I had the most wonderful vegetarian, gluten-free experience and I just had to share with everyone. My dear friend, Maegen Loring, is chef/owner of The Park restaurant in beautiful San Luis Obispo, CA. With another dear friend, I traveled there to spend a wonderful weekend filled with wine tasting, girl talk and feasting. For our first night there, Maegen planned a fabulous gluten-free, vegetarian, 5-course meal. At a fine-dining establishment like this, it was so much more than I had ever asked for. I’m so grateful to Maegen, her husband, Jeff, and their wonderful staff for making our night such a culinary experience. I’ve documented it as well as I could, but remember I was trying to eat it as fast as it came out at times, as well as drinking the wines that were paired with everything…remember this is wine country!
First course: Grilled red pepper with a pesto and pine nuts on top. Drizzled with a wonderful vinaigrette. Just the perfect start to a beautiful meal.
Second course: Chickpea soup with carmelized onions, smoked paprika and a drizzle of olive oil. I had never had smoked paprika before and it was so lovely. The wonderful smoky aroma, mixed with the firm texture of the chickpeas was heavenly. Having a friend in the business is great since Maegen even gave me a bag of the paprika to take home. I can’t wait to use it. I love garbanzos and cook with them often.
Third course: Fava bean puree with fennel, topped with zucchini, grapes and a red pepper coulis. Wow, the crunchiness of the zucchini and the creaminess of the puree were just perfect. I have never eat fava beans and they were fabulous. I know they are difficult to prepare and take a lot of time, but I can see now that they are worth all the effort. The grapes gave the dish just a touch of sweetness that made it complete.
Fourth course: We’re on our second bottle of wine and making our way to the dish I’ve been waiting for all night: the beet risotto. I love risotto and although I make it infrequently, I just love the rich flavor and creamy texture. Maegen’s is made with beet puree added at the end to give it a brilliant color and taste, as well as grilled asparagus, a touch of creme fraiche and a dash of mint oil. Wow! My taste buds were in heaven. I was getting pretty full by now, but I had to eat the entire dish because I wasn’t sure when I would have this again. It was incredible and now one of my top five favorite dishes.
Finally, dessert: To put a perfect end on a delightfully perfect meal, we start with a glass of La Vie late harvest Chardonnay. A sweet, dessert wine with a touch of honey flavor. Lovely (I brought a bottle of it home also, Thanks Jeff!). This is paired with an apple cider sorbet topped with fresh berries and fried sage leaves dusted with powdered sugar. Beat that! The flavors were tart, sweet, mellow and bursting in your mouth. It was the perfect ending to a dinner I did not want to end.
The weekend of feasting was not over since my dear friend continued to cook for us with fresh produce from the local farmer’s market over the course of our stay. If you don’t already have a friend who is a gourmet chef with a restaurant, I highly recommend it! And if you’re in or near San Luis Obispo, stop in at The Park restaurant, I know you’ll love it.
We’re heading back soon with my husband in tow since I told him all about The Park’s Wednesday Burger Night…complete with homemade buns, homemade fresh ketchup, thick fries cooked in duck fat and an array of gourmet burgers. Of course, I won’t be eating any of this, but I know my husband will love it enough for both of us. Maybe there’s some of that beet risotto left???
Visit The Park at the link to your right.