Gardens of Avila at Sycamore Springs

GARDENS OF AVILA at Sycamore Springs  Avila Beach, reduced to  ♦

This is one of those situations where all things working together surrounding the dining experience are so dreadful, it casts a serious blight on the meal.  Three phone calls which went to answering machine, a transfer from the front desk which resulted in same, a message taken at the resort desk with a promise
of a call-back (still waiting), and finally, finding an alternate number on Google and reaching a hostess who clearly was taking the first reservation of her career.

Arriving 5 minutes early, we were pointed towards the bar, where we waited for 35 minutes, surrounded by BO-and-perfume-drenched revelers in shorts and tank-tops.  A very nice bar–looking quite top-shelf–where an *Amaretto Sour* is generic amaretto and S&S + soda from the gun on rocks.  I opted to have my brought bottle of wine opened, whereupon the tender immediately poured a heavy-rimmed glass nearly 3/4 full before I noticed and frantically stopped him.

Alerted to our ready reservation, we did the awkward hurry-close-out-bar-tab-carry-drinks-and-napkins-and-bottle behind the waiting hostess and were ushered into an dining room which would make most conference rooms seem plush.  The exterior stone-walled grotto area honestly looked more inviting, but I prefer not to eat outside.  For ambiance, Gardens gets zero points.  I have to search hard to remember a dining room more awkwardly uninviting.  Stark and cold–and not in a contemporary/minimalist/industrial sort of way.  High ceilings, horrible paint, cafeteria layout and a couple dreadful tourist giclées on the wall.

Wine list is a fairly typical who’s who of the usual Edna Valley and Paso suspects but with a delightful smattering of things like Tatomer and Carr.  Straight-forward table-side ordering to a waiter who does not preside over the serving.  But then: The Food.  First two appetizer choices they are out of, but the Romaine Wedge is more than promised and the Abalone and Pork Belly is so succulent and amazing if you close your eyes, you can almost imagine yourself in a really great restaurant.

Rather sparse service is attentive but not cloying.  Entrees are definitely aiming at being some of the highest quality in the area.  The Beef Short Ribs–boneless and flaky-moist, and a Duck Breast you can nearly suck through the gap in your front teeth, both with completely un-boring starch purées, perfect vegetable accompaniment and on-point wine reductions.  The Pot De Crème–sans pot–was uniformly dense and muddy with chocolate, unfortunately served with an embarrassingly bad interpretation of ‘espresso’.  Flat, burnt, too-hot and no crema, practically a calling-card of San Luis Obispo restaurants: that all-too-frequent postlude to your meal which shouts “THE KITCHEN DOESN’T CARE!” to anyone willing to pay attention.

If you are able to focus solely on the food, this is a wonderful dining experience.  But if you view the meal as a sum of all parts, Gardens of Avila reaches nearly humorous levels of incompetence.

THE FULL RESTAURANT REPORT FROM FORT BRAGG TO BAJA

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