I have never been one for massive food orgies on my plate. I’m more of a nibbler. I like lots of flavors to dip and combine, experiencing a mix of textures, sweet, salt, heat, herbs. I also don’t constrain myself to simply loving all of my meat smoky, or all of my corn buttery. Ever put a little gruyere cheese on a pork chop? Ever put basil on your corn like I mention on the Try This At Home page?
Now any place that serves up small bites, or “tapas,” I’m immediately leery of. If you’ve ever actually watched a place put these plates together, you’ll see cheese being sliced off a Trader Joe’s wedge, a stack of Costco salami arranged beautifully on the plate – then priced at $15 for something that probably cost the establishment a buck fifty. It takes way more than that to overcome my skepticism. But Vanessa and her crew at Luis Wine Bar in downtown San Luis Obispo did just that.
We ordered two plates after a long day of nibbling at our wine pick-up party. The artichoke – rosemary – cannelini bean dip with the choice of farmer’s market veggies, crostini, or both (get both) sounded like my kinda dish. And after a great summer getaway to Sonoma last year, we became new fans of pate. So the “locally made” pate with fresh bread and cornichons grabbed my attention as well. We were not disappointed. No Trader Joe’s or Costco ingredients here. In fact, Vanessa, Luis’ lovely owner, makes the bean dip herself, and does so with some skill. It’s creamy but not too creamy, leaving a little bean texture to enjoy, and where some would go heavy on the rosemary, it was only a hint. In fact, Hillary’s wine picked up the rosemary nicely, and suddenly you smelled rosemary on the nose of her glass.
The pate, it turns out, is made by a favorite local chef, Maegan Loring, proprietor and chef of The Neon Carrot. It’s a creamy chicken liver (I know, I know, but go with me on this) with a duck fat layer over top. Now putting pate on bread alone isn’t really my thing. But that’s where a bite of bread and pate, a smear of duck fat, and a small bite of cornichon work brilliantly together. The vinegar zing of the pickle breaks up the fat in your mouth, and sets up the perfect blend of weird wonders requiring but one more ingredient – a liberal wash down of beer. In this case, a Green Flash West Coast IPA from San Diego.
I can’t wait to go back and try the bacon s’mores with marshmallows toasted tableside. I for one am thrilled to find another upscale and chill place to experiment with in town. Tell Vanessa, Doug and Hillary sent you.