January is ‘Restaurant Month’ here in San Luis Obispo County and thanks to Visit San Luis Obispo County and the generosity of Niner Wine Estates we were invited to go out and enjoy their prix-fixe menu.
The prix-fixe menu:
Salad of Roasted Cauliflower, Dates, Tangerine, and Celery – Paired with 2013 Estate Sauvignon Blanc
House Made Toulouse Style Sausage, French Lentils, Herb Salad – Paired with 2012 Estate Reserve Grenache
Walnut Panna Cotta, Pomegranate Reduction, Cocoa Nib Cookie – Paired with 2011 Estate Doce Nove
Each dish was plated beautifully but more importantly, each dish was overflowing with flavor. We enjoyed all three but Annie’s favorite was the Salad of Roasted Cauliflower while mine was the House Made Toulouse Style Sausage dish. We felt the wine paired with each dish was spot on. The Doce Nove with the Panna Cotta was heaven.
As you know if you’ve been reading any of our content over the last five years, great food is just one aspect of a great dining experience. Sure, it is certainly a crucial aspect but to have a great experience you must take into account other aspects like environment and customer service.
Let’s talk environment, or ambiance. The property is beautiful. It’s covered by vineyards and has more olive trees than I could take the time to count. All of this surrounds two beautiful stone buildings that you can’t miss as you cruise along Highway 46 West.
After you meander up the long driveway past the olive trees and vineyards you enter the larger of the two stone buildings. On the inside you are greeted with the same stone walls as you were on the outside. You enter a spacious tasting room and off to your left you will enter the restaurant. They have indoor and outdoor seating but the best part is that it can’t really get overcrowded.
The restaurant space is a nice size but definitely not huge so it makes for an intimate experience. Due to the weather being chilly they had a fire going in the fireplace and that does nothing bad add to the ambiance. The way the restaurant is positioned you are looking through big windows out on to the patio, beautiful landscaping, and the now famous, Heart Hill.
So at this point I’ve covered the food and the environment, now let’s talk customer service. Upon arriving we were greeted by Andy Niner, son of the owners, and he led us to our seat and spent a good 10 to 15 minutes chatting with us. He was extremely kind, informative, and was actually quite interested in knowing about us…which I thought was kind of refreshing. Our waitress, CJ, was awesome from start to finish and Chef Maegen Loring even took time out from making those amazing dishes to come and chat with us.
Let’s recap: The food presentation was awesome and the food itself was delicious. The property is beautiful, well maintained, clean, and inviting. The customer service was superb. For Annie and I this is the trifecta of a great experience. You can have one or two of these things going for you but when you get all three, you may just be on to something special.
Quick side note: Niner Wine Estates is SIP Certified which stands for Sustainability in Practice. Long story short, it means they have taken the time to go through a process to do the right thing for the earth, the vines, the wines, and the people. You will also see below that Andy mentions that they are LEED Certified Silver which you can read more about on their website.
Below you will see some questions I posed to Andy Niner and his answers:
Matt: How long have you been SIP Certified?
Andy: We source from three different wholly owned, estate vineyards each with a different SIP status:
– Bootjack Ranch – 148 acres planted – Geneseo District – SIP Certified as of the 2012 Vintage.
– Heart Hill Vineyard – 46 acres planted – Templeton Gap – SIP Certified as of the 2013 Vintage.
– Jespersen Ranch – 78 acres planted – northwest corner of Edna Valley – not SIP certified yet, our goal is to have it Certified for the 2015 vintage.
Another significant thing to note on the sustainability front is the fact that our entire campus is LEED Certified Silver. Tough thing to get for buildings at our scale – long story short, we got it because we are very water and energy efficient.
Matt: How long has the restaurant been open?
Andy: The restaurant has been formally open since August.
Matt: How would you describe the food that Chef Maegen is doing there?
Andy: Restaurant Philosophy: there is a moment when you experience how an artfully selected wine can pair with a dish, and transform the way you view both. At a visceral level there is a spark in the eye, big smile, perhaps laughter and ultimately an experience with other people that you’ll always remember. We want to be in the business of creating those moments on a regular basis.
Maegen’s Food Philosophy: as a diehard Farmer’s Market enthusiast, all menus are created with two goals: to utilize local and seasonal ingredients whenever possible, and to create pairings that accentuate the nuances and living characteristics found in wine.
You can see the latest menu here.
Matt: Any other upcoming events or plans with Niner that you want to share?
Andy: Next event on the horizon is a seven course Valentine’s Day dinner featuring aphrodisiacs! A pretty amazing menu and a great way to experience Maegen’s creativity and food philosophy first hand. See the menu here.
Andy also added, “Keep your eyes peeled for expanded hours, pop-up dinners, cooking classes and other food & wine education events.”
A big thank you to Andy Niner, Katie Bruce, our waitress, CJ, and Chef Maegen Loring. We really appreciate the time you gave us and look forward to seeing you again.