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Blue Heron takes flight 

Baywood's new seafood spot is a catch above

click to enlarge LOW TIDE, HIGH STYLE Oceanic blues mingle with wood furniture, ceramic plates, and gold flatware. - PHOTO COURTESY OF BLUE HERON
  • Photo Courtesy Of Blue Heron
  • LOW TIDE, HIGH STYLE Oceanic blues mingle with wood furniture, ceramic plates, and gold flatware.

You can take the chef out of the farm, but you can't take the farm out of the chef. If you've eaten at Blue Heron lately, you know that this is a very good thing.

Executive Chef Thomas Drahos was raised slaughtering cows and sowing seeds on 55 acres out in rural Lockwood, north of Paso Robles. Now, he's filleting fish, shopping the seaside farmers' market, and tending to a small coastal farm not far from the new Los Osos-area eatery.

"Growing up we had chickens, pigs, a huge garden; we farmed just about everything we ate at home," Drahos said. "I took the butchery and cookery from my family's ethics, and that way of sustainable living, and put that back into my food."

If Baywood isn't the first place you'd think of for "farm to table dining," you're not alone. Located in a sleepy back bay community, steps from the legendary Merrimaker watering hole and cult favorite Noi's Little Thai Takeout, the Blue Heron straddles that elusive line between upscale and chill.

click to enlarge INFUSED FEAST Baywood isn't known for its fine dining, but Blue Heron has upped the ante with fresh seafood served in a seaside lounge atmosphere. - PHOTO BY HAYLEY THOMAS CAIN
  • Photo By Hayley Thomas Cain
  • INFUSED FEAST Baywood isn't known for its fine dining, but Blue Heron has upped the ante with fresh seafood served in a seaside lounge atmosphere.

Out front, a fire pit burns, illuminating a well-crafted garden flush with native plants. Out back, an entire wall of flowers brightens a breezy patio, which looks out onto the placid water.

Inside, oceanic blues mingle with modern wood furniture, textural ceramic plates, and glittering gold flatware. The wine list is particularly amazing thanks to wine manager Lannon Rust.

The menu is a reflection of Baywood's dual nature: You can grab a plate of impeccable pan-seared scallops, super fresh raw oysters, or a big beefy burger—your choice.

"We're so close to the water, and we asked lots of locals what they wanted to see at this new restaurant. Overwhelmingly, they said, 'seafood,'" Drahos said of the concept.

However, this is more than your average chowder hut.

Flavors are developed based on seasonality first and foremost. Whether using California-caught fish, oysters from Grassy Bar Oyster or Morro Bay Oyster Company, butter lettuce from the farm, or colorful bounty supplied from a local farmers' market, the chef aims to bring together regional, fresh ingredients with trusted sustainable suppliers.

click to enlarge SEA SENSATION Blue Heron's pan seared scallops come with with lemon beurre blanc, crispy leeks, and preserved lemon. - PHOTOS COURTESY OF BLUE HERON
  • Photos Courtesy Of Blue Heron
  • SEA SENSATION Blue Heron's pan seared scallops come with with lemon beurre blanc, crispy leeks, and preserved lemon.

"We buy a whole fish and use every piece of it. The bones go to stock; we're serving it raw, pan-seared, smoked," the chef said. "Everything not used rolls back into the compost on the farm."

After working at prestigious restaurants from Napa to Oakland to Denver, Drahos is not one to compromise on creativity, either.

He thanks his upbringing for this well-roundedness. As a kid, he looked up to his aunt who worked at Hearst Castle. As a youth he moved from dishwasher and short-order cook at Joe's Place in downtown Paso Robles to blossoming chef at Artisan and JUSTIN Winery, then later Vina Robles, and Windows on the Water.

He's done everything from molecular gastronomy to pastry to teaching demonstrations at Cal Poly. He's also even tried his hand at consulting, opening his own catering business, and starting his own Napa-area Champagne and tapas bar.

click to enlarge TAP THIS APP Butter lettuce grown at the restaurant's local farm is topped with white anchovies, house Cesar dressing, shaved parmesan, and grilled sourdough. - PHOTO BY HAYLEY THOMAS CAIN
  • Photo By Hayley Thomas Cain
  • TAP THIS APP Butter lettuce grown at the restaurant's local farm is topped with white anchovies, house Cesar dressing, shaved parmesan, and grilled sourdough.

"I had been striving outside of this area for so long, but when I came back to the Central Coast, I realized that what I had been searching for was here, and I wanted to further my own creative passions at home," the chef said.

Along with Blue Heron owner Bill Lee, Drahos has been able to do just that. It's only been 16 months since the idea for Blue Heron was first born. A recent soft opening industry event revealed a fully developed restaurant with impeccably served seafood laced with sumptuous sauces.

Maybe it's the ocean breeze, maybe it's the farm—but there is definitely something in the water.

"Two days after meeting Bill, I was designing the restaurant, and it wasn't long after that I had my eyes set on the farm," the chef said. "I knew I wanted to plant seeds, and I did: peppers, strawberries, onion."

Currently, a new greenhouse is bursting with fresh sprouts making their way onto Blue Heron plates.

click to enlarge SNAP, CRACKLE With patio dining out back and a cozy outdoor fireplace in front, Blue Heron offers expansive views of the bay in a chic setting.
  • SNAP, CRACKLE With patio dining out back and a cozy outdoor fireplace in front, Blue Heron offers expansive views of the bay in a chic setting.

Pulling from sea, land, and familial tradition, Drahos may finally have arrived home.

"The produce, the fish, the farms, the ranches, the people, the wineries; I love this place," Drahos added. "I realized that the Central Coast is where I've wanted to be the whole time." 

Reach Hayley Thomas Cain at hthomas@newtimesslo.com.


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