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It's that bargain time of year again: The county's best restaurants provide fine dining at value prices during SLO Restaurant Month 

click to enlarge THREE FOR $30:  Here’s a sampling of what’s available at Novo’s for this year’s Restaurant Month celebration (numerous other restaurants are participating too): (l-r) Beef Turnovers (rissois de carne); Wilted Kale, Fennel and orange salad with oil cured olives and goat cheese; and Aromatic Spiced Beef short ribs. - PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • THREE FOR $30: Here’s a sampling of what’s available at Novo’s for this year’s Restaurant Month celebration (numerous other restaurants are participating too): (l-r) Beef Turnovers (rissois de carne); Wilted Kale, Fennel and orange salad with oil cured olives and goat cheese; and Aromatic Spiced Beef short ribs.

I love Restaurant Month in SLO County because it offers locals an outstanding dining experience. Not only do residents on a tight budget get to eat in restaurants they couldn’t normally afford, they get an extraordinary meal featuring three special courses for only $30 per person. As for those participating restaurants that normally aren’t all that expensive, they supplement the meal with an extra course or glass of wine to enhance your meal—now that’s a deal you can’t beat any other month of the year.

When I started out in the restaurant business in the early ’70s, I worked front-of-the-house. At one restaurant in Northern California I totally enjoyed being the reliever who worked whatever position was needed: bartender, cocktail waitress, or dining room server. It was the nicest white tablecloth dining room, in town and I took pride in treating everyone equally whether they were rich regulars, or a young couple hoping for an amazing dining experience in a place that was too expensive for their monthly budget. The greatest compliment I ever received was from one such young couple who admitted after dining: “You made us feel like we belonged here. We were afraid it would be the opposite experience.” I could barely hold back a tear in eye upon hearing that.

Today, I take great pride in writing about fine dining and our talented local chefs. That’s why I advise that you try out the restaurant you didn’t think you could afford during this month-long event.

There’s one place I always recommend first: Cass House in Cayucos. Chef Jensen Lorenzen and his team of dedicated cooks prepare one-of-a-kind meals on a daily basis. Honestly, considering the extraordinary quality of their foods and their cult-like following, I’m surprised they participate. Their price is higher but well worth it at $45 per person for four courses. If you want the wine pairing for each course, it’s $65 (not including taxes and gratuities). For the first time, they won’t be offering the regular menu, too, during January, just this special value-priced dinner. But they do offer a 30- percent discount on rooms so you can stay in the beautiful bed and breakfast. According to their special menu page: “In honor of restaurant month and Mr. Cass himself, we will offer a four-course menu inspired by restaurant menus from the late 1800’s.”

Three other great restaurant month choices include the Covey family restaurants: Luna Red, Novo, and Robin’s. Offering an extra incentive to visit each restaurant during the month of January, you’ll receive a passport that gets stamped when you visit each one. Once you’ve got the three stamps, you’ll receive a $10 gift certificate from each restaurant. You can’t help but love the diverse menus they’re offering with choices in each of the three courses for $30 per person. At Luna Red the theme is “the Spanish table,” Novo features a “Portuguese World” as inspiration for their menu of savory foods, and Robin’s theme is an international selection. Wine pairings are an extra $13 at Luna Red and $14 at Novo, and $9 at Robin’s.

Among other favorites I’ve frequented over the months of 2013: Artisan, Bistro Laurent, Il Cortile, La Cosecha, Luna Red, Palazzo Giuseppe, Robert’s, Thomas Hill Organics Bistro, and Windows on the Water.

SLO Restaurant Month offers an exclusive opportunity to everyone who wants to dine in a fine eatery but is fearful of the snobbism that typically exists in such places. If you’ve dreamed of dining in an upscale restaurant like those mentioned in this column, I guarantee you will be treated courteously. That should be true in every one of these good restaurants participating in SLO Restaurant Month, and if you don’t receive satisfactory service I want to hear about it. Please e-mail me and share your experiences, whether you have an amazing dining experience or one that’s best forgotten (my e-mail address always ends my column).

Pique our interest and you could find your story shared in Cuisine soon.

Choose well, my friends, and you will be rewarded. Salute!

Contact Cuisine columnist Kathy Marcks Hardesty at


SLO Restaurant Month

Each year from Jan. 1-31many fine local restaurants work with the SLO Visitors & Conference Bureau to offer a three-course prixe fixe dinner for $30 per person. In most cases the menu is pre-set, but some restaurateurs offer choices within each of the courses, and some offer a flight of wines paired with it for a reasonable additional price. There are certain restrictions at some participating restaurants, some don’t allow substitutions, some differ in pricing, and some include a beverage. You can learn all of the details before planning your reservations by visiting The list of restaurants, which also features their special menus are found on the opening page, or call the SLOVCB at 1-800-634-1414.

Participating restaurants are listed by the city:

Arroyo Grande

  • Rooster Creek Tavern


Avila Beach

  • Gardens of Avila
  • Ocean Grill



  • Black Cat Bistro
  • Robin’s



  • Cass House


Morro Bay

  • Fish Bonez
  • Galley Seafood Grill
  • Windows on the Water


Paso Robles

  • Artisan
  • Bistro Laurent
  • Buona Tavola
  • Enoteca
  • Estrella
  • Il Cortile
  • La Cosecha
  • Paso Robles Inn Steakhouse
  • Paso Terra
  • Robert’s
  • Thomas Hill Organics Bistro


Pismo Beach

  • Giuseppe’s Cucina Italiana
  • Lido
  • Marisol
  • SeaVenture
  • Splash Café
  • Spyglass Restaurant


San Luis Obispo

  • Alex Madonna’s Gold Rush Steakhouse
  • Apple Farm
  • Big Sky Café
  • Buona Tavola
  • Café Roma
  • Copper Café (Madonna Inn)
  • Gennaro’s Grill
  • Granada Bistro
  • Luna Red
  • Mama’s Meatball
  • Novo
  • Palazzo Giuseppe
  • Sidecar
  • Splash Café-Artisan Bakery
  • Splash Café Seafood Grille
  • Upper Crust Trattoria
  • Vieni Vai
  • Wild Donkey



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