Robin’s was recommended by two different townspeople. The chef seems to have high aspirations since he prepares “special” menus throughout the year and even has a Japanese menu paired with different kinds of sake. The menu is also eclectic, offering seafood items, Indian-themed dishes and a heavy influence of Asian fusion. This seemed promising, so we decided to give it a try.
This may be one of the best restaurants in town, but aspiration exceeded execution. We ordered only appetizers and salad. The steamed mussels and clams suffered from mussel meat that was not plump, seemingly dehydrated, if that’s at all possible. There wasn’t much to chew. The clams were fine although somewhat large for our taste. But the biggest problem was that the shellfish were overcooked, almost rubbery, also making the strips of ham chewy. The broth was flavorful, worthy of bread-dipping (we had to ask for a basket of bread, which itself was not that great) though salty.
Ale-steamed mussels and clams with Canadian bacon
The crab cake appetizer was overfried, the batter almost crunchy. We think they used rock crab, which is plentiful around here, and thankfully, they didn’t use too much bread as filler. The cakes sat on top of a remoulade and parsley oil.
Spring onion crab cakes with caper-chive remoulade
The specially featured local albarino (Tangent) wine was very good. Overall, not a special meal at all.
4095 Burton Drive
Cambria, CA 93428
Driving along the California coast is a spectacular experience. California Highway 1, in particular, has many rewards, not only breathtaking vistas of the Pacific Ocean but little towns that are free from over-commercialization. Take Cambria, for example. Situated about halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, it attracts travelers from both, a picturesque village of beaches and rugged cliffs, only a few miles south of San Simeon. The commercial district extends but a few blocks, yet is quaint in character, including a small farmers market that we happened upon. We discovered that Cambria can play host to special events, including club gatherings. During our stay at the Bluebird Inn, there was a rally of a Triumph car club whose proud owners were showing them off.
To feed the tourists who stay in the motels and B&Bs, there are a good number of restaurants, some aspiring to be fine enough to feature tablecloths and linens.
Eggs benedict for breakfast at Redwood Cafe
The many wineries in San Luis Obispo county provide a wealth of good bottles, available in wine shops, including Fermentations where, after a wine tasting, I joined their wine club.
The biggest surprise was the rookeries of elephant seals that make the beaches from here to San Simeon their home. Several stops along the highway afford excellent views of them. They can even be seen in the waters off the coast (also see picture above).
Elephant seals on a beach south of San Simeon
Along the coast of San Luis Obispo county is situated the beautiful town of Morro Bay, once a center of abalone fishing that now hosts commercial and sport fishing activities. We approached it from the south along Highway 101 when we saw the town’s most famous landmark, Morro Rock, that juts up out of the water right off the coast. The town marks the southern beginning of the stretch of California Highway 1 that straddles the rugged coastline. An artificial harbor, constructed by the Army Corps of Engineers, protects the marina where fishing vessels are moored.
Geologically, Morro Rock is a granite volcanic plug, a visually striking one, the only one of Nine Sisters in San Luis Obispo county that rises above water. It is also a National Wildlife Refuge that protects many species of birds, particularly the peregrine falcon. It used to be isolated off the coast, but is now connected to the mainland by a sandy causeway, also built by the Army Corps of Engineers, which we crossed to get a closer look at The Rock, as it’s familiarly called by locals.
I’ve posted before that one of the best ways to find a good restaurant is to ask the locals. After visiting the Guadalupe Dunes National Wildlife Refuge, it was time for lunch. The town of Guadalupe is largely Hispanic, so the obvious choice was to eat at a Mexican restaurant. A local said that the best place was La Simpatia, only a few blocks south on the main highway through town, in business since 1944 (a good sign). Because the storefront was rather small, we passed it by on our first try but saw it after doubling back.
While the menu lists no surprises, the two entreés we had were excellently prepared in the open, stainless-steel clad kitchen behind the counter.
The chile verde came with succulent cubes of pork, bathed in a chile-tomatillo sauce that begged to be scooped up with tortillas. Equally good was the chile colorado, earthy, tangy and slightly smoky.
La Simpatia’s chile verde
827 Guadalupe St
Guadalupe, CA 93434
The Chumash Indians were the dominant people in a portion of southern California that includes Santa Barbara, Ventura and San Luis Obispo counties. They left behind many examples of rock art throughout this region. The most accessible site is Chumash Painted Cave State Park, just off State Hwy 154. The pictographs, done in red and black polychrome paints, adorn the walls of a small sandstone cave, protected from the public by an iron gate. The symbols are thought to involve Chumash cosmology, but in fact no one really knows.
The art is similar to other pictographs that we saw last year in the Southwest.
A significant architectural building in all of California is the Santa Barbara County Courthouse, built in the 1920s. It is arguably the most impressive building in the city, reflecting a superb example of the Spanish Colonial Revival style that earned it a designation as a U.S. National Historic Landmark and a place in the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. We were hoping to catch a late-afternoon tour, to no avail. But, even as we walked down the corridors and climbed up and down stairways, it was obvious why the building is so important.
From the clock tower, you can see the unique Spanish Colonial architecture throughout much of the commercial district, adopted by civic leaders after the devastating 1925 earthquake.
Santa Barbara has North America’s largest Moreton Bay fig tree, planted in 1877 at its current location. Its dimensions are so impressive that it is said that the canopy can shelter 1,000 people. It was somewhat difficult to find the tree, located on the corner of Chapala and Montecito Streets behind the railway station, but once we did, we were astonished with its immense size and spread.