Downtown Paso Robles has enjoyed an infusion of culinary talent in the past decade that has allowed the local food scene to grow in step with the surrounding wine scene. Restaurants like Villa Creek and Bistro Laurent lit the match, and now restaurants like Artisan are now fanning the flames, offering more than just rustic ranch land cooking.
Michael Kobayashi and chef/brother Chris opened Artisan in late 2006, two blocks from the town square. The Bishop natives longed for experiences beyond their small town in the shadow of Mammoth Mountain. Chris attended the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco and cooked at Asia de Cuba, Roy’s and Brix before joining his brother in Paso Robles. Michael previously managed rock stars in L.A. and still dabbles in the music industry.
Seafood Chowder ($8) hosted flaky fish, plump mussels, smoky strips of bacon and house made black pepper crackers that were a serious step up from bagged oyster crackers. The creamy broth wasn’t too thick or rich.
Crispy Rock Shrimp ($13) salad featured crispy shrimp, thin strands of tangy pickled cucumbers, sweet tangerine slabs and bitter strips of radicchio. There probably could have been a bit less romaine and a little more sesame dressing, but the salad was fairly well balanced.
Ever since seeing Hearst Ranch manager Brian Kenney speak at the Foodbuzz Festival, I’ve been interested to try his grass-fed product, and Artisan offered a prime opportunity. The Hearst Flatiron Steak ($19) was a relative bargain, with a lean slab of beef that sported a winning char. The grass-fed steak was devoid of the buttery, fatty marbling associated with corn-fed beef, and my stomach was grateful for that absence. The accompaniments were all excellent, including caramelized shallots, cabernet butter studded with purple grape skins and a thatch of crisp sweet potato fries. At the base of the steak, we found field greens that were impeccably cooked.
Firm but sweet Laughing Bird Prawns ($15) were tossed with hand-rolled spaghetti that had good bite. Tangy strips of preserved lemon, capers and cherry tomatoes provided some good acidity. Arugula and chile de arbol rounded out the dish’s flavor profile.
We were tempted by the tangerine cheesecake, but were already too full. Surprisingly, Michael Kobayashi sent us on our way with a pair of Scharffenberger Chocolate Brownies, which were airy, with an outer sugar crispness and crushed walnuts within.
Artisan already has a dedicated following, and with the high season still months away, score a seat while you still can.
Note: the Kobayashis invited me to dine at Artisan and comped my meal.