I don’t get to write about this kind of experience often. But as my wife and I met days after President Obama was re-elected to celebrate with a nice meal at Marisol, we stumbled on an endangered culinary species – the perfect menu.
It started when we entered the restaurant through the bar and ran into Chef Gregg Wangard perfecting the local fish and chips he was serving for happy hour. Truthfully, seeing Gregg is half the reason we go to Marisol. He is an amazing guy – open, easy-going, well-humored and authentically friendly. Of course we found out later, he hadn’t voted for Obama. Woops.
Gregg immediately asked us what we were going to eat. He does that. He takes pride in knowing which of his food you’re going to enjoy and will ensure it is done right for you. When we said we hadn’t seen the menu yet, he said he’d come by later and check with us. So we made our way to our table, opened the menu, and soon realizes just how hard this decision was going to be. Wow. Everything, yes EVERYTHING on the menu sounded incredible. Don’t believe me? Here’s what was only on the appetizer menu! Sorry for shortening the descriptions. You’ll get the idea:
Pismo Clam Chowder, Steamed Clams and Sourdough
Butternut Squash Soup with See Canyon Apples
Brown Sugar Bacon, Butter Lettuce and Tomato Salad
Bautista Wild Rocket Salad with Pears and Blue Cheese
Cured, Braised and Seared Pork Belly
Fried Green Tomatillos with Burrata
Charcutierie & Cheese Plate
Sweet Corn Risotto with Lobster
Pacific Gold Oysters on the Half Shell
So Gregg came back and we were more stuck than when we came in. “Want me to pick for you?” he asked. “Of course!” we agreed. “I’ll just bring stuff out. Want wine too?” How much better could this meal get? Upon our enthusiastic nods he spun around and disappeared. Our first little visitor was the fried green tomatillos with burrata cheese. Funny thing is, I had just seen tomatillos in the store, and thought about frying them. These were incredible. The herbs and burrata smoothed out the sharp bite of the tomatillos. The crunch complimented the creaminess. All around, delicious. I’m gonna make this at home.
Our next unsuspecting victim was a delicious, light soup of butternut squash made with fresh See Canyon apples. This was not the thick creamy beast you get other places, and that made it better. The fresh produce around here is always delightful, and Gregg was really good at balancing bites with a soft sweetness, and a crunchy tartness, while keeping the whole thing light enough to serve as a stellar starter to some amazing entrees.
So by this time in the meal, I was getting a little delirious. Maybe it was all this awesome food, the bubbly and wines that kept coming, or my weak constitution trying to process this rich food. All I had really wanted for dinner was a taco. And then came out one of my favorite dishes. Now I haven’t been a duck guy, and never really gave it a chance before moving to the Central Coast and attending a few wine dinners. But I’m here to tell that a juicy duck breast over fresh salad is like nothing else. Done right, like this one, it’s not gamey, and this one was additionally balanced out with acids from dried fruits and crunch from croutons. Notice I didn’t name the fruits. I wrote down apple, but see fig in this photo. You decide, or better yet, go order yourself one.
We done yet? Nope. This was the reason we came here – on the off-chance Gregg was serving this favorite dish of Hillary’s. We think Gregg went off to some planet or some Himalayan monestary to learn how to make his braised short ribs because he makes it better than we’ve had pretty much every place locally we’ve tried it. I’m not a butcher, so can’t give you any technicals here, but will share that this meat is always the perfect balance of tenderness, moisture, flavor, fat and sponge for whatever sauce accompanies it. In this case, it’s kept simple so you enjoy the delicious quality meat, potatoes and carrots just like your award-winning chef mom used to make.
We were way too stuffed for dessert, so when we politely declined, we were shot a disappointed look and told the fresh raspberry sorbet was already on its way. Twist my arm. I really enjoyed the strawberry addition, and the dessert wine that accompanied it – lots of different berry flavors. All palate cleansers, nothing too sweet, and light enough to share slowly without feeling like you were overstuffing yourself.
So what’s the moral of this story? When your candidate is elected into the White House, or re-elected in this case, and you let it slip to your chef who doesn’t agree with your politics, be prepared for him to try to stuff you with so much good food that you roll out of the place deliciously dazed into thinking maybe you’ve been wrong all this time. Nice try, Gregg. We look forward to further gastronomic coercion, you evil genius. But seriously. This was one perfect menu you have to order up for yourself. See you at The Cliffs!