So you know how I had the best wine of my life in Paso Robles recently? Well, on that same trip, I also had the most amazing dinner of my life at The Restaurant at JUSTIN. From start to finish, it was hands-down pure foodie heaven. And — get this — it was all gluten-free, which the chef prepared totally special for us. Turns out, his son has celiac disease, so he was super well-versed in this type of cooking and knows how important it is. (We got to talk to him quite a bit at the end of the meal, but I really should have gotten a photo of him — he rocked!)
But, as usual, I’m getting ahead of myself.
The morning started off with an omelette that we made at the place we were staying. I adore staying at places with a kitchen. Yay for home-cooked meals!
We had that plus some coffee, got ready for the day, mapped out what wine tastings we wanted to hit, and then got to it. Since I can’t stop talking about this trip, I’ll share another post with the new wineries we tried here in the coming weeks, but here’s a sneak peek.
After a couple tastings, we went back to our place to relax, read and just chill. Eventually we got hungry and sat outside with a picnic.
We had a visitor. A hungry visitor.
After some coffee and more relaxing, we made the trek out to The Restaurant at JUSTIN. It was a good 45-minute drive through some rural and winding roads that went over hilltops covered with vines.
Now, this restaurant is a HUGE splurge. Like, almost embarrassingly expensive, but it was for sure our one big splurge of the trip. (Some go to Disney; we eat a ridiculous dinner.) And, yes, we sprung for the wine pairing. JUSTIN has great wine. The dining room was incredibly intimate and small. We had a whole server to ourselves; and there were only two other tables there dining with us. And we were there for close to four hours.
It was glorious. It began with sparkling wine with a piece of crystallized ginger in it, and continued on with a nice little fried polenta bite and an oyster. Note: these weren’t on the menu. Just a nice bonus amuse bouche.
Then the courses began. First course was the celery root soup. (See the full menu and descriptions here.)
Second course was local Dungeness crab with fettuccine, or sea bass. Ryan had the crab; I had the sea bass. Remember: everything was specially made gluten-free just for us. Yes, even that pasta! And my sea bass had black tea and edible flowers in it. Yes, please. SO delicious.
But we were just getting started. Courses three and four were freaking outstanding and paired with some deliciously bold JUSTIN wines. Course three was local duck breast with dried cherries, and for course four, Ryan got the Wagyu and I got the venison. The Japanese yams and radishes in mine were incredibly good. Oh, and there was freshly baked gluten-free pretzel bread with truffle butter. (Yes, this is heaven.)
At this point, Ryan and I are happy, happy campers. We are feeling very, very good about this meal and experience. And then, our server comes over and explains that it’s basically time for a meal intermission. He encouraged us to use the restroom if we wanted, walk around the grounds and see the stars, and basically just digest, enjoy and take a minute.
How glorious is that?! We did as he suggested and came back about 15 minutes later after star-gazing. I mean, talk about romantic.
From there, things got even better. There was goat milk ice cream with green apples. Cheese and jam. Espresso. More wine. Another extra bite of pumpkin squares and caramel. And lastly, warm chocolate cake with baby banana, chocolate mousse and peanut butter. It was one of those “if I die right this second, I’m totally okay with it” moments.
Before this, I’d probably say that my evening at Daniel in New York was my best meal ever. And while this night may not have been quite on the same culinary level as that (Daniel did things to beets that I can’t even begin to describe in their richness and goodness), it was darn close. And — more importantly — the overall experience was just fabulous. The personal attention, the romantic setting, the wine, the whole gluten-free thing, chatting with the chef, the food being mostly locally sourced — it was just about everything (and more!) that I love. Definitely a night to remember!
What’s the best meal and dining experience that you’ve ever had? —Jenn