You may say to-may-toes and I may say to-mah-toes, but when it comes to San Luis Obispo’s Ode to Tomatoes festival, one would have to be a fool to call the whole thing off. So, when I was invited to the third annual tomato festival by SLO’s Boutique Hotel Collection, I wisely said yes and asked a friend from San Francisco to meet me. The Central Coast is midway between L.A. and San Fran, less than a four-hour drive in either direction. We spent one night at the Apple Farm Inn, a charming Victorian-style 104-room property that features a working fireplace in every guest room, a watermill, complimentary daily wine reception and a bakery with the best apple butter, apple muffins and apple tarts you’ll find anywhere. The five-course backyard winemaker dinner that night-with wines from Le Vigne Winery in nearby Paso Robles--featured squash blossoms stuffed with goat cheese and served with an Early Girl tomato puree, an extraordinary farmer’s market gazpacho made with heirloom tomatoes, California halibut with local white corn, purple Cherokee tomatoes and shishito peppers, and oxtail ravioli with a beefsteak tomato sauce. The tomato theme extended to dessert, too, with a luscious candied-green tomato cheesecake.
The next morning we checked into The Cliffs Resort, a gorgeous oceanfront Pismo Beach hotel with 160 guest rooms and suites and 10,000 square feet of indoor/outdoor meeting space. In the afternoon we headed to Windrose Farm. Windrose supplies some of the best restaurants in Los Angeles, including Patina, Lucques and Melisse, and I always seek out their farm stand at the Santa Monica or Hollywood Farmer’s Markets. Owned and operated by Bill and Barbara Spencer, Windrose is an organic biodynamic farm that grows veggies, herbs and fruit you won’t find elsewhere, including white Pearmain apples, spigariello greens, chocolate peppermint, and an astounding variety of tomatoes. Bill and Barbara also oversee the garden at the Sycamore Mineral Springs Resort, an historic 100-year-old resort that sits on hot mineral springs and spans 100 acres of forest, hills and meadow. The Resort has several lovely meeting and reception spaces, including the 1,300 square-foot vaulted-ceiling Palm Room and the intimate Garden View Room. But nothing can beat the pleasure of sitting at a long wooden table and dining amid the lovingly-tended garden. Our dinner that night, prepared in an outdoor kitchen by chef Robert Trester, included lots of just-picked bounty in dishes like hand-cut fresh spaghetti with Thai basil and garden tomatoes and a stunning version of a Caprese salad with whipped burrata, flowering basil, fennel pollen and smoked salt.
I went home with a jar of apple butter, fresh corn and tomatoes…and plans to visit the Central Coast long before next fall’s Ode to Tomatoes festival.