Overwhelmed with work, too busy to think straight in my own office, I pack an overnight bag and my laptop and hit the road, in search of a peaceful place to work. For years, I’ve driven past a small resort on the coast, south of San Francisco, and so I give it a try: Desperate times call for desperate measures. A room, a table, a bed. The cell phone turned off, the email program shut down, so as not to hit me with the cattle prod of deadlines.

Fortunately, the day is lovely: a warm weekday in late September, the air gentle and the grass on the coastal hills dead dry and somewhere between gold and a simple tan. After an hour of work, I go for a jog—it will calm me down—and I find myself up on a ridge in the wind, hawks blowing past with their wings tucked in tight. A few hours later, my mind finally quiet, I walk to the resort’s restaurant for dinner. Big, pretty room, lots of wood and a vaulted ceiling, no other diners, but people gathering at the bar for the first night’s festivities in a wedding weekend. And then there’s the menu, as ever a text, an expression of somebody’s ambitions: “Wherever possible,” the menu reads, “we use local and organic ingredients.” They’ve been paying attention, apparently, keeping up with the times. Although, although … when I scan the fish options (thinking cholesterol, trying to lose weight), there’s something curious. They’ve got fresh wild California salmon, and fresh wild yellowtail, both exciting, and yet one is garnished with a coconut-pineapple relish, the other with a pineapple–green apple relish. Where are we, Hawaii? What can it possibly mean to use locally grown ingredients “wherever possible” if you’re going to work so hard not to? And why bother, anyway, when you’re in one of the richest agricultural regions on Earth, a place with an authentic embarrassment of fruit-and-vegetable treasures?

Ah, well, who cares … time to eat, to order wine. The waitress encourages a glass of Ridge Sonoma Three Valleys Zinfandel, and I cave. Generally, I love Ridge wines. This one isn’t mind-blowing, but it’s good enough, and when the food comes, it turns out to be a great dinner: wonderful fish, nice wilted spinach alongside, and sure, that kooky tropical relish, which doesn’t taste bad at all, at least not literally.

See more articles