Once upon a time – and not so long ago — I loved Koberl at Blue in San Luis Obispo. It was my favorite restaurant in one of my favorite towns. The herb crusted rack of lamb was the perfect cross between old school fine dining and wine country cuisine. Their version of duck two ways – with a seared duck breast and a confit was perfection (if not particularly innovative).
But that, it seems, was a longer time ago than, perhaps, I had thought. On our long-awaited return to the Central Coast, a visit to Koberl at Blue was to be a highlight. It was, however, destined to disappoint.The service was terrible. On at least two occasions our waiter asked questions, didn’t listen to the answers, and got it wrong. He was stuffy, uncertain, nervous, inattentive and unresponsive. Had he been a trainee accompanied by a seasoned veteran, there to take up the slack, perhaps the slack would have been taken up. It was not.
I started my meal with the Chicken Postickers appetizer, one for which the restaurant is known. I’d had the dish before and enjoyed it – as I did on this occasion. Perhaps in the context of the meal my impression of it was a bit harsher than it might otherwise have been, but I could not help but notice that this was a version of a dish I regularly enjoyed at dim sum joints – and the sauces on offer were no better than the simple ones I might find at such establishments.
Nancy, cleverly, ordered the Caesar’s Salad appetizer. It was pretty much perfect, featuring a Spanish style white anchovy that elevated the dish from the every day to the excellent. Her luck continued with the main course: the duck. It was as good as ever.
I, on the other hand, screwed up. I ordered the sautéed veal liver. My theory was that you don’t put veal and onions on a fine dining menu unless you are going to do them really, really well. Mistake. What came out was, pretty much, a mixed pile of mess. The temperatures varied from spot-on to utterly raw. That little bit of blood at the upper left of the picture should have been the first hint. But even where they got the temperature right, the outside of the liver showed signs that the pan had been way too hot resulting in bits of charcoal on the surface: inedible, unappetizing charcoal. There’s a reason charcoal dust is not a spice commonly found in restaurant or home kitchens. This was not a dish that should ever have been put out of any kitchen of any remotely serious restaurant. It is certainly not a dish that any restaurant should charge a customer for after that customer complained, as I did. It is, however, a dish I paid for. I will probably give Koberl at Blue another chance. I’ve had enough good meals there that I cannot do otherwise. But this meal was a profound disappointment. The service was sub par. The kitchen was uneven. The experience was not a good one. I hope that when and if I do go back I will feel inspired to eat these words. That, unfortunately, will be more than I felt I could do with the veal liver dish. — Michael A. Gardiner