A Religious Experience: Chef Brian Collins of Lido Restaurant Leads the Way

"A religious experience is most commonly known as an occurrence that is uncommon in the sense that it doesn't fit in with the norm of everyday activities and life experiences, and its connection is with the individual's perception of the divine."

Restaurant Month

There is a certain "buzz" amongst us foodies on the Central Coast, and Chef Brian Collins is in the midst of it all. Who is this guy... what's his twist with food... and what is the buzz about? Having yet to dine at the LIDO restaurant in Shell Beach where Brian commandeers the crew as Executive Chef, I set off last Saturday to see what's made it to the special Prix Fixe Menu (3 courses - $30) for Restaurant Month.

I had called ahead to reserve a table for an early dinner, and I'm glad I did. Our table was clearly set up for us (just two) with eye-numbing ocean views. We chose to dine indoors, but heated seating is available outdoors as well, and literally within feet of the ocean bluff's edge. Lido's setting, under the roof of the Dolphin Bay Resort and Spa, allows the diner to experience the natural environment of the central coast seaside while ensconced in quality, modern digs and top-end service.

Having settled in by now, enjoying my cocktail, my husband's company, and the unfolding drama that only a central coast winter sunset can deliver; I cracked the menu and began to contemplate our dinner. The Lido's menu is seasonal, changing on a quarterly basis to allow the Chef and diners the pleasure of using/enjoying the freshest of local product. The winter menu is amazingly tantalizing... but, having decided beforehand to enjoy the Prix Fixe menu, I turn my attention there:

Restaurant Month

Windrose Farm Baby Greens: Happy Acres Farm Goat Cheese
Roasted Cauliflower Soup

Red Wine Braised Beef Short Ribs
Mary's Farm Chicken "Al Mattone"
Crispy Steelhead trout
Ricotta Raviolo

Coffee Crème Brulee
Seasonal Bread Pudding
Chocolate Torte

Let me take you through our dining experience, taste by taste.

I believe the religious awakening began with the Roasted Cauliflower Soup. Never, ever, or ever had we tasted a soup of such sublime beauty and substance. Get this: I'm not even particularly fond of cauliflower! Yet, this soup so enchanted us with its nutty flavor, warmth, soul, earthiness, and the tickle of sweetness lent by way of the crème fraiche, that I considered this perhaps a food experience, of a most different, surreal and unexpected order. Hmmm... (and, "yes!" we did argue over who got the last spoon of soup.)

The seduction (and there is no better word for it!) continued with the Red Wine Braised Beef Short Ribs. We know that food is a multi-sensory experience and these ribs shanghaied me by their wafting essence. But that's just the start. Like a dog searching for its bone, try as I might I couldn't discern, or identify, THAT THING that made this dish so special. Was it the ‘falling off the rib' tender beef, the wine that most certainly makes all things good, or perhaps the braising and slow cooking? No, no, no, the rest of us can do these things - and do them well. But what I am talking about is a food experience that would lead the most pious to a life of sin. This food is Godly and sinfully delicious!

Dessert was a Chocolate Torte that had us spinning in our seats! Rich, luscious, and delicious, it was the fulfillment of a meal well planned, lovingly crafted, beautifully served and impeccably delivered.

Now... I get "The Buzz" about Chef Brian Collins and tracked him down for a personal interview. I read his bio at the LIDO website, but wanted a sense of who this guy was as an ordinary Joe, as well as a Primo Executive Chef. He looked awfully young from his pictures...

I asked Brian how it all began: Imagine a young man falling upon his mom's cherished thrift store find: a Chez Panisse cookbook! It could happen to any of us.

At any rate, it inspired Brian to set off on a trek to Culinary School. Following the trail of that dog-eared Chez Panisse cookbook, Brian showed up at the back door of the famed Restaurant and amongst all odds, snagged an internship working with the best and brightest. I asked Brian what he learned from working with Alice Waters of the famed Chez Panisse. He explained with a twinkle in his eye, "food has a ‘personality' before we even begin to prep or use it as an ingredient in a meal... a tomato isn't just a tomato - each one is different. It's about touching, looking, smelling, tasting - using the senses to realize these differences and celebrate them through their preparation, presentation and enjoyment."

Noting the creativity of Brian's menu, I naturally asked him where he found his inspiration. His first response was "the seasons/the food", but upon further reflection he noted the kinesthetic nature of getting in there and working with the food, with his hands and tools, he struck some chord of creativity that elicited new findings. Brian spoke of the abundance of local producers - farmers, ranchers and the aquaculture of oysters and abalone. Sourcing and serving local product, knowing it's the freshest he can get and often, the best of the best is a priority and heartfelt value. He seems to take great pride in revealing these finds to his customers.

The story of Brian's experience is beyond this post, but I love the serendipity of how ordinary people become nothing short of Gods while pursuing their passion, and Brian is just such an example.

Like I said, I get "the buzz" and doubtless, now I'm a convert. Hats off to you Chef Brian for your creativity and style. I'd be remiss by not mentioning the outstanding service at every level of the Lido Restaurant. We were enchanted by every aspect of our experience from setting, to service to ...most of all FOOD!

You can call the LIDO for reservations at 805.773.8900 or visit their website at

Enjoy our new find!
Laura Gurreau