For better or worse, here I am—trapped in paradise. As long as I continue to live in this vital, inimitable spot on the globe,

I will continue to seek out the unique…the delicious…the innovative products, services and traditions of San Luis Obispo County.

Stay posted for a few of my favorite things.

About Me...

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A wanderlust at heart... captivated by the California Central Coast. Join me on my culinary and vino-infused adventures as I explore and discover the regional novelties of San Luis Obispo County that make living here...easy to stay...and hard to leave.

Friday, July 2, 2010

SLO Chow

Bright airy dining. Fresh bright flavors. Welcome to Chow. This innovative eatery, located in downtown San Luis Obispo (across from the Courthouse and just a few steps from the Fremont Theatre), brought its dazzling Asian-inspired dishes to my SLO Friday evening.
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After strolling past Chow's sleek turquoise exterior, I stopped long enough to peek in at their nouveau, bamboo-ornamented interior and peruse their innovative menu—where delicacies like lemongrass pork satay with housemade peanut sauce, sesame orange roast chicken, and five spice duck confit salad caught my eye. I couldn't resist grabbing a seat at the "window."
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After plopping down in this open-air storefront, sitting window-style presented me with views of historic buildings and continous passersby rambling up and down the sidewalks. I settled in at this salubrious setting and promptly began studying Chow's inventive list of drink and dinner options. After much debate (and welcome advice from my waitress), I opted for a soju cocktail ($7). Made with rice vodka, this muddled drink, with mint leaves and small chunks of fresh ginger piled high over ice, tasted refreshingly zingy. (Chow also makes a strawberry basil version, and either can be ordered in non-alcoholic form).
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Next came the appetizer. After much deliberation, I chose the small plate of Korean braised beef lettuce cups ($7). Served on butter lettuce, the delicious, tender chunks of spiced beef melded perfectly with the sweet chunks of pineapple, the long, thin slivers of crunchy jicama, the housemade kimchi, and the spicy chile sauce. At first I didn't know best how to tackle this colorful—yet awkward starter—but finally I rolled one up, opened wide, bit down, and let the flavors explode. Oishii.
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After this successful nibble my stomach was nearly full, but curiosity wouldn't allow me to stop. I ordered a noodle bowl, Zha Jiang ($9), which yielded a giant serving of spicy ground pork, plump udon noodles, and slices of cool crunchy cucumber. Accompanying this trio were three extra flavorful frills: spicy chile sauce, pickled serranos (ouch!), and a sweet chile sauce to provide some much-needed balance to offset the melange of fire. I spooned in a little of each condiment, then stirred up my mishmash of flavors until the beautiful noodles were stained with red, covered in minced pork. With my chopsticks readied, I prepared to chow down.
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The lovely creaminess of the udon, the undertones of the allspice warmly flavoring the pork, the sting of the serrano chiles, and the sweet and spicy sauces left me contented. (These giant noodles remain a favorite of mine as they remind me of the school cafeteria lunches I ate while teaching English in Japan). I immensely enjoyed slurping up these long, thick strands in this new fusion of flavors and textures.
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With my stomach full, my lips on fire, and my curiosity satisfied, I sensed that this would not be my last visit to Chow. Other creative items on their menu—salt and pepper prawns with gingered vinegar; Laksa, a noodle bowl with seafood and rice noodles in a spicy coconut milk broth—would likely lure me back at some point in the near future. But for now, I was content with my zesty newfound discovery. Chow.

After dinner, the summer Friday night Concerts in the Plaza attracted quite a crowd in the Mission Plaza, located just a few blocks from Chow. Live music by The JD Project rocked the SLO downtown core.

Also attracting crowds were the festivities brought by Art After Dark, a San Luis Obispo County Arts Council program. Taking place the first Friday of each month, local businesses showcase local artists, many offer up appetizers and local wines, and some offer live entertainment such as music and bellydancing. I wandered into several venues to admire the creative work of many local artists. My favorite pick of the evening goes to the History Center of San Luis Obispo (located across from the Mission and pictured above). Their current exhibit: Bells, Belles & Beaux, Wedding Traditions of SLO County, 1870's - 1950's, brought a unique display of vintage wedding dresses, evolving traditions, and a little-known piece of local SLO history to light.

Who says Friday nights in downtown San Luis Obispo are SLO? Not me!

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