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Big Sur restaurants: Post Ranch Inn & Ventana (long)

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Big Sur restaurants: Post Ranch Inn & Ventana (long)

Millicent | Jul 7, 2003 01:37 PM

(Actually, both inns' restaurants have their own names -- Sierra Mar at Post Ranch and Cielo at Ventana, but I thought it would be easier to search with the inns in the subject line.)

Anyway, these are the high-end restaurants in Big Sur, and both are good, pricey options with fabulous views. Overall, Sierra Mar is better, but more expensive.

We had two dinners at Sierra Mar. They have a $73/person, four course, prix fixe option; you can order a la carte, but since we didn't I don't know prices for individual dishes. All meals include amuses and petit fours. Thursday night was less successful: the pace of the kitchen was off (we waited a long time for our second courses) and the food, while pretty good overall, tended to be underseasoned. I started with a corn pudding with morel mushrooms, which I didn't like that much. The morel garnish was fine, but the pudding was too runny and kind of sticky, just a notch less viscous than a butterscotch pudding. Scott had a trio of tuna tartares: three kinds of tuna formed into quenelles. Again, not as good as it could have been due to underseasoning, and our waiter the next night used this dish as an example of why the kitchen was backed up: too complicated to plate quickly on a busy night.

Our salads were good, though slow to come. Scott had summer beans with truffle vinaigrette and almonds; I had greens, figs and selles sur cher cheese. For main courses, I had the vegetarian dish, which was an odd but delicious dish of sliced, almost carmelized eggplant with garbanzo beans scattered on top and a curried carrot sauce. Scott had local sea bass with chorizo and mussels -- the sauce was really good, but the fish itself was underseasoned. We also had a bottle of 2000 Meursault, which was quite rich and delicious. Sierra Mar serves its white wines at cellar temperature, which was good but by the end of our meal on a hot night the wine was a bit too warm (I thought). For dessert we had the cheese plate (didn't write down what they were, but 5 selections, all good, served room temp.), and the fig and brown butter tart with honey-anise ice cream, which was really good, plus a dessert wine for Scott and grappa for me -- a big mistake, judging by the next morning's headache.

But I had recovered sufficiently to enjoy dinner there the following night (Scott's birthday, so the stakes were high :). They had a soft-shell crab appetizer that we both ordered: it was fried in a tempura batter with a salad of cucumber julienne on the side. Very good, but Scott, who is picky about Japanese flavors, said the salad should have had a bit more sweetness in the dressing. I then had a salad of arugula, raw porcini, cranberry beans, shaved fennel and shaved parmesan -- loved it. Much more relationship between the components than the previous night's salad, even though Thursday night's was simpler. Scott had a chilled, curried carrot soup that may have been based on the sauce from the night before; if so, it was an excellent re-use, as the soup was really good. For entrees, Scott had guinea hen breast grilled under a brick with a ravioli (raviolo?) of potato and chevre -- again, delicious. I had a carmelized tomato filled with a fava bean mousse and garnished with chanterelles and a corn-broth sauce. *Again* delicious. We had a '94 Puilly-Fuisse on recommendation from the wine steward who remembered what we'd had the night before -- lovely choice. For dessert we shared a strawberry tart with basil ice cream that was really good but not quite as amazing as a "Thai" fruit soup with passion fruit sorbet. Wow.

So, the next night at Ventana/Cielo was a let-down, although it's perfectly good. The menu is long, which can be a sign of trouble: about eight appetizers and twelve entrees. We started by sharing the oysters, which came on the half-shell with a strange version of mignonette -- deep magenta vinegar that was salty but didn't include any shallots or pepper. Scott then had a stone fruit and watercress salad that lacked acidity -- he said it seemed oily. I had dungeness crab and avocado salad, which was really good; nice dressing, nice presentation. For entrees, Scott had lamb loin cooked med. rare as requested and accompanied by a vegetable-polenta tart that was very good, and I had a vegetable risotto that was also good, although it didn't have that creamy risotto texture -- the grains of rice and the broth were two distinct entities, but the vegetables were well-cooked and the flavor was really good. For dessert we shared the cheese plate and a port tasting. The waiter didn't explain the cheeses, so I'm guessing here: one morbier, one of the dryer, less pungent blues and something like a St. George. There were also an astonishing seven different fruits on the plate!

And I have to say that the wine list was problematic for enthusiastic amateurs such as us. There were quite a lot of wines over $200, including several over $400, and a lot of wines that we knew cost $10-$15 priced in the $40 range and that we knew well enough to not want to order. There was also a lot of crowd-pleaser wine; in short, it seemed like a wine list for people who don't really like wine but feel they need to order it at a place like this. So, we settled on a pinot gris blend from Oregon that was fine, but nothing special.

The final bill at Ventana/Cielo came to about $230 for two of us. The outside seating area is gorgeous, with views of the ocean and hills and a fireplace. I think they also serve lunch, which Post Ranch/Sierra Mar does not.

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