Ruby Louise’s report on good food and a new chef at the Little River Inn in Little River (outside of Mendocino):
caught my eye before our trip there with members of our Dive Club this past weekend; I decided that it was time to try the place again after an absence of many years. Was very glad we did. Indeed, we liked it enough Friday night that we decided to eat there again Sunday night, rather than drive into Mendocino or Ft. Bragg. (Our Saturday night dinner was the usual Dive Club potluck extravaganza in the Van Damme campground, headlined by lots of abalone served two ways (Grilled over charcoal and breaded and sautéed in butter…mmmm).
Anyway, my report:
Friday night: It had been a long drive through traffic from Merced, and we were tired and grubby. Friends had called to say they were about an hour behind us but really wanted to have dinner. No problem, we arranged to meet them in the bar at the Little River Inn. We arrived just before sunset, and since the bar door was open we could actually enjoy the fantastic view from the bar table for four we snagged near the entrance. The bar area is roomy and very casual, with lots of wood and a pleasant old fashioned vibe, and the Giants game on a smallish TV. Indeed, it would have been the perfect spot for a casual dinner with friends, other than the large and rowdy party at the table next to us. Oh well, it is a bar, after all…
Since we weren’t sure when friends K and H would show up, we ordered oysters on the half shell (six for $12.00, not exactly a bargain, but I am oyster starved in Merced) and checked out the wine list while we waited. Props for the list, which is has some interesting local Mendocino and Sonoma wines and is quite reasonably priced without heavy markup. H loves Viognier so we got a bottle of the Claudia Springs; very nice and only $9 more than the $18 or so retail price.
K and H made it safe and sound, and we ordered the following dishes off of both the bar and dining room menus:
Soup of the day: this was a tomato and roasted organic fennel: the fennel flavor was pronounced, in a good way, with delicious croutons on top. Raves all around for this on a cool evening.
More oysters: yum. I never bothered to ask what they were, but they were plump and fairly large, and impeccably fresh, although I wasn’t enamored of the mignonette, which almost tasted like it had a bit of tomatoey shrimp cocktail sauce mixed in.
Steamers: both K and H got an order of steamed mussels each. A very generous portion, and yet this was the only eh dish. H thought they might have been a bit past fresh, though I thought they tasted fine (but certainly not great). Then again, H is less seafood starved than I am currently, and thus probably has a more trustworthy palate to judge the freshness…
Caesar salad with calamari: Hubby’s choice for a light main. I thought the salad was only fine, and prefer my calamari without a bed of lettuce, thank you, but hubby enjoyed it, and the calamari were very tasty.
Dungeness pot pie (off of the dining room menu): It was delicious, with a lovely crust and soothing filling with huge chunks of crab. This was served with an assortment of fresh veggies, including asparagus, broccoli, and string beans, each type cooked perfectly.
For dessert we split one outstanding olallieberry cobbler, topped with a generous portion of Cowlicks vanilla ice cream. .
Service was fine in the bar, though the one server was a bit slammed and did disappear for a while at the end of the meal. Total for dinner for four, including two bottles of wine and lots of oysters to drive up the price, with tax but before tip was about $185, and enjoyed immensely.
Sunday night: the halibut on the menu was calling my name, so hubby and I decided to head back to try the dining room this time. No problem being seated on Easter Sunday without a reservation, at a quiet, very pleasant and well-spaced window table in the back dining room, with a view of lovely, manicured gardens. There are a few tables with stunning ocean views, though they were taken.
Yet more oysters. Hubby thought I was going a bit overboard on oysters, but too bad.
Dungeness crab cakes: hubby’s appetizer choice: the most expensive appetizer on the menu ($12.50), and the size of the two small cakes was disappointing. However, the presentation, with a nice portion of watercress, very good execution, and slight hand on the filler won me over. I’d definitely order them again.
Pork chop: a huge chop topped with a salsa of various fresh fruits, served over mashed potatoes. Juicy and tender, slightly pink, perfectly cooked.
Halibut: I asked for it rare, and it came medium rare (which was what I expected. The only restaurant where I can recall the halibut being truly done to my rare order is Chez Panisse, where I tasted halibut perfection). It was grilled and served on a bed of orzo in a buttery yet light citrus sauce with grapefruit, and made me quite happy.
The cobbler was tempting, but we were quite full and skipped dessert. Service was friendly and excellent. Total with a bottle of wine, tax and tip was about $140.
I will definitely go back. The only question will be whether to eat in the bar, or the dining room. Personally, I preferred the bar, for its casual ambiance, lower prices and greater variety (since, after all, you can order off of the dining room menu in the bar), but as hubby pointed out, the dining room did get points for attentive service, lovely setting, and quiet and soothing calm. It is nice to have both options back on my recommend list.
Little River Inn
7901 N Highway 1, Mendocino, CA
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