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California Trip Report

Trip up CA coast -- Restaurant report from SB to Sonoma (long)

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Trip up CA coast -- Restaurant report from SB to Sonoma (long)

socalprr | Jan 3, 2005 01:21 PM

I posted several separate reviews on the SF board. A reader suggested I consolidate them and move to the Cal board so here you go.

From Applewood post

Your recommendations took us to Applewood for New Year's Eve. 5 courses for $75. I selected crab appetizer, followed by foie gras appetizer. Then the flat steak main course.

The steak had the flavor and tenderness that can only come from a premium piece of meat cooked perfectly. Outstanding.

The goose liver was cooked a bit too rare for my taste but was of high quality.

I was drunk by the time the dessert came and don't remember what I had. I will ask the others when they wake up and post a comment on the dessert and on their dishes if you wish.

Tonight for dinner: The Farmhouse

Any comments on what to order (or avoid) would be appreciated.

From Farmhouse post

The Farmhouse was a very pleasant surprise. Started with a nice pear and glazed walnut salad.

You can tell someone tasted the pear with the walnuts to make sure that these particular types combined well. Too many times the chef will put the right stuff together only to have the ingredients sit like wallflowers. You want there to be a party in your mouth, with good mixing and a warm vibe.

Then there was the rack of lamb. Beautifully prepared and presented. The meat itself was tender, flavorful and perfectly cooked without the strong, gamey flavor you can sometimes get.

I love cookies with fresh ice cream for dessert. Maybe it's become a bit cliche but the crisp fattiness of a warm cookie combined with the cool creaminess of fresh ice cream is boarder line orgasmic for me. In this case we had a freshly baked (not nuked) macadamia nut cookie paired with a handmade coffee ice cream. Actually it was a gelato so it was thick but not heavy, with none of that whipped air mouth feel that I detest in an ice cream.

I was told my dessert at Applewood was a chocolate cake with coconut ice cream. That was forgettable, Cabernet Sauvignon or not, and perhaps could have benefited from more preparation time or taste checks like you would find at Farmhouse.

We cut Applewood a lot of slack because they were serving a full house for New Year's Eve (and nearly everything was terrific). Both restaurants are highly recommended in the Guerneville area by this LA hound.

From Dry Creek Kitchen post

Yes another worthy eats is the Dry Creek restaurant in the Hotel Healdsburg. We went there for lunch New Year's Eve day. I was saving up my appetite for the evening meal at Applewood so went with a salad for lunch.

First of all the salad was huge, easily enough for two people if you're having another dish. Everything was straight forward and simple with one little twist... there were whole FRIED anchovies on top. Just enough to wilt the lettuce a tad and really bring out the flavor of the anchovy.

Like the Farmhouse they serve a super fresh butter for the bread. It's that thick, sticky, low moisture French butter, unsalted. It has the clean taste of fresh milk. On a grainy bread it's heavenly, more like cream cheese than butter. Why don’t more restaurants serve this?

Sorry for the detour but I feel you can tell a lot about a restaurant from the bread and butter.

The best dish was our friend's steak frites. Like the salad it was a large portion and simply prepared. Flavorful and tender. The fries were a bit soggy.

The hotel is really nice and worth the trip to check out.

If in Big Sur check out the deconstructed salmon tostada at Post Ranch Inn. This is a deeply satisfying, relatively inexpensive way to spend a couple of hours in this magnificent setting. With 2-3 glasses of Pinot of course.

Right up there was Nepenthe. Yeah I know it can sometimes suck but we went there twice this trip and both times it was great. The awesome waitress mentioned something about a new chef joining recently. Grilled salmon on night #1 and the lamb chops on night #2. On both nights we had their salad with divine "house" blue cheese dressing.

BTW the service at every place was excellent, much better than in So Cal and with less attitude. You could tell many of the servers want to have a career in the restaurant business.

Wrap up post

I've been advised that my reviews of the central / northern California restaurants are incomplete as was the Farmhouse review.

Ok more about Farmhouse... the sauce on a rack of lamb is usually a gravy type even in France where I've enjoyed a rack or two.

At the Farmhouse it was more au jus, just a light deglazing of the pan with a few chopped vegetables. I'm sure this has a precious official name I just call it light and flavorful. You see it was slightly astringent (lemony) mixed with the deepness of the lamp bits and vegetables. I would cut a piece of lamb meat and soak it in the broth. The acidity would cut through what little animal fat was present. Whatever remained was washed away by the Big, dry Cab.

The mashed potatoes were simple and devoid of garlic. What's with garlic mashed potatoes anyway?

Alas all three of the last restaurants had some sort of dish with a "foam" on the menu. I'll withhold complete judgment until I try foam but foams, from what I understand of them, seem so 2004.

Other places on the trip included breakfast at Deetjen's in Big Sur and dinner at Chef Rick's in Santa Maria.

The Deetjen’s breakfast was among the best I've ever had. Eggs Benedict was prepared in the classic style and with careful attention to detail and high quality ingredients (for example a manicured piece of English muffin for the egg to rest on). The flavors melded perfectly and again we see how important lemony tang can be to the dish. Bacon sliced thick and cooked crispy (why do they undercook bacon in other countries?).

Chef Rick's is a relatively high priced place comparable to the others visited in this thread. It sits in a strip mall and is frequented by locals. It benefits, I believe, from being the only good place in town. Good but not great treat, it's really a Brother's light kind of place.

And that’s how we started the trip, with the Filet Mignon and gorgonzola sauce at Brother's Los Olivos. Here's another cliché but one that deserves to be beaten into the ground. Who would have thunk that blue cheese on steak would taste so good. And what a wonderful beef connection Brother's has. No Costco involved at this restaurant.

The table next to us was very noisy and the server apologized big time. But whenever we're there with a big group we get wild and are noisy, it's part of the charm of that place.

If you want us to rank order in terms of favorite meals we will BUT favorite goes beyond just food and includes things like service, chemistry of the company and beverages.

We can also just rank the food.

Brothers, Chef Rick's, Nepenthe, Post Ranch Inn, Deetjen's, Mexican place in Guerneville, Dry Creek, Applewood, Farmhouse were the places visited.

Again service was excellent although many servers had a I-just-had-a-hit-of-green-bud look.

If you would like to comment on my observations please feel free to do so. I would like to provide a good service to all visiting central / northern Cal from southern Cal.

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