hotel in 2009, naming it after an unforgettable hummingbird that buzzed past them while vacationing in Venezuela.

Coincidentally, hummingbirds hovered over flowers outside our window while we ate El Colibri’s complimentary breakfast the next morning.

El Colibri serves a Sangria reception most afternoons at the hotel wine bar, Pragna told me, “just to kind of make it fun and get it going.”

And, every Saturday night, the hotel brings in musicians and a different Central Coast winemaker to pour wines and talk with guests.

Several times during our visit we gathered in the tranquil lobby filled with artwork from the Muellers’ international travels.

Pragna gave us the VIP treatment by serving us mimosas and appetizers before we headed out for our four-hour private tour of Hearst Castle.

On “The Hill,” we wandered through William Randolph Hearst’s wine cellar, his lofty private living quarters, and everywhere in between.

While lounging poolside at Neptune Pool, our gregarious tour guide, Bobbie, recommended the wine tasting room and deli at the bottom of the hill in historic Old San Simeon Village.

We were saving our appetites for dinner, but we were definitely up for drinking some wine.

So we went straight to the Hearst Ranch Winery tasting room and wound up liking the entire lineup of a dozen wines, including Malbec, Tempranillo, and Cabernet Sauvignon. 

It’s located at 442 SLO San Simeon Road, San Simeon. Visit hearstranchwinery.com.

There are now seven wineries between Cayucos and San Simeon making up the new Pacific Coast Wine Trail. For details on every tasting room on the trail, go to pacificcoastwinetrail.com.

Next door is Sebastian’s Store, inside the oldest building along the county’s North Coast, built in 1852.


PIECE OF CAKE
The crispy crab cakes at Robin’s in Cambria are made with lump blue crab, Louis sauce, salad greens, circled with green parsley oil.
PHOTO BY WENDY THIES SELL

At least two locals that day told us Sebastian’s French dip and pastrami sandwiches are legendary. It’s on our list of places to visit next time.

Another highlight of our weekend was dinner at the beloved Robin’s restaurant in Cambria’s East Village, in the lovely flower- and herb-filled garden patio. 

I started with elegant Ampelos Pinot Noir and Robin’s marvelous crispy crab cakes: lump blue crab, Louis sauce, topped with salad, and circled with fresh, vibrant green parsley oil.

For my main course, I felt like partaking in some of the exotic flavors Robin’s is famous for, so I chose the Thai green chicken curry.

Robin’s handcrafted global cuisine includes such international dishes as crispy Vietnamese spring rolls, Moroccan duck breast, shellfish paella, lamb curry burritos, and Thai lettuce wraps, in addition to American dishes such as salmon bisque, flat iron steak, and the Cambrian avocado melt.

Our professional server was so exceptional that I had to ask Robin’s owner Shanny Covey to share with me her secret to hiring restaurant staff.

“The key really is selecting people with a heart for service,” Covey revealed.  

That may be why Robin’s succeeds in being a sophisticated yet comfortable place to enjoy flavorful, healthful food year after year—the cuisine, ambiance, and servers have heart.

Robin’s is located at 4095 Burton Drive. Go to robinsrestaurant.com or call 927-5007 for reservations.

The next morning, we visited Cambria’s West Village for art gallery hopping and souvenir shopping.

Then we treated ourselves to massages in 
El Colibri’s petite spa. Mike and I enjoyed the hour-long, warm basalt stone massage at the capable hands of experienced massage therapists.


ZESTY SHELLFISH
A savory first course item at Moonstone Bar & Grill; shrimp and scallops sautéed in a spicy Cajun sauce.
PHOTO BY WENDY THIES SELL

Relaxed and hungry, we headed out for an early dinner a few blocks away at Moonstone Beach Bar and Grill, just a moon stone’s throw from the rocky beach.

I have dined at this casual, oceanfront restaurant and watched the waves roll from the large outdoor patio ever since I arrived in California in the ’90s.

My dad, Ivan, a Wisconsin resident, is convinced that Moonstone has the best clam chowder sourdough bread bowl he’s ever tasted; he has devoured it at least a dozen times over the last decade.

If we dare to order clam chowder elsewhere, Dad chimes in, “It’s not as good as Moonstone’s!”

The Cajun shrimp and scallops and the smoked salmon quesadilla were crowd pleasers as we passed the plates around.

The restaurant’s website is moonstonebeach.com. The phone number is 927-3859.

After watching the sun set over the ocean, we had to head home, but the rest of our group moved on for oysters at the popular Sea Chest—another great restaurant on Moonstone Beach Drive.

(I reminded my friends that the Sea Chest doesn’t accept credit cards or reservations. A line of patrons often forms before it opens at 5:30 p.m. each night.)

See seachestrestaurant.com for more.

 

Sun wine and food columnist Wendy Thies Sell is always planning her next Central Coast road trip. 
Contact her with ideas at wthies@santamariasun.com.