Start with an antipasto of home-cured pork salami with imported Italian cheeses and specialty house spreads. Next, indulge in homemade pumpkin and ricotta torellonis in a lush cream sauce. Polish off your dinner with 10 ounces of grilled flank steak drizzled with a balsamic reduction. Leave downtown San Luis Obispo’s fine-dining restaurant Buona Tavola with a bill of $30.
Sound impossible? While a meal like this would typically cost upwards of $60, Central Coast foodies were in luck this past month.
Throughout January, Buona Tavola and 42 other restaurants participated in San Luis Obispo County’s sixth annual Restaurant Month, put on by the San Luis Obispo County Visitors & Conference Bureau. Though Buona Tavola has enrolled every year, more restaurants participated this year than ever.
January Restaurant Month featured a “three for thirty” promotion — restaurant-specific three-course prix fixe menus for $30 each. The emphasis was on local produce, meats and wines. All of Buona Tavola’s meals incorporated fresh, locally grown ingredients, manager Francesco Ruocco said.
Buona Tavola saw an increase in business during the promotion, Ruocco said, with “very, very good” feedback from customers.
Novo Restaurant Lounge in downtown San Luis Obispo also participated in Restaurant Month, but, instead of just providing a prix fixe menu for the month, Novo changed its menu weekly.
January is one of the slower months for the restaurant, Novo manager Stephen Hawley said, and January Restaurant Month increased excitement among regulars and encouraged more foot traffic.
“There are locals here that love Novo Restaurant, that come in like three or four times a week, and it’s exciting for them,” Hawley said. “Maybe once a week during January, since we switch the menu every week, they’ll try the new three-for-30. For those who dine at our restaurant a lot, they get something off the beaten path.”
And the prix fixe menu lured in new customers too.
“I don’t know if it’s a huge boost in revenue, but it’s a huge boost to get new people in the doors that haven’t dined with us yet,” Hawley said. “A lot of customers come through the door and request the 30-day menu. I’d say about 75 percent of people (who had the three-for-30 menu) came in with the intent to try it.”
A focus of San Luis Obispo County’s Restaurant Month is locally grown produce, meats and wines. Like Buona Tavola and many other Restaurant Month participants, Novo paired up with a local winery to offer corresponding wine flights and created a menu that highlighted local products.
Hawley said approximately 99 percent of Novo’s dishes featured some local ingredient.
“We go to Farmers’ Markets religiously, like three or four times a week,” Hawley said. “They know us very well and have the crème de la crème of local produce waiting for us. It’s great to be able to bring local produce to the plate.”
Hawley said January Restaurant Month was a catalyst for culinary creativity.
“We rarely do a set menu unless it’s like Valentine’s Day, but this allowed us to create a lot of dishes from places like the Himalayas and Philippines to create an interesting dining experience,” Hawley said.
Novo took customers on a themed tour of Asia. Courses ranged from a Vietnamese-style grilled beef salad with mint, cucumber and chilis to a crispy local fish with a Thai-flavor ginger coconut sauce.
Can next January come any slower?
Editor’s note: Make sure to check out our interactive map and Storify social media aggregation below.
View Restaurant Month Locations in City of SLO in a larger map