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Donna Polizzi: The Bear and Star Raises the Bar on Food, and Service |

Donna Polizzi: The Bear and Star Raises the Bar on Food, and Service

When was the last time that you went out to dinner with friends and were thoroughly impressed? I can attest to the fact that The Bear and Star restaurant, located at Fess Parker Wine Country Inn Spa in Los Olivos, has set the bar very high. It was remarkable in numerous ways.

When you walk through the hotel lobby and enter the restaurant, expect to find it upscale and classy, yet warm and inviting.

As soon as we were seated, the bubbly was poured and the party started. Our servers, didn’t just serve, they were dressed to impress and represented the restaurant like professionals.

We were seated in a private room, with a huge wooden table for a party of six. One wall had a glass window to the kitchen, through which we watched master chefs prepare interesting dishes. Another wall was lined with shelves of colorful pickled vegetables.

The wall behind me was a bookcase full of, what else? Cookbooks.

The Bear and Star’s menu descriptions had our mouths watering. Our hosts, Marty and Alex, explained in impressive detail how our dishes would be prepared, including the local sourcing of ingredients and dietary options.

When dining out, it can be hard to find the ideal balance between attentive service and servers being intrusive. The staff at the Bear and Star nails it. They seemed to anticipate our every need and were at the table instantly, but they never interrupted the flow of conversation.

Let’s talk food! Ohhhhhh … They had us at bread service. The sweet aroma of scrumptious cornbread, served in cast iron skillets (with a little bacon lard on the bottom), stopped our conversation. It was simply warm deliciousness, topped with a brown sugar butter and fermented pepper glaze.

Marty told us that the bread would be “a little sweet, a little spicy, savory and addicting.” She didn’t tell us that it really could win awards.

Each member of our dinner party loved the Smoked Wagyu Carpaccio appetizer. The cold-smoked sirloin, sliced paper thin, is drizzled with chive oil, then sprinkled with house-cultivated, crispy shiitake mushrooms, house-cured egg yolks and dollops of fresh crème, before being topped with radish and micro greens from the farm. The carpaccio is big and beefy, yet delicate and delicious.

Are we celebrities? We certainly felt like it. When six servers came out at once, in a synchronized fashion, to deliver our food simultaneously, we felt like royalty. Truly, the service was fit for the elite.

All the entrees that we ordered were distinctive and well-prepared. The Wagyu Tri-Tip was so tender … it can melt in your mouth. The Mac Cheese was crispy and dare I say, cheesy?

The grilled catfish was cooked to tender perfection and the Parker Ranch Wagyu Burger was smothered in cheddar cheese, smoked tomato, butter pickles and aioli. It was a hit.

The menu offers a huge selection of local wines and tempting desserts.

The restaurant is intriguing and is full of surprises. The chefs cultivate several types of mushrooms on the property and do much of their own canning. Many things about The Bear and Star make the dining experience one-of-a-kind.

When the meal was over, we stepped out into a well-manicured courtyard with a beautiful fountain and a comfortable seating area. Our party continued with drinks beside a delightful fire.

We are thrilled that we chose The Bear and Star for our intimate birthday party. Everything about the experience was gratifying.

The Bear and Star is open 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily, at 2860 Grand Ave. in Los Olivos.

— Donna Polizzi is a regional travel expert and founder of Keys to the Coast, a free Central Coast travel resource providing honest recommendations on the best places that locals want to go. She can be contacted at [email protected]. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

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