Dinner in Deborah’s Room

We weren’t going to let our previous dinner at Artisan be our only impression of dining in wine country. On our second night of vacation, the BF and I visited Deborah’s Room located at Justin Vineyard.

Grape vines at Justin winery

After a long, winding drive on a sunny California day through vineyard after vineyard, we finally located Justin Vineyard. Deborah’s Room describes the dining room of Justin perfectly because it really is just a room with a handful of tables. The decor was a bit stodgy and old-fashioned, but I assume the majority of the people dining there, old, rich white people, felt right at home.

We had already called ahead to warn the kitchen about the BF’s vegan diet and they were happy to oblige. It was good we called because the kitchen staff is quite small and the actual kitchen was only about twice the size of my own kitchen. I’m sure they appreciated the extra time they got to prepare.

Deborah’s room only gives the option of a prix fixe menu with a few options per course ($95). A wine pairing for each course can also be included for $45 extra. Considering that I had enough wine through the course of the day of wine tasting and the BF couldn’t drink that much anyway, I opted for just a glass of wine for the entire meal.

Deborahs Room (Paso Robles)

We all started off with a (vegan) amuse which was a chilled cucumber (or was it broccoli?) soup. This soup was much better than the cucumber gazpacho we had at lunch. The texture was smooth and consistent and the taste was pleasant. I noticed a hint of curry in the soup, which was both surprising and palatable.

Deborahs Room (Paso Robles)

For the appetizer course, I chose the mac and cheese. I know, I know, how quaint to have a mac and cheese dish at a fancy schmancy restaurant. Let me tell you, this was the best mad and cheese I’ve ever had. The sauce was more of a cream sauce with cheese than a true mac and cheese sauce, but oh, was it good. The salty, smokey flavor of the pancetta lent a great deal of depth to the sauce while the scallions and peas added enough contrast and freshness to each bite so that my taste-buds weren’t overwhelmed with the heavy sauce. I’ve never thought of scallions on mac and cheese, but this is definitely something I’ll have to try at home.

Deborahs Room (Paso Robles)

The vegan appetizer was a warm asparagus salad with morels. The white asparagus, something I’ve never had before, had a completely different texture than regular asparagus. It was both crunchy and tender, almost like jicama.

Deborahs Room (Paso Robles)

When the starter course came, I thought, “Wait, what? I thought appetizers were starters??” Then I remembered I picked fried calamari for this course. To most, fried calamari sounds like bar food. I admit I thought that too, but I certainly wasn’t going to order the foie gras after just having it a few days ago. The fried calamari was unlike any bar food I’ve ever had. The batter was crisp and light, perfect with the green sauce artfully placed on the plate. The stand-out element of this dish were the slices of Spanish chorizo below the calamari. I had never had Spanish chorizo before, being more familiar with its Mexican brother, but man was it good. It had the firm texture of Chinese sausage, but with a sweeter, tangier bite. After one taste, I was a fan.

Deborahs Room (Paso Robles)

The vegan starter was an arugula and beet salad — pretty standard as salads go. The BF thought it was better than the previous two salads he had at Artisan and Thomas Hill Organics but the beets “weren’t well integrated with the salad.” It may sound simple, but a good salad with balanced dressing is pretty hard to make.

Deborahs Room (Paso Robles)

The vegan entree was a simple vegetable risotto, but don’t be fooled — it was no simple feat. The risotto was tender and flavorful without being too over-powering. It certainly beat the tomato risotto we had at Craft the last time we went there. Considering risotto is hard to do well on such short notice, I’m glad the chef had time to prepare.

Deborahs Room (Paso Robles)

My entree was the most perfect flank steak I’ve ever had the pleasure of putting into my mouth. I was already getting full by the time it arrived, so I wasn’t put off by the three slices. Each slice was cooked to a perfect rare: cooked on the outside, but slightly cool and pink on the inside. Every bite was so tender and flavorful, it wiped away the disappointing steak I had the night before.

I’m not one to have sauce on my steak, but I have to say that the pan reduction included on the side was mouth watering and good. With just enough pepper and salt to highlight the taste of the beef, each time I dipped a bite of steak into the sauce, it was like the flavor was magnified ten times.

The mashed potatoes the flank steak was served on was heavenly as well. They weren’t fluffy, unsubstantial mashed potatoes. They were bold, heavy, and so, so delicious. If the entree contained just the potatoes and the pan reduction sauce, I would have a pretty happy camper.

Deborahs Room (Paso Robles)

The next course was the cheese course, which included a healthy portion of blue cheese. I’m a fan of blue cheese and all, but the serving was too much for me to handle. I would have liked half that serving and maybe the option of a second cheese. The most interesting part of the cheese course was the pine nut sap which was drizzled on the plate. It had the consistency and sweetness of honey, but none of the actual honey taste. It’s a good choice for serious vegans who avoid honey as well as people who want to add that type of sweetness without the overbearing taste of honey.

Deborahs Room (Paso Robles)

For the vegan non-cheese course, the chef sent out a strawberry sorbet. The sorbet was freshly made and tasted of just-picked strawberries, but it was the mint sauce on the plate that really stood out. It was a refreshing contrast to the sweetness of the sorbet.

Deborahs Room (Paso Robles)

The strawberry sorbet was seen once again during the vegan dessert, served on top of some berries. The berries were a little too sweet and syrupy according to the BF, but I didn’t get a taste of it.

Deborahs Room (Paso Robles)

I was too busy polishing off my panna cotta. It was rich, a perfectly smooth texture, and most importantly, not cloyingly sweet. It reminded me that I needed to order panna cotta more often. The tangy berry sauce the dish came with just heightened the creaminess of the dessert. The nuts, which many people might overlook, were also toasted and candied perfectly. All in all, it was a very pleasing way to end the meal.

Deborah’s Room is pricey, but I left completely satisfied. Our waiter was a bit too ingratiating, but some people like that. The chef and rest of the kitchen certainly did a great job with crafting a tasty, vegan dish to match each course on the regular menu. It was also nice that the chef and assistant chef came out at the end of the meal to talk to each table. The wonderful location and delectable dishes makes this somewhere I’d love to visit again when I’m in the area.

Deborah’s Room
11680 Chimney Rock Road
Paso Robles, CA 93446 USA
Tel: 805.238.6932
[map]

Dinner @ Artisan

Artisan @ Paso Robles

On our first night in the central coast, the BF and I went to a well-known Paso Robles restaurant by the name of Artisan. The BF had done some research and found several recommendations for the place. A woman working at a winery we visited earlier also was favorable to the restaurant, so we arrived with the expectation of a tasty dinner.

Since the BF was the designated driver and couldn’t drink too much alcohol anyway, we split a flight of red wines. I am by no means an expert on red wines, but I thought all of them were decent and I especially liked the far right one, the Denner Syrah.

Artisan @ Paso Robles

As a starter, I ordered the Smoked Gouda and Porter Fondue, garlic toast, andouille sausage, and broccolini. I was practically salivating from reading the description. Unfortunately, it was the best part of the dish. The smoked gouda and porter sauce was barely warm when it got to the table and no amount of heating from the pathetic little tea candle could get it to a satisfying temperature. The sauce was lacking in flavor and tasted like the vegan mac and cheese sauce I make at home. While I like all types of sausage and the andouille sausage was decent, it tasted like something I could buy at any market. The broccolini was undercooked — which would have been fine if the fondue was hot enough to cook it further, but alas, it was not.

Artisan @ Paso Robles

The BF didn’t fare as well either with his starter: butter lettuce with candied walnuts.  Even though the kitchen knew well in advance of his vegan diet, we were let down. The salad was a disappointing sign that the chef did not fully put his heart into preparing a vegan meal. The house dressing was on the light side, lacking in salt, and the salad as a whole was just plain bland.

Artisan @ Paso Robles

The vegan entree was slightly better, but that wasn’t saying much. The potatoes were sufficiently crisp and seasoned, the morels were a nice touch, and the asparagus was cooked well, but the dish just lacked soul. It was standard vegan fare and just had no stand-out characteristics and that’s harsh considering morels are usually so good in a dish.

Artisan @ Paso Robles

My entree, New York steak done medium rare, was just as soul-less. I had misread the menu, thinking that the black olive aioli came on top of the fried artichokes, but it actually comes on top of the steak. Blasphemy, I know. I’m very happy with a perfectly cooked piece of steak with nothing but salt and pepper as seasoning, maybe a little butter. Putting sauce on a steak just seems so wrong.

When the steak came, it was a perfect medium rare. I scraped some of the sauce off the top of the steak and had a bite. Decent, but maybe a bit on the tough side for a medium rare. The sauce, black olive aioli, was great, but just didn’t go well with the steak.

I had a bite of the fried artichoke, and almost did a double-take. The first piece I had was cold! There’s nothing worse than cold deep fried food. I love artichokes, but I did not love these. They were cold to lukewarm, tasteless, and even deep-frying didn’t help them. The bitter salad greens they were served on top of, something I usually like, were disappointing as well. It was like the kitchen completely forgot to dress it.

Artisan @ Paso Robles

The potato gratin which came as a side to my entree was equally as mediocre. Instead of a gratin, it just tasted like some dried out baked slices of potato. It wasn’t even seasoned well. If it only tasted as good as it looked, I would have been a happy camper.

Artisan @ Paso Robles

The only redeeming part of the dinner came out during dessert — maybe we should have had dinner elsewhere and just dropped by Artisan for sweets. I ordered the three chocolate creme brulee. Each small cup contained a different type of chocolate: white, Mexican, and dark. The dark chocolate was rich and bittersweet, the Mexican chocolate had a hint of cinnamon and spices, and the white chocolate was sweet and creamy. The only disappointing part of the trio was that without the bruleed sugar coating on top, I would have thought this was a trio of chocolate puddings.

Artisan @ Paso Robles

The BF got three flavors of sorbet for dessert: grape, berry, and orange cointreau. The orange cointreau was the best, but the rest were too artificial tasting. All three were too icy.

Our first dinner in Paso Robles was a bust. It’s disappointing to pay so much money for such mediocre food. It’s also surprising that this place was so highly recommended. Maybe people drank a little too much during wine tasting to pay attention to the food. The presentation of each dish was great, along with fancy serving pieces like the Staub fondue pot and Staub cast iron baking dish. The BF remarked that Artisan should spend less money on fancy serving pieces and more effort on producing delicious food.

Between the starter and entree, we waited at least 20 minutes for food. The server finally apologized for the wait because a large party had taken up the kitchen’s resources.  That’s fine and all, but as soon as dessert was plopped down on the table, so was the check.  Although she said there was no rush, I thought it was rude that she handed us the check before I was even into my second bite of dessert. Popular restaurants need to turn tables quickly to get maximum profit for the night, but it wasn’t our fault it took so long for the entrees to come out.

The most disappointing aspect of Artisan was that as much as they like to boast about using seasonal and local sources, the restaurant was very meat and potatoes in a stuffy way. The vegetable dishes the chef came up with were uninspired and unexciting.  Judging from the other items on the menu, Artisan caters to the upper 40s, stodgy, meat and potatoes crowd, or the drank-too-much-wine-but-hungry crowd.


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Artisan
1401 Park St # 105
Paso Robles, CA 93446
(805) 237-8084