I hate to brag, but California is the most beautiful state in the U.S. I'm a lucky gal to live here. I have travelled up and down this long arm of a state, yet never that sliver known as the central coast. After living in Santa Cruz for ten months now, it finally dawned on me that I technically live on the central coast. Duh. And that Big Sur is just over an hour away. Forget the Bay Area, it was time to go south.
So Y and I were able to finagle our schedules so that we could indulge in a mid-week jaunt southward, staying one night in Big Sur. No weekend summer crowds for us. We did Big Sur on day one (Wed) and Monterey on day two (Thurs). Stay tuned for my part two report in which I will weigh in on the passionately-debated Passionfish in Pacific Grove!
Y and I are the type of travelers who stay at the bargain motel (Glen Oaks) but eat and tour well. While surfing the web, I oohed and aahed over the Post Ranch Inn (http://www.postranchinn.com/), an architecturally intriguing yet ridiculously expensive boutique inn w/ the cheapest rooms starting around $500. We certainly weren't going to stay there, but we decided that a light lunch would be our ticket into their exclusive grounds and restaurant, Sierra Mar. Besides food, I dig modern architecture and design.
Didn't know anything about this place before going. Did a search on CH when we returned and I think "kimc" was the last person to report on her very positive tasting menu experience. Lunch is open to non-guests while dinner has a few non-peak time slots for non-guests, subject to availability. Lunch menu is small w/ a smattering of light apps, salads, and a few heartier dishes. Cuisine was eclectic Californian w/ a clean "spa-like" slant on dishes that I welcomed. Prices match the upscale setting.
We ordered non-alcoholic beverages, a lemonade spritzer and mango agua fresca. Each were $4. They both tasted pure, fresh, and as upscale as one could make them. Their high quality ingredients were even evident in these basic drinks. Bread service included sliced baguette from La Brea Bakery. Not my favorite, but at least it was fresh and served w/ good butter and chives.
I ordered the cured salmon appetizer ($12) while Y ordered the duck pizza ($14). Both plates were superbly-crafted w/ obvious attention to detail. Not just pretty faces, but quite delicious too. The flavors and textures in the salmon dish created such balance and harmony in my mouth. The kind of dish that I immediately plotted to replicate at home. While we normally shy away from fusion pizza (a la Wolfgang Puck), the duck pizza turned out to be such a savory sensation, and the cheese (I think fontina) brought everything together.
We certainly didn't feel stuffed by the end of lunch, but we were wholly satisfied. While prices were on the high side, we thought that it was worth it given the quality of food, the view, and a peek into their grounds. Service was a bit aloof and stilted. The resort seems to cater to a certain clientele (we spotted "trust fund kids" and a lanky model or actress who had her eyes taped up from what appeared to be cosmetic surgery...not our usual crowd) who may prefer privacy and distance from the staff. The decor was sleek and modern, but overall it exuded a steeliness that made me realize I really don't want to stay there anyway :-)
BIG SUR BAKERY AND RESTAURANT http://www.bigsurbakery.com/
While I had no expectations for Sierra Mar, I was highly anticipating our dinner to Big Sur Bakery and Restaurant ever since Pablo mentioned it and I perused their website. Knew that it would be good for take-out lunch, but wasn't totally sure about how sit-down dinner would be. In short, it did not disappoint and turned out to be a delightful evening.
We had no problems acquiring a table as a walk in since it was Wed. night. They weren't very crowded and didn't really pick up much pace during our stay. Certainly not a reflection on their food, but I wondered if their lack of any view deterred tourists. I'm sure Nepenthe down the road had more action.
Menu is seasonally-driven, rustic, Californian cuisine featuring dishes cooked in their wood-fired oven. Moderate prices w/ pizzas around $15 and entrees around $23. After ordering, we were given a bounty of housemade breads on a wooden plank w/ whipped butter and fleur de sel. Rare to have such a lovely, varied bread assortment like this. We ordered:
Salad w/ butter lettuce, shaved fennel, pecorino romano w/ a Meyer lemon vinaigrette ($9.50): A mountain of a salad that could easily serve as a light dinner for one or be split by two as a starter. Sounds so simple but was the most delicious salad I've eaten in ages. Lettuce was supple and sweet and perfectly in sync w/ the fennel. Cheese was plentiful and of exceptional quality. The vinaigrette lightly streamed through the salad's elements and was perfectly balanced. This was truly my favorite dish of the evening.
Roasted halibut w/ choice of side ($22): Y chose the side of roasted veggies w/ turnips, beets, carrots, and artichokes. There were spring-into-summer sides that tempted me more, but I can't always have my way. The halibut was expertly-cooked; however, it had a fishy aftertaste that I wasn't crazy about. The artichokes were particularly stunning, while the baby turnips were on the bitter side. This was my least favorite dish, but hey, Y ordered it and he enjoyed it.
Pizza w/ butternut squash sauce, prosciutto, and sage ($16): Even though this was considered an individual pizza, it was pretty big, like a medium-sized pizza. It was slightly burnt around the edges but I prefer well-done pizza, and it certainly didn't taste burnt. The squash sauce was "the bomb" and gave a certain lusty and earthy quality to the pizza. Prosciutto was very buttery which made me think it's probably the real deal from Parma. We had half of it boxed and, I tell you, it hit the spot after our light hike at Molera State Park the next day. Way better than trail mix.
The half bottle of wine that we ordered was also a highlight of the evening. While our waiter recommended a different Sauvignon Blanc, I had heard of Fiddlehead (Santa Ynez) before and went w/ my gut and ordered their 2002 Sauv Blanc ($19). It was such a lovely white wine. Velvety and buttery yet balanced by peach and vanilla notes (can't believe I'm pulling out these descriptors). It was fuller-bodied than other SB's I've had...making me think that this is what a good CA chard should taste like.
We skipped dessert since we wanted to catch the sunset, if the fog didn't obsure it too much. Overall, BSB&R matched our food tastes and sensibilities spot on! Even though Y enjoyed his halibut, we agreed that that was the least impressive dish yet the most pricey. Next time, I would stick w/ their salads, apps, veggie sides, and pizza. They work magic w/ veggies! Hope to try some items from their bakery side next time.
Service was great w/ small-town warmth. Would choose this place over the sophisticated but steely Sierra Mar anyday. SM's tasting menu dinner might be worth a splurge dinner for a special occasion though. We caught a fog-hazed but lovely sunset off the highway after dinner. Breath-taking ending to a deliciously decadent day. View my photos (some scenic ones interspersed w/ food) below. I don't generally use flash in restaurants so some pics are blurry. Enjoy!