Robin’s in Cambria, CA
Some notes from visiting a small town restaurant alongside the Pacific Coast Highway.
“We’re taking a break from seating” declares the hostess, who seems half as interested in acknowledging her guests as learning what the word “diction” is. When patrons ask when they stop serving lunch, “in 5 minutes” she declares while walking away; potential diners can’t tell if they’re coming or going.
The decor is rustic, with dormitory-grade nondescriptly multicolored carpeting. Dark, neutral tones are peppered with heavy drapes. Modern art, of the primitivism variety, is paired with O. Henry’s Rolling Stones on the mantle, traditional Japanese art on the door, and African-themed plates on the walls. The seating is all hard wood, but no two chairs match at each table; although twins sit across the walkway from one another. Tables share similar variety, creating a comfort with personality. Unfortunately the fireplace provides more ambiance than warmth, with guests pulling their sweaters tight with one hand while feeding their children with the other. At least Robin’s maintains egalitarianism in the climate between the indoor and outdoor lunch crowd, with a pleasant 56 F day.
Sake graces the pages of a Wine Spectator-approved wine list whose diversity stems from doubtless badgering by a staple of nearby vineyards. Taking the prime North-West corner of the menu, the sake is simply labeled “hot.”
After the drink order, the waitress pours a mass market ginger ale into a wine glass meant for a Cabernet Sauvignon. “Have your waters not come yet?” she asks an empty table, seemingly surprised that the rest of the wait staff has disappeared this chilly afternoon.
In much the way that “if you have two quarterbacks, you have none,” the menu itself is themeless. Feta and marinara pizza (an oddball itself) is apparently served on Naan instead of traditional pizza bread. The spicy noodle dish wears no disguise and is described as “wok-seared pasta.” The presence of Western soups, salads and sandwiches, with mains of the Mexican and Southeast Asian variety remind one a small-town Cheesecake Factory, with its plethora of styles condensed into a handful of mulatto dishes. Fitting for a locale that describes its food as “all available to go”
As for the food, portion sizes are perfect. All three entrees are filling but not overwhelming. It will suffice to describe the food through their treatment of a California lunch classic, the half sandwich and soup combo. In the soup, firm lentils are counterbalanced by a thin broth and vegetables cooked to mush. Its heat comes more from being microwave hot than any balance in seasoning. For the sandwich, two slices of multigrain wonderbread (untoasted) come slathered in mayonnaise, and hold between them cheese, a single slice of tomato, lettuce and half a mashed avocado. Ingredients are fresh, fine, and functional. This is possibly the best veggie sandwich that one could make in 60 seconds flat.