Itching to hit the road again, ENTREE returned to San Luis Obispo for the first time in years this spring, and quickly found ourselves twice as charmed as on our last visit. A key reason for this is the opening of the new Hotel Cerro, a beautiful modern escape just off the main drag of the central coast city’s downtown. Despite being in the center of the action, surrounded by hip cafes, bars, and bakeries, the hotel has a tranquil, private feeling without sacrificing a single ounce of its cool factor.
We checked into a comfortable lobby, where the brick-lined walls are hung with eye-catching artwork, and were directed to a garden suite that blends a few different design styles for a certain quirky, minimal cool within a roomy open floor plan. Just off the bedroom is a slim, sun-drenched patio with its own firepit and a door opening into a wide edible garden, where the raised beds not only make for great roaming but also help supply the sizzling restaurant downstairs, Brasserie SLO.
Details extend beyond the usual in Cerro’s suites. In addition to the al fresco patio, you can expect touches like local pour-over coffee, king-size Anichini bedding, a bar boasting refillable water bottles guests can keep, a spacious rainforest shower, and the coup de grace: a large freestanding bath that fills from a discrete hole hidden in the ceiling. We somehow managed to leave those comfortable climes for an elevator ride up to the sizable rooftop pool, where 360-degree views of the surrounding emerald green mountains helped us plot out an inspiring early evening hike among the area’s numerous, mercifully undeveloped hills. But first, we borrowed a pair of candy red beach cruisers made available to guests for a bike ride around town. This made for the perfect way of enjoying SLO’s neighborhoods of beautiful, often historic homes, sprawling parks, and city streets brimming with weekend shoppers and restaurant-goers.
After circling the historic San Luis Obispo Mission, we made our way to a delightfully messy lunch of ribs and pulled pork at Mo’s Barbecue, which we quite enjoyed. Twice, in fact, as the smell of smoked meat clung to our every move, even throughout a hike of redemption. After that challenging and gorgeous five- mile trek through oak groves and grassy ranchland, we returned to the Hotel Cerro to peek into 4,000-sq-ft. Spa Cerro. Next, we retreated to our room to get ready for the defining experience of our Central Coast trip.
Brasserie SLO recently hired Kenny Seliger as its executive chef, a name we’ve heard endless raves about during his critically lauded time in L.A. and O.C., but whose food we’d never had the pleasure of experiencing. Knowing his reputation for exquisite tasting menus of superlative product, we put ourselves into this chef’s hands, open to eating anything he deemed fit for us that night. A sterling procession of small, somewhat modernist plates highlighted the best produce and meat of the region, while Seliger, like the best chefs we’ve known, coaxed true, unadorned flavors from every ingredient utilized. We began with a silky amuse of compressed green asparagus with white asparagus bavarois, which offered the richness of a foie gras, albeit in plant-based form. Next came a flaxseed-dotted, salt-baked leek with buttermilk espuma that Seliger says he’s spent years perfecting, its own preparation requiring hours. Never would we have imagined a leek (a leek!) so resplendent, its every buttery fiber concentrated with natural sweetness. A divine arm of Spanish octopus coated in complex chile gastrique came next, followed by a sous vide Maine lobster tail in vadouvan, and an unadulterated Morro Bay oyster, that jewel of the coast. Our main course featured a pristine example of California lamb raised nearby, served with handmade gnocchi wading in a thick gravy. Dessert took the form of a dark chocolate dome containing smoked Diplomat cream and grilled strawberries from a treasured local vendor. Seliger lets ingredients shine brightly, though we know it takes a talented chef’s deft hand to bring out the best of everything in such dishes, plus a passion for the terroir in which they work. Indeed, he is enthusiastic about this area, where he recently moved with his family, even recommending our next night’s dinner be at the impeccable Flour House for Roman pizza and pasta right down the street. The experience at Brasserie SLO was a crowning touch to a wonderful stay at Hotel Cerro, both highlighting the best of San Luis Obispo, while also offering us a quiet, captivating retreat when we needed to get away from the action on bustling Higuera Street. We can’t wait until our next stay in this charming town, which has just enough to experience within the confines of a beautiful small city, from shopping and fashionable dining to incredible natural scenery and charming, strollable residential neighborhoods, to keep us charmed. Before leaving town, we had an elegant lunch on the sidewalk patio of charming Park 1039, 1039 Chorro Street, firstname.lastname@example.org, a local mecca for California wines, European market goods, and caviar service where we feasted on charcuterie boards, nduja-spread tartine, and smoked salmon sandwiches with piquillo kumquat marmalade. These pleasures fueled a lovely two-hour drive back to our Santa Barbara HQ, where we dream of our return to San Luis Obispo next time we seek a nearby escape. Hotel Cerro, rooms and suites from $550-$875, 1125 Garden St., San Luis Obispo, CA 93401, (805) 548-1000; http://www.hotelcerro.com.