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Paso robles

The New Look of Old Paso Robles

By Anthony Head


The community of Paso Robles has been around since 1844, when it was created in a land grant as Rancho Paso de Robles. Before that time, however, American Indians had been enjoying the thermal hot springs found throughout the area, as did Franciscans, who often frequented this Central California oasis. It has been a location for cattle ranching, almond orchards, and apple trees for as long as anyone can remember, and as the years have slowly ticked by Paso Robles has gently resisted change.     

But that’s starting to be tweaked just a bit. A few years ago, this picturesque region was “discovered” by wine-lovers wanting to escape the crowds of Napa and Sonoma—and you would have thought the gates had suddenly been thrown open to the Promised Land. Suddenly, connoisseurs were heralding this brand new wine country that featured a new taste of California vintages.

Well, kind of. Franciscans actually began planting vines in the late 1700s and they found that the grapes thrived in the off-coast climate. Today, there are more than 170 wineries in the area, attracting fans by producing a wide range of varietals with world-class results. Peachy Canyon Winery, for instance, bottles more than a dozen different zinfandels, each one is a distinct expression of the multitudes of terroir found in vineyards and the character-building microclimates that typify the Paso Robles viticultural region.

This is also proving to be quite the spot for Rhone varietals. “Syrah, grenache, and other Rhone varietals really shine here,” says Chris Kobayashi, chef of Artisan in downtown Paso Robles. “I wasn’t very familiar with them before I got here. But they’re stunning, and I love trying to create dishes to match their profiles.” 

Last October, Kobayashi opened the restaurant with his brother Michael Kobayashi, who is also general manager. This sleek, warm, timeless spot heralds a new attitude for the city—an attitude that recognizes how Napa is getting pretty crowded and how California wine-lovers need a new retreat.

Kobayashi is a graduate of the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco and he earned a pastry certificate from the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone. Prior to arriving in Paso, he worked at Asia de Cuba at the Clift Hotel and Roy’s, both in San Francisco, as well as Brix in Napa Valley. At Artisan, he takes advantage of the abundance of locally produced ingredients. “I purchase as much as I can get my hands on. I have farmers dropping off fresh produce at the back door, and I regularly shop at the farmers’ markets here and in nearby Templeton,” he says.

Kobayahsi tries to evolve his menus to the seasons. Right now there are Colorado lamb chops with English pea risotto and potato-crusted halibut with corn polenta; come autumn, he’ll be ready to add more pork, pumpkin, and apples to the menu. But there are at least two dishes that stand a pretty good chance of sticking around because of their popularity: the pan-roasted Dungeness crab cakes with caper-thyme aioli and tabasco vinaigrette; and the smoked Gouda and porter fondue served with andouille sausage. And to no one’s surprise, each night’s offerings are accompanied by an extensive wine list with a very strong leaning toward the local producers.

After dinner, it’s just a wonderful moonlit stroll back across Paso’s manicured town square to Hotel Cheval. Larger luxury hotels are moving into the area, but this small, stylish property is another recent addition to Paso Robles that heralds a new direction with craftsmanship and personal service that echoes the sentiments of small-town California.

Opened this past April, Hotel Cheval is a luxurious yet completely comfortable boutique hotel with a distinct European ambiance. The rooms—only 16—are handsomely appointed with vaulted ceilings, fireplaces, and original artwork. Along with contemporary amenities, like flat-screen televisions and free wifeless Internet connection, there are services that truly distinguish Cheval, like gourmet continental breakfasts delivered to the rooms each morning. For afternoon noshing, there is the hotel’s on-site Pony Club. It specializes in local wines served with artisan cheeses and other light snacks.

“Like a lot of travelers, we were blown away by what we saw in the downtown area and surrounding ranches and vineyards,” says Robert Gilson, owner of Hotel Cheval. He and his wife, Sherry, built the property inspired by favorite hotels from around the world, and based on how they want to see the town evolve into a travel destination. “We’ve been well-received so far by visitors and locals. The changes to the town are in their infancy, but food and wine and the whole Paso lifestyle are going to drive the growth of the area. We’re to see more great restaurants and other attractions in the future.”

With wine being such a major part of that equation, it’s no wonder that area wineries are investing in the future, too. The new Vina Robles Hospitality Center, for instance, was designed after the historic California missions and sits on 30 acres of vineyard-laced land. The 14,000-square-foot center includes a comfortable tasting room for sampling Vina Robles cabernet sauvignon, syrah, and zinfandel; there is also a gourmet retail center with coffees and spices from Dean & Deluca; and a deli with artisan cheeses and meats.



Peachy Canyon

Tasting Room

2020 Nacimiento Lake Drive

Paso Robles, CA 93446





1401 Park St

Paso Robles, CA 93446




Hotel Cheval

1021 Pine Street

Paso Robles, CA 93446




Vina Robles Hospitality Center

3700 Mill Road

Paso Robles, CA 93446