Saturday, August 19, 2006

Mendocino Eats

After a night in Carmel that had been mostly beach, eats and sleep (we had been in the Monterey Bay area a few years ago after a northern CA trip – the aquarium is tops!) we drove north, through and beyond San Francisco as our main slightly hastily planned August getaway had us for three (count ‘em, three!) nights at an inn in the Mendocino area – actually a couple of miles outside of this little tourist town at The Inn at Schoolhouse Creek in Little River, right off Hwy. 1 with a good view of the Pacific Ocean (this is about a 3 hour drive (a 3 hour tour!) north of San Francisco well on your way to Oregon.)

Man, is that a run-on sentence or what? Grammar fiends out there must feel their stomachs tightening or gurgling or whatever happens when they see foul sentence construction.

Of course, our pups, Belly (that would be Scully, of course) and Mr. Cooper were along and welcomed at Schoolhouse Creek – a collection of a dozen or so rooms and cottages. Super dog friendly – at least half the people we saw and talked to also had their pups with them.

Mendocino is much more of a Bay Area getaway destination, I would think, but here we were. No need to drag out every detail of our escapades since this is going to work out to be one damn long post – I’ll focus on the eats:

Little River Inn
Our first night we ate at the restaurant at the Little River Inn – a recommendation of one of the innkeepers. Those with more cynicism might think there is some monetary interest in that recommendation (maybe her brother’s housekeeper works there – ah who knows?) But it’s vacation – no time to be skeptical. Anyhow, the bar of this inn has a few windows that overlook the ocean with the dining room in back that has windows showing off the gardens.

I had the pinenut crusted salmon with spinach purée, parmesan polenta, and basil coulis – all really good as I gobbled it up quickly. I’m a clod. The L got the ribs, which took quite awhile to eat – it was one of a couple specials that night. The ribs were meaty and the sauce had a good taste. Dessert was something chocolate (what else, right?)

Just before we left a server dropped all the plates he was cleaning up – the entire room clapped.

Café Beaujolais
How many times can you be served by Albert Einstein himself? It is true! We had read that this is a not to be missed restaurant. We had also read that Robert Redford eats here when he is in town – or maybe it was that he ate here once or maybe glanced in the direction of the restaurant. Located in an old house – nothing special compared to some of the other beautiful house here – the space was painted an attractive sage green with white wainscoting. A sharp look. Just two servers were working – possibly the owners (we didn’t ask) – and heard one say that the restaurant had been there for 40 years.

We started with a special appetizer of stuffed figs (I think with goat cheese) that was really good. (Yum! says The L.) We had some great local wine that I can never remember and for eats I had (as posted on the website dinner menu – good God no, I don’t take notes!) the pan roasted duck breast, buttermilk spaetzle, carmelized onions and sautéed kale with fresh Bing cherry sauce. I was warned that the sauce might be a bit tart but the sauce and the duck were excellent. The duck was cut into thinner pieces than I would have expected.

The L had the pan seared local wild king salmon served with horseradish mashed potatoes, green beans, blackberry demi-glaze and onion confit. Very tasty – as always we make up a tiny plate to share with each other. The sauces made things a little more interesting.

Dessert was French chocolate mousse cake with ice cream – pretty good.

Plus Albert Einstein works there.

Mendocino Café
A causal eatery in Mendocino with dining inside and outside – a patio where we would take our doggies! We had lunch here. I had the Thai chicken burrito and The L had a chicken sandwich with melted gruyere, pesto, and aioli – this was served on a good looking roll with a really tasty side of pasta salad. That burrito didn’t come with any side. Damn. I wonder why not. Anyhow, I added on a local Red Tail Ale (err, maybe it was Red Seal Ale) and The L had a tasty organic iced tea.

I liked the attitude of this place – they use local organic produce, free-range meats,hormone-free dairy and wild harvested seafood.

The puppies got a bowl of water. They did a good job until a cat ran across the patio and birds were landing on the patio looking for food.

Mendo Bistro
This restaurant is not actually in Mendocino even though the name might suggest it was, but instead it’s in Fort Bragg. This town of about 7,000 people –10 miles to the north of Mendocino on Hwy. 1 – a so-called working class city where you can leave the tourist life behind and eat with the locals. Mendo Bistro is located on the second floor of what looks like had once been a department store (like a Monkey Wards) so it is pretty spacious with floor to ceiling windows that look out over the street.

This was probably my favorite meal. We started with the seared sea scallops appetizer with tarragon and tomato garlic confit. I had St Louis style spare ribs with blackberry barbecue sauce. Oh yum! This is one plate I can still picture while I write this. I had asked if there would be enough meat for me and the waitress responded that I would get plenty of meat. It ended up being pretty big – 5 or 6 meaty long bones plus potatoes and veggies. I was stuffed and that BBQ sauce was thick, spicy and excellent (I surely ruined a white cloth napkin.) The L had pasta shells stuffed with ricotta and spinach covered with marinara and topped with mozzarella.

No room for dessert this night.

Sorry for the seemingly overabundance of the word “tasty”.

The L?
Apparently “The L” doesn’t want me to use her real name as she removed it from a draft – thus The L. Is it Lori, Lindsay or Lokelani?

Berry berry good
Blackberries are very much in season up there right now – we saw plenty of blackberry plants along the road/streets/trails. Unless they were the apparent cousin olallieberry as we saw olallieberry cobbler on the menu a couple of times. I never heard of an olallieberry before. I’m not even sure I spelled it right.

Who cares? It’s vacation. But for anyone interested, pretty normal, typically mid to upper $20’s for entrees, desserts around $7. The lunch at the Mendocino Café had many selections around $10 (website shows lower prices – they must up them a buck or two for summer?) The Mendo Bistro had all pasta at $14 and the ribs I had were $18. Great value there!

We picked up $8 or $10 worth of treats at the Mendocino Chocolate Company. We weren’t too impressed. It’s no Chuao, baby!

Where else to eat?
No shortage of $$$ places to eat at with a number of inns in the area like the MacCallum House in Mendocino or Rendezvous Inn Restaurant in Fort Bragg. If we had a little more time there, I’d try the North Coast Brewing Co. in Fort Bragg – I think they do a 10 beer sample thing with better than average pub grub. But I’d recommend all the places we ate at.

Food at the Inn
Every day they had wine and cheese with a light mix of other snacks at 4:30 pm and then a hot breakfast in the morning (leek tart, blackberry crepes and an Italian egg cup (scrambled eggs with veggies made in a muffin cup which was lined with a mini piece of toast) were the three hot breakfast items (one each day) along with a mini-breakfast buffet filled with tasty breakfast goodies.


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