Wine, Women and S’mores: a Weekend in Paso Robles

Napa, watch your back! We spent last weekend in Paso Robles and discovered that the erstwhile sleepy little pit stop off of the 101 has become a destination in its own right. Just a breezy couple of hours’ drive north and you’ve got all the fine dining and wining you could want for a weekend getaway.

Easy drive! (image from greenairrectractables.com)

Easy drive! (image from greenairrectractables.com)

We got a mid-morning start on Friday, piling Phyllis and her friend, Barb, into the car and threaded our way over the 154 where the yuccas are in bloom, signaling that spring is upon us. Once past Santa Maria on the 101 North, the view begins to open up and there is a temptation to toss it all aside for a seaside visit to Pismo or Avila Beach areas. But trust me, you will be rewarded if you stay on course to “The Pass of the Oaks”, which began its life as a city back in 1889.

On the road again: the CE with Barb and Phyllis

On the road again: the CE with Barb and Phyllis

No less a personage than concert pianist and Polish composer Ignace Jan Paderewski helped put Paso Robles on the map when he visited the area’s thermal springs in 1914 and later returned to purchase two ranches in the area. A statue of Paderewski stands in the town square and a music festival in his honor is one of a plethora of annual events that draw visitors to this vibrant community.

Paderewski was among the earliest residents to plant almond trees and grapevines in the Paso Robles area. (image from paderewskifest.com)

Paderewski was among the earliest residents to plant almond trees and grapevines in the Paso Robles area. (image from paderewskifest.com)

Our friends Pamela and Kirk drove separately and met us for lunch at Robert’s where the restaurant’s signature fish tacos were a big hit with the group. We discovered at lunch that it was Barb’s birthday and our waitress brought a free dessert to help us celebrate. Kirk and the CE were gallant escorts to us four ladies all weekend.

Our waiter surprised Barb with a slice of chocolate ganache cake for her birthday.

Our waiter surprised Barb with a slice of chocolate ganache cake for her birthday.

After lunch, we checked into our lodgings at the gracious Hotel Cheval. Each of the hotel’s sixteen rooms is beautifully appointed, and the in-town location meant that we could walk to dinner each evening. Staff members – especially Rob and Nam – were genuinely dedicated to making sure each guest had a perfect stay.

The lobby at Hotel Cheval (polloplayer photo)

The lobby at Hotel Cheval (polloplayer photo)

Kirk and Pamela settle into the weekend on a balcony at Hotel Cheval

Kirk and Pamela settle into the weekend on a balcony at Hotel Cheval

Our cozy room at Hotel Cheval had its own balcony

Our cozy room at Hotel Cheval had its own balcony

Kirk and Pamela had been to Paso before, and came armed with restaurant recommendations. At Bistro Laurent, the waiter advised us to “close our menus and let the chef surprise you”. The surprises were all happy ones, including the well-matched wine pairings, which began with a Domaine Vigneau Chevreau Vouvray Cuvee Silex Chenin Blanc and included “Troublemaker” by Austin Hope and a Tolosa 2010 Pinot Noir.

The fish course was trout and lentils and was delicious!

The fish course was trout and lentils and was delicious!

Succulent lamb chops at Bistro Laurent

Succulent lamb chops at Bistro Laurent

After dinner we had a modest cheese course which, of course, led to a discussion of everyone’s trips to France and the cherished fish forks that Pamela purchased there. Barb is an intrepid world traveler who has just returned from India and is about to set out on an adventure at sea, so she won the prize for best stories.

Kirk, Barb and Phyllis at Bistro Laurent

Kirk, Barb and Phyllis at Bistro Laurent

Pamela and the CE

Pamela and the CE

They must have heard us talking about France: our dessert was pot de creme

They must have heard us talking about France: our dessert was pot de creme

Saturday was wine-tasting day, with Kirk as tour director and the CE as our chauffeur. Phyllis and Barb demurred as they had plans to play bridge with friends from the area, and since Barb had brought along several bottles of wine from home, we knew they would not suffer.

Barb and Phyllis were happy to stay behind at Hotel Cheval

Barb and Phyllis were happy to stay behind at Hotel Cheval

Our first wine stop was the spectacularly-sited Daou Vineyards tasting room, built with no expense spared by the Daou brothers, who arrived in serene Paso Robles following a childhood spent in France after their family fled war-torn Lebanon. In the United States, the brothers built a successful computer-networking company which led to an IPO that provided the means to start Daou Vineyards. The centerpiece of the tasting room is a bar made from white onyx imported from Mexico; combined with the glorious setting, we found it a perfect place to taste their 2011 Grenache Blanc.

Daou tasting room (image from newtimesslo.com)

Daou tasting room (image from newtimesslo.com)

On top of the world: the view from Daou

On top of the world: the view from Daou

The CE relaxes while we taste wine at Daou

The CE relaxes while we taste wine at Daou

We also visited the Tablas Creek winery, where we agreed the wines were good but a bit overpriced. Then it was on to Justin Winery of “Isosceles” fame, and after that stop at Heron Wines where we were too “wined out” to taste but enjoyed a quick lunch.

Lunch on the terrace at Heron Wines

Lunch on the terrace at Heron Wines

After lunch, I was more interested in a nap than I was in more wine, but Kirk said we had one more important stop on our wine route. He guided us to the Lone Madrone and Kenneth Volk vineyards and the adjacent Fat Cat farm where we delighted in its assorted critters. We didn’t taste the wine,and we did not see the fat cat, but we had a nice visit with the goats, bunnies and chickens.

You know you're there when you see the sign

You know you’re there when you see the sign

I think this pretty girl is a Cochin

I think this pretty girl is a Cochin

Here's looking at you, kid!

Here’s looking at you, kid!

Dinner that night was at Artisan where we enjoyed wine flights and more good food.

The CE admires a wine flight at Artisan

The CE admires a wine flight at Artisan

Kirk went "cave man" and savored this marrow bone as his appetizer at Artisan

Kirk went “cave man” and savored this marrow bone as his appetizer at Artisan

Phyllis announced that we were not having dessert at Artisan because she wanted S’mores back at the hotel. As if Hotel Cheval had not already sufficiently wowed us, we had learned that in the evenings, the staff prepares complimentary S’mores in the courtyard’s outdoor fireplaces. They will even bring you a blanket if you’re cold! The marshmallows are homemade and come in flavors like vanilla bean, raspberry and coconut, and you have your choice of flavored Dove chocolates. The graham crackers? Well, they’re just ordinary graham crackers, but the experience itself was extraordinary – especially the part where we got to watch Phyllis and Pamela festoon themselves in melted chocolate.

Nam tends the fire.

Nam tends the fire.

Yummy S'mores!

Yummy S’mores!

Where's a washcloth?

Where’s a washcloth?

We somehow all managed to be hungry again the next day and walked over to Thomas Hill Organics for a very nice brunch.

Muy bueno: the lentil tacos at Thomas Hill Organics.

Muy bueno: the lentil tacos at Thomas Hill Organics.

Thai one on: the Thai pork belly sandwich at THO

Thai one on: the Thai pork belly sandwich at THO

After brunch, we bid adieu to Kirk and Pamela, who headed home that afternoon. The CE, Barb, Phyllis and I stayed on to savor one last dinner at Il Cortile (where Barb and I enjoyed a very nice Pianetta Winery 2010 Barbera) and one last night at Hotel Cheval. I hope they keep those S’mores at the ready, because I’m pretty sure we’ll be back again soon!

Pamela and Kirk bid farewell to Hotel Cheval

Pamela and Kirk bid farewell to Hotel Cheval

About polloplayer

Empty nester searching for meaning of life through the occasional chicken epiphany.
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5 Responses to Wine, Women and S’mores: a Weekend in Paso Robles

  1. Phyllis says:

    We are back in Kansas (SB) after our wonderful adventure in Paso. Lucky us to enjoy that time with four younger people.It was not a Weight Watchers weekend but so much fun. Could not have been better and to walk to the movie, well that was a super plus. T Hank you ever so!

  2. dizzyguy says:

    CE Here: Must second the notion that Paso Robles is a fine destination for a weekend getaway. I particularly enjoyed being able to walk from our hotel to many fine restaurants and stores; the only time the car was needed was for visiting wineries in the beautiful rolling hills that surround that fair burg. All in all, a wonderful experience and especially enjoyable with good friends and family. As usual, the C2L has done a fabulous job representing the experience, using her photos and writing skills.

  3. Katherine says:

    I may not like to fly but I’d take one of those wine flights any day. Combine this new fact with the fact that we could drive to Paso Robles and be transported to an Italian-vista-scene without actual planes involved and I’m sold. It’s win-win! (Or wine-wine, which also works for me.)

    I dare say the free-flowing wine keeps anyone from realizing that marrow appetizer looks as though it could serve 2 as an entree.

    And as nice as your hotel looks, you’ll find me bunking at the Fat Cat Farm. Heavenly.

  4. Doug says:

    I must say, I find it surprising that you missed a chance to try the wines at Ken Volk, as it is certainly a more interesting winery (from purely a perspective of quality and variety and value of the wines) than is Daou, which has a spectacular setting, but is probably the most pretentious place in the entire Paso Robles area

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