Restaurants & Bars 5

Trip report: Ft. Bragg & Mendocino (long)

Ruby Louise | Jan 23, 200803:11 PM

My husband & I were fortunate enough to return again to Ft. Bragg this month for a long weekend. We’d planned on stopping for lunch at Queenie’s in Elk, only to find it closed for a winter break. It was a good reminder to call ahead, as many of the spots up here do close for a spell in the winter.

Plan B was lunch at Mendo Burger in Mendocino, which we’ve never been able to find, due to its hidden location down a pathway off Lansing St. It’s funky, with the grill on one side of the building, and the bare dining room on the other end of the building. But the burgers were big, greasy, freshly cooked, a bit pink in the middle and very good. They offer several burger options, including Roundman smokehouse beef, organic beef, turkey, veggie and salmon. The fries were thicker cut, not too greasy. My husband ordered chocolate-banana malt. The woman mentioned that due to recent storms and extended power outages, they were out of bananas, but offered to run to Harvest Market to get bananas. My husband said not to worry, that chocolate malt would be fine. Low and behold, she did it anyway, and said that it was important to her to make it perfect for us. Lunch was about $30, and we’ll go back again.

Hours later we were still full, but headed to Mendo Bistro in Ft. Bragg for a light supper. My husband had a Caesar salad with horseradish Caesar dressing and polenta croutons, which was an interesting variation on the classic. I had the bistro salad with Parmesan vinaigrette, which added a nice nutty, salty note to the greens. We split an order of their award winning crab cakes that came with tart coleslaw and a rich tarragon aioli. I can see why they win awards. Plenty of plump crab pieces without much filler. With a glass of local beer and a glass of local wine, tax and a generous tip, we spent about $50. This place highlights one of the things that we appreciate about Ft. Bragg. Big, really big, fresh and interesting salads (“lumberjack salads” my husband calls them) and interesting, inexpensive selections of local wines and hand-crafted beer. We’re looking forward to returning to Mendo Bistro.

We visited the Northcoast Brewing Co Taproom & Grill in Ft. Bragg twice, mostly for the beer but also because it was convenient, our friends liked it. The Northcoast beers are great, and the beer sampler (coupled with a tour at the brewing facility across the street, offered on Saturday) is a very good way to get a feel for just how special they are. But the food is just average. Our friends had nachos one day, and they looked good, lots of cheese, black beans and sour cream, but not great. The next day we had the clam chowder, which was flour thickened and fairly free of clams or flavor for that point. The freshly made beer battered onion rings our friends had looked great though. We’ll go back, but just for the beer (mmm, Pranqster, Old No. 38). And maybe the onion rings. But definitely the beer.

We also returned to Piaci Pub & Pizzeria in Ft. Bragg, which we visited last year. The pizza is good for the area, with interesting toppings, and a medium thin flaky crust. But it’s not fantastic. They also offer fresh, generous salads, great local beers & wines, and reasonable prices by Bay Area standards. We had an interesting, but slightly chalky spumoni that Cowlicks makes for them. But the pizza is only ok, so we’re still debating if we’ll return next time.

Having had wonderful, intimate, classic meals at The Restaurant the last few years (ask for the owner Jim to explain the paintings to you), we decided to try the Rendezvous Inn in Ft. Bragg this year. My husband jumped at the crab tasting dinner, with a rich Dungeness bisque, crab ravioli in spinach sauce and the spicy crab cakes. The bisque was decadently creamy, the ravioli with pre-made wonton wrappers was only ok, and the crab cakes has more binding ingredients and fewer large chunks of crab than Mendo Bistro’s. Our friends had the dinner salad with stilton, and the escargots for first courses, followed by the venison and duck, which looked delicious, and they seemed very happy with their choices. I had the foie gras short stack with scallion crepes and huckleberry sauce, which was good, but not amazing. It just didn’t seem to meld well. I usually don’t like pot roasty or short riby things, but the braised boneless short rib with wild mushrooms sounded good. It was a massive, tender, flavorful piece of meat and very satisfying. For dessert, I had a cheese plate with Red Gold, an organic goat cheese from Elk, camembert style with a crushed chili rind, served with toasted baguette slices. We got a couple of the Meyer lemon soufflés (ordered before dinner to be ready in time and apparently we got the last two), and some other desserts that escape me. As much as we’d anticipated our dinner there, we were a bit disappointed. The food was just a bit off, or a bit shy of wonderful in some cases, the service was achingly slow (though both the chef and our server apologized and comp’d corkage for one of the bottles of wine we brought) and a bit rough in spots (bits of food falling on me as they cleared my plate), and they were out of several items we’d hoped to order. We spent about $300 for 4 people, which isn’t too bad for a nice dinner, but I guess I expect just a little more polish (yes, I know that can be hard to find in Ft. Bragg). To make things worse, I woke up at 2AM and revisited my meal, which is very out of character for my stomach. Neither my husband, nor my friends, nor the other couple in our B&B who happened to dine at the Rendezvous that evening experienced any problems, but then again, none of them ordered what I did. I’m still not sure what to attribute it to, but coupled with our other disappointments in the food and service, we will be hesitant to return, but haven’t ruled it out entirely.

We stayed at the Atrium B&B, and really enjoyed the breakfasts. Our first morning, it was just the two of us. They served us wild mushroom omelets, well-done slices of thick-cut bacon, and a warmed small loaf of banana-maple-walnut bread with glaze. The second morning they offered an egg & tomato breakfast soufflé, chicken-spinach sausage and apricot cornmeal muffins, along with a bagel & toast bar. The third morning they offered a breakfast strata & home fried potatoes.

In the evening they offered local wine and a snack. The wines were from some of the larger Mendocino County producers, and only average. Why do B&B’s advertise “local wines” and then only serve the lesser or most average examples of local wine? I know it’s a budget thing, but I think most places could do better if they put a bit of effort into it. Sorry, I’m in the wine business and it’s just a pet peeve of mine. They also offered some sort of herbed cheese spread & rice crackers which I’m sure was probably just Alouette, but with the tiny rice crackers, it was pretty addicting. At bedtime, they put out a platter of warm, fresh chocolate cookies that they bake in house from Mendocino Cookie Company dough. They look like professionally made cookies, without any of the chemical, fake or oversweet flavor that sometimes accompanies the professional cookies. We didn’t stop in there this time, but if I remember correctly from past stops there for coffee and cookies, you can buy cookies and dough to go. I need to remember to stop there next trip.

Overall, we liked the Atrium (rooms, innkeepers, breakfasts, cookies) and felt it was a good value. We will definitely return.

On our way out of town, we stopped at the Roundman smokehouse, which we visit every time we’re in the area. Not only are their smoked meats, sausages and cheeses delicious, they offer a mouthwatering array of fresh meat in the butcher case. They also have smoked bones for dogs. We usually buy stuff for picnicking during our trip and to take home.

Due to staying in a B&B this time, we didn’t make it to Eggheads for breakfast. But, as my husband points out, we could go there and have breakfast for lunch. Which I think we have to do, because the pumpkin cream waffle is calling my name, as are their crab-laden breakfast specials that I know they are offering now.

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