I deeply respect winery and restaurant entrepreneurs who don’t rest on their laurels no matter how great and/or popular their business has been. Once they become aware that something isn’t working, they change to improve and grow.
Pico at the Los Alamos General Store has undergone remodeling twice, yet it is only celebrating its second anniversary on Feb. 23, when a special anniversary prix fixe dinner will be offered to celebrate the occasion.
The patio was remodeled and vegetable and fruit gardens and a chicken coop were added last July.
In early January, vintner Will Henry and his wife and partner Kaliope “Kali” Kopley remodeled their wonderful wine tasting room and Pico restaurant in the historic Los Alamos General Store building at 458 Bell St.
That motivated my husband Dan and me to visit just a week ago.
We were impressed by the remodel, which changed everything about the place -- the wine tasting bar, the retail shop and the dining rooms. Now, there’s a much more upscale dining room and more focus on the fabulous wines they sell by the glass or the bottle. The retail side of wine accessories and specialty foods has become more of a bonus, with fine wine and food taking the forefront.
The change made it a much more comfortable space on every level. It’s perfect for a romantic dinner for two or an evening gathering of lively dining and sipping with a group of good friends. They moved the wine tasting bar from the backside of the room to the storefront and the large gathering table into the smaller space they formerly used as the dining room, where their guests can get lively (or a bit loud) without bothering other diners in the much larger main room. Not only is the redesign a far more romantic dining atmosphere, it’s far more relaxed in every aspect while retaining its elegance.
This is not what I would call a "family-friendly" restaurant. It’s an adult experience and that’s best on a date night or joining other adults for a sophisticated evening of wine tasting and gourmet cuisine.
During our first visit after the latest remodel, I asked Henry what motivated the latest change.
“We’ve had a lot of people who wanted to dine on the balcony level, above the tasting room,” he said in response to clientele. “Not only that, people walking by often looked in the windows and saw only the retail part of the shop upfront; they didn’t realize it was a wine bar and restaurant, so they walked on by.”
The Los Alamos General Store offers many great wine tastings featuring their own labels: Nuclear Wine Co. and Lumen, with the latter brand made by Santa Barbara County pioneer Lane Tanner. But this being a true wine shop, they also offer an excellent selection of other local brands and international wine selections. Another great thing about this wine shop, tasting room and restaurant is that you’ll almost always find Henry, Kopley and chef Drew Terp there, busily helping the staff keep everything moving smoothly, and ensuring their guests are happy.
We thoroughly enjoyed our wines and foods sitting at the tasting room bar, and found that Pico seemed to be busier than ever, a pleasant surprise in what is normally a slow month for restaurants. It’s good to see that, during the off-tourist season, it’s very poplar among locals.
Their partner in this amazing project is chef Drew, who has cooked in more Michelin-starred restaurants than most people will ever dine in. He became an expert in the art of cooking by working in Auberge Soleil in Napa Valley, with world-famous chef Alain Ducasse in New York City, chef Pedro Subijana in Spain and chef Jose Andres in Washington, D.C. His menu is truly a fine dining experience, which is rare on the Central Coast. Yet chef Drew is a true foodie who offers a killer hamburger on Sundays, which we’ve tried and loved.
Another huge plus: Our personable server at the wine bar was quite knowledgeable about the wine list. She recommended we order a glass of Vincent Dampf 2016 Petit Chablis Burgundy. After offering a taste of that delightfully crisp white French wine, we found it paired beautifully with our chosen starter plates of smoked scallops with pomegranate, tarragon and lime, as well as the duck confit risotto with pumpkin seeds and local kabocha squash.
Being first and foremost pinot noir lovers, the Lumen 2014 Pinot Noir Santa Maria Valley was a good deal and a rock-solid choice. It was ideal with the mushroom salad with bacon and arugula and the grilled pork secreto with local black-eyed peas and hush puppies.
For more information, visit www.losalamosgeneralstore.com. It’s well worth joining their email list to learn of upcoming events.