Gnocchi. Ricotta Gnocchi. Ricotta Gnocchi atop a bed of gently sautéed Bloomsdale spinach. Gnocchi in a brown butter sauce. Gnocchi with a dusting of artichoke fritti. This is a glorious dish and I hope it remains as a revolving item on the menu at Ember. But you never know what inspired new dishes might arrive to grace the latest monthly offerings at this nearly-new eatery just opened in February. That’s part of the charm. The menu is new each month — some items may remain or return — but a great portion of the menu is new and refreshing every month based on what is in season and locally available. It is an inspired way to get us to return each month so that we never miss what’s new.
1200 E Grand Ave
Arroyo Grande, CA 93420
I will say that it is a fantastic thing to have a restaurant of this caliber so close by in our very own little Arroyo Grande. If you’re just stopping in for a spot at the bar and looking for an imaginative flat bread (like Pizza Bianca with garlic cream sauce, Teleme Cheese, king trumpet mushrooms, walnuts and ricotta) washed down with a glass of Hoppy Poppy or 805 Ember can do that. Or if you want to make it an evening and indulge in the full three course meal — perhaps heirloom tomato and burrata salad followed by grilled rack of lamb, crowned with orange creme brûlée and washed down with a fantastic bottle of local wine and punctuated by hours of great conversation with friends Ember can easily do that. What it doesn’t have (and I appreciate very much) is TVs. Not a one. Thankfully this is a place to carry on a conversation not watch a game. The entertainment is watching the food be artfully prepared in the open kitchen … more on that later.
There are very few people in the world, I believe, that find their true calling. When you meet someone who has achieved this, they make work appear to be play. They have vision and the ability to make that vision a reality. We are lucky to have such a person in Chef Brian Collins, owner and genius behind Ember. His menus are creative in a good way — yum flavors paired in a way you would never have thought.
And it is clear that Chef Collins has also built a team that reflects his enthusiasm for food. Pastry Chef Matt Molacek is a wizard with items like Chocolate and hazelnut terrine with salted caramel ice cream or vanilla bean ice cream with macerated berries and a side of Mexican wedding cookies. Not to mention fresh organic artisan breads that can be purchased to take home.
And like bees working their craft, all of the Ember Team work busily around the crown jewel of the restaurant — a uniquely designed wood burning stove that creates the effect of an outdoor grill with no smoke courtesy of the efficient hoods above it. All of the taste and none of the BBQ-smoke smell with fires kept burning nightly by sous chef David. Next to that is an enormous hive of a pizza oven where the flat breads are brought to life and the home made breads take on their yummy crustiness. Instead of a kitchen that is hidden behind the walls of the restaurant, the design of this dining room surrounds the open-plan kitchen where you can watch the chefs cooperate and create in a perfectly choreographed dance. Rough-hewn barn wood graces the interior walls, and the exterior of the restaurant was given a log-home feel. It truly feels as though it is sustainable in and of itself — and we think it is. We were just in to sample the June menu and now that it’s July 2 we need to plan our July return!
Oh, and by the way, if you’ve heard there might be a wait it’s worth every second. However they recently expanded dining seating to the smaller tables in the bar — so don’t let a few minutes keep you from a truly delicious dining experience.