Hubby and I snuck away for a long weekend in Mendocino this weekend. We visit Mendo fairly regularly, but usually, as divers, we camp at Van Damme Park and our dinners are abalone fresh caught and sautéed on the Coleman. Ive had some great meals at Van Damme, but our goal this time was to have an upscale and relaxed getaway.
As anyone who was anywhere near the Northern California coast this weekend probably realizes, our timing was impeccable as far as weather goes: it was absolutely gorgeous! Yes, I realize we missed both the Anderson Valley Beer Festival (this coming weekend in Boonville) and the Pinot Noir Festival (the weekend after, at the Anderson Valley Wineries), but thats ok, we wanted a romantic weekend away from the crowds
Our plan for day one was to visit the Anderson Valley wineries on our way west, something we never have time to do when rushing to try and get one of the good campsites at Van Damme. First though, it was lunch time when we hit Highway 128, so we made a stop at the Buckhorn Grill and Pub in Boonville. We have had some pleasant meals there, but this lunch was not one of them. The Boont amber ale on tap was good as always, but the rest of the meal ranged from mediocre to downright unpleasant, as was the service: the two waitresses were arguing with each other over table coverage and discouraging us and another set of patrons from sitting on the deck, despite the beautiful weather, because, as I overheard one tell the other, I just have too much to deal with already. (This despite the fact that a grand total of four tables were occupied during our entire time there) On our way out, we noticed the for sale sign in the window, which may explain a lot. I will take that one off of our list for now.
One of our winery stops was at Navarro. I have never visited their tasting room, but had I known how beautiful the setting is, with picnic tables actually in the vineyards, we would have picked up some deli items and lunched there instead of at Buckhorn. We tasted our way up the valley, with additional stops at Greenwood Ridge, Pacific Echo, Husch, Handley .and so, several hundred dollars poorer and with cellar richer, finally hit the coast.
Our choice for the upscale stay was Brewery Gulch Inn, just outside the town of Mendocino. I do recommend this place highly to Chowhounds. Room rates include a full breakfast, made to order off of a menu of choices, as well as an evening wine tasting and appetizers. The owner is very interested in organic gardening, and many of the breakfast items and evening appetizers make use of organic and often straight-from-the-garden ingredients. Eggs are organic and as fresh as they could be, laid each morning by chickens on the property; the incredibly creamy red potatoes served with them were without a doubt the best I have ever eaten! (However, my eggs over easy were lukewarm the first day, but preparation was stellar for the other two meals. And yes, I ate too many eggs: why stick to oatmeal when the eggs are that fresh and delicious?) Bottom line: food at the Brewery Gulch rates a big yumm! (The soaking tubs with ocean views arent bad either).
Sadly, they dont serve dinner at Brewery Gulch, so eventually we got hungry and had to search out dining choices. First nights dinner: Stevenswood Lodge, a choice made partly based on a recommendation from this board. We were seated promptly, at one of the nicest tables in the place, a large table facing the window with a pretty view of the forest (no ocean views here). It is a small restaurant right inside the lobby of a motel-type lodge, and other than the pretty view and a fireplace the ambiance reminded me a little of the dining room at a mid-range chain hotel, or perhaps of dining at a local country club. I cant quite put my finger on why, but there is something vaguely institutional about the place.
However, the food is anything but chain-like. (This is not to say I necessarily liked it). The menu relies on fresh ingredients and is rather limited. The night we were there were only six mains, one of which was farmed salmon (which I wont eat). Several of the mains have an Asian influence in saucing and sides.
Apps: hubby had a watercress salad that was quite overdressed with a balsamic vinaigrette. I had an interesting, simple tomato consume with tiny pasta.
Mains: hubby had halibut, which is described on the menu as Lacquered Alaskan Halibut with Asian noodle cake, wasabi-tobiko mayonnaise, and sweet pepper jelly. The halibut was cooked in a sauce that gave it a slight crust, with just a taste of wasabi. I didnt taste it, but hubby liked it... The Asian noodle cake that came with it looked yummy, but again was gone before I could taste :-) My prawns, sautéed in a gingery sauce and served with couscous and chutney werent as successful. The sauce was too sweet and overpowered the rest of the dish. The couscous had raisins and again was very sweet. Overall, the dish had conflicting flavors yet not enough contrast. I wouldnt order it again.
We washed it all down with a bottle of Richioli Russian River Sauvignon Blanc, $40, which was rather tart and didnt seem to be a particularly good match for the food. The markup on wines appears to be fairly high, with only a few local Mendocino or even Sonoma bottles.
For dessert we shared a trio of sorbets that did not impress: I couldnt tell the difference between the blood orange and the raspberry by color or by taste, and can't even recall the third flavor; all three sorbets tasted mostly of sugar.
Service was friendly and professional.
Dinner with tax and tip was about $140. Overall, we left feeling slightly disappointed in the quality-price-value ratio and not sure we would be in a hurry to return. However, our meals did leave us with the impression that this is a chef who is creative and willing to take chances, so if you both order carefully and have a little luck I think it is possible to have a very good meal there.
Well, that is quite a bit of eating a drinking for day one, Day two to follow ..