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Eating California

Everything in moderation, they say—unless you’re staying at one of the Golden State’s celebrated gastro inns.

By Leslie Andrea Westbrook

 

hales travel 500 miles for their sustenance—committed California foodies eagerly do the same. The Golden State is, after all, a gastronomic mecca, serving up a natural bounty of food and wine. Want to eat, drink, and be merry … and not have to designate a driver or pop for a cab? Better yet, want to finish a superb wine-soaked meal by toddling off to a luxe guestroom at one of California’s best gastro inns? If an after-meal stroll doesn’t suit your taste, a couple of the following properties (Meadowood and Grand Del Mar) even shuttle guests between their room and the dining room. Close to home, I would be remiss not to recommend Tydes Restaurant & Bar in Montecito, where chef Joel Huff, a third-generation Ventura native and resident, turns out topnotch dishes exclusively for guests staying at the adjacent Four Seasons hotel and members of the private Coral Casino Beach & Cabana Club. But for this issue we decided to go further afield, north and south. Just like whales.

THE FARMHOUSE INN, SONOMA

From the moment of check–in at the Farmhouse Inn, guests know they are in for a unique experience: a side board features “slice your own” homemade soap (lemon verbena or lavender scented) and glass jars filled with herbal bath salts (“dreamy” or “wake-up”) in addition to the makings for s’mores to prepare in a centrally located fire pit.

Hands down, the barn rooms at this Sonoma wine country getaway are some of the sweetest in the region. Even at dinnertime it was difficult to depart from our spacious upstairs abode with its crisp white linens, high ceilings, and sumptuous bath (think steam shower, hydro tub with a view, and heated marble floors), not to mention the double-sided indoor/outdoor fireplace to the deck and the cloud-like bed. Wineries, the charming town of Healdsburg, and countryside hiking did delight, but food was our guiding light. We were not disappointed.

Chef Steve Litke sources salmon from the Sonoma coast, baby lamb from a local farmer, goat cheese from a nearby cheese maker, and fresh produce from the region’s many farms. Breakfast, my least favorite meal of the day, is exceptional (superb scones, frittatas, and pancakes), as was our romantic dinner, which included a Belfiore burrata cheese with wild mushroom tart, grilled Monterey Bay sardines, entrées of “rabbit, rabbit, rabbit”—a delicious trio of apple wood-smoked bacon wrapped loin, roasted rack, and confit of leg, as well as the citrus-glazed RedHill Farms rack of lamb. Russian River Valley wine pairings—a Stephen Test Sauvignon Blanc, Hanzell Chardonnay, and Scherrer Syrah —were inspired. I would gladly swim 500 miles to return to the Farmhouse Inn.

7871 River Road, Forestville; 707.887.3300, farmhouseinn.com

MEADOWOOD, NAPA VALLEY

Move over French Laundry, there’s a newly anointed four-star dining establishment in Napa that is not only a bit easier on a requisite extravagant pocketbook, but also boasts two Michelin stars: The Restaurant at Meadowood.

The property is set on 250 woodsy acres, so foodies might do well to take a hike on one of the many trails before settling down to a remarkable dining experience. Chef Christopher Kostow is a magician in the kitchen, combining avant-garde cooking techniques in the Lilliputian world of new California cuisine to create dishes that are as tasty as they are visually stunning. Squeals of delight can be heard in the dining room as patrons pop pillows of goat cheese and dip into baked potato parfait or six layers of potato/oyster/caviar heaven. Baby radishes buried in rye “dirt” are a mere tease for perfectly served main courses, including goat poached in whey served with barley and vineyard grasses (which may linger between the teeth). All dishes are paired with remarkable and unique wines—the Reim-Ruinart blanc de blanc Champagne was especially memorable.

Sated guests are shuttled in a Mercedes van to their cozy lodgings, where one need only light the wood fire before settling into delicious food memories and sweet feather and food pillow dreams.

900 Meadowood Lane, St. Helena; 800.458.8080, meadowood.com

THE LODGE AT TORREY PINES, LA JOLLA

The farm-to-table menu at A.R. Valentien, the fine dining room at The Lodge at Torrey Pines on the coastal bluffs of La Jolla, pairs nicely with the detailed Arts & Crafts style architecture and setting. The basic tenant and aesthetic of the American Arts & Crafts movement (late 1800s through the 1930s) emphasized handmade over mass-produced, focusing on originality, simplicity of form, local natural materials, and the visibility of handicraft, all of which is evident throughout the Lodge. The equally fine handcrafted cuisine follows suit.

Chef Timothy Kolanko sources local farms to create fresh from the garden, earthy, honest, creative dishes: Tiny roasted beets caramelized with onion pair with hazelnuts and sweet citrus; beet greens are prepared with pancetta; surprising bursts of flavorful fennel sprouts enhance a wild striped bass in lobster nage. Some of my favorite dishes—including a noteworthy lobster fennel salad, as well as the orange-ricotta ravioli—were savored during a leisurely lunch on the terrace.

Golf buffs can hit the greens or lounge beside the inviting pool. The adjacent Torrey Pines State Reserve offers 2,000 acres of protected land and eight miles of hiking trails. It all adds up to a most relaxing destination with many delicious reasons for lingering.

11489 North Torrey Pines Blvd., La Jolla; 858.453.4420, lodgetorreypines.com

GRAND DEL MAR, SAN DIEGO

If opulent, Italian palazzo-style architecture, gilt lamps, chandeliers, and marble rock your gondola, the Grand Del Mar delivers in a transformative setting that may make you think you are in Italy rather than inland San Diego. The opulent rooms are a bit over the top for this writer’s taste, but luxuriously comfortable just the same.

The property’s signature five-diamond restaurant, Addison, is named for famed Palm Beach architect Addison Mizner, whose Italianate aesthetic informed the resort’s architecture. Dining at Addison brings new meaning to “dinner theatre,” as the experience is quite a production, indeed.

Chef William Bradley has earned his well-deserved kudos to date, including five-star and five-diamond ratings and several James Beard nominations. We began with an amuse bouche that was definitely five-star: pickled cranberries with crème fraiche and basil (it would make a great Christmas dish), and puff pastry canapés of mascarpone, olive oil, and sea salt. Star power cuisine—including sea scallops in a lemon purée, calamari risotto Milanese, foie gras deux façon in a cèpe noir syrup, and Oregon morel mushrooms with apple wood bacon—more than satisfied, as did the wild loup de mer in a Thai coconut curry and lamb rack persillé.

Artisanal lemon brioche with house made butter provided a filling distraction, while amazing global wine pairings—2003 Palazzo della Torre from Verona, Italy; 2007 Josef Leitz Rüdesheimer Drachenstein Riesling Spätlese; De Trafford “straw wine” from the Stellenbosch region of South Africa; Gruner Verltiner “smaragd” from Domane Wachau; and 2007 Alziner Muhlpoint—added considerably to the evening’s festivities. There is a dance to the service; cutlery is turned with a flourish on the minimalist table settings.

On another front, a guided hike through the remarkably wild Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve is de rigueur, while the main swimming pool and spa provide dreamy escapes. All in all, a memorable special occasion destination, well worth the journey 150 miles south of the Ventura County border.

5300 Grand Del Mar Court, San Diego; 858.314.2000, thegranddelmar.com

07-01-2010

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