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Still a solid choice for imaginative, locally-sourced, New American cuisine

Lamb Ragu
Lamb Ragu

by Andrew Chalk

It has been several years since I dined at Thomas Hill Organics, a mid-priced bistro in charming downtown Paso Robles. My memories are of carefully prepared farm-to-table seasonal staples paired with a small but carefully chosen wine list dominated by local wines.

A media return visit confirmed continuity in the mission and did not disappoint. It reminded me of the establishment’s unusual placement: a bar on the street with the main entrance, dining rooms at the far end, and a courtyard in the middle. The latter is the best place to dine, weather permitting. It is also where you might find yourself dining next to a dog, as “well-behaved” dogs are permitted. The magnificent malamute that chose the same night as me lay down, ultra mellow, at his owner’s feet all night, possibly pondering the wine list.

The wine list is accompanied by a list of house cocktails, beers (mostly local), and seltzers. Thomas Hill aims to spotlight the bounty of the Paso Robles area, however expressed, and tries to please patrons of all palates.

The kitchen helps keep its focus on quality through the timeworn chef’s device of a short menu. Half a dozen starters, half a dozen mains, some sides, cheese, and charcuterie. One interesting item among the sides is bread. Pay for bread! An outrage you say. Do they think they are an airline charging for bags? Well, no. Charging for bread is something we consumers who like bread, should like, because it means better bread. Now that bread is a course on the menu, the chef can offer a real creation, not just a throwaway. Thus, Thomas Hill’s bread side is actually called “Local Bread Service with olea farms olive oil - balsamic”. It is $8, and it is excellent.

Butternut Squash Soup
Butternut Squash Soup

Dining au seule afforded me the chance to try only one starter and one main. Hence, this is a quickview, not a review. The soup of the day was Butternut Squash and it sounded like the perfect starter after a large lunch. That hunch proved correct, with earthy, sweet vegetable flavor and a meltingly smooth dollop of cream on top. Choosing the main was a mental battle royal between duck and lamb. The ruminant, Lamb Ragu ($37) won and proved to be absolutely stunning. Just about an ideal type of the dish to be placed in the metaverse as the reference of what this dish is. At the heart was the lamb, the meat pulled in clumps away from the cooked joint. It had a well-timed barbecue’s willingness to succumb in the mouth. Combine its flavor (and I regard the distinct flavor of lamb as an asset) with the intense sauce and spear the plate to pick up some of the pappardelle as well, to make for a great mouthful. Salty grains of ground cheese and earthy greens made it a joy to work my way through the serving. Highly recommended.

Nearly full, I chose the bowl of gelato and sorbet as a defensive dessert. Vanilla and raspberry. They were excellent.

Overall, a very enjoyable meal. Great food, friendly, knowledgeable service, and a charming outside venue in the cool California evening augmented with heaters. As MacArthur said, in less propitious circumstances, “I will return”.

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