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Our weekend trip to Mendocino -- very long

Kim Cooper | Oct 18, 200308:01 PM

On the 27th and 28th of September we took a trip up to Mendocino. We want to tell you about it.
We started from San Mateo at 7:00 am Saturday, drove up to Marin, and in Tam Valley we headed out to Highway 1 – Joyce having never been up the coast to Mendocino before, I wanted to give her the full experience. We wound through beautiful country, watching the bits of fog burn away. Before 9 we came to a little town (we think it must have been Marshall, but we’re not sure.) that was just setting up its Farmer’s Market. We stopped and wandered about a bit –- the veggies looked beautiful and oh-so-fresh. They had purple tomatoes, baby red peppers (but they weren’t Jingle Bells), local dairy, many varieties of lettuce and herbs, and other lovely stuff. It was adjacent to a store where we bought a jar of coffee caramel sauce.
Our next stop was a Chowhound recommendation: The Seaweed Café in Bodega Bay. It was midmorning, so we had brunch: sourdough pancakes (light as a feather with real maple syrup) and “red flannel hash” that was excellent—lean beef, beets, carrots, some white root, and onions that was perfectly balanced and did a little dance on my palate. We also had a croissant, homemade, small, very fresh, wonderful. And Jasmine Pearls Tea – served in a glass teapot so we could watch the balls of tea slowly unwind. The waitress was great about keeping the pot filled with fresh hot water. There are outdoor tables facing the forest in back for warmer weather.
We stopped for a few minutes in Jenner-by-the-Sea to enjoy the view of the Russian River meeting the Sea and stretch our legs. The restaurant there by the river mouth wasn’t open at that hour, but I have memories of, many years ago, having the best shrimp I have ever had there.
We drove around Sea Ranch very briefly, because I always like to look at houses, but we didn’t do much because they have some very unfriendly signs asking you not to drive or walk around.
We continued northward, stopping in Gualala to tour St. Orres and peruse their dining menu – but alas, it wasn’t to be for this trip. The place is interesting to see, and very calm and peaceful, with little cabins, each very different, scattered across the property, and the main building with its onion dome in the dining room, that was set up for a wedding to be held there shortly after we saw it.
We continued along the coast, oohing and ahhing at the views of the edge of the ocean splashing on the rocky shore.
We arrived in Mendocino between two and three in the afternoon, found a great parking place right in front of the Mendocino Hotel, and went in for a drink. The bar wasn’t open, and the café didn’t look all that inviting, but at the suggestion of one of the patrons, we got a drink at the café and took it into the bar and sat at a table where we could see the coast through the window. Since they were actually closed, we bussed our own table, and the waitperson actually thanked us for it.
Then we wandered around town, and found the Café Beaujolais. I have always wanted to dine there, but never had the chance (or the money). (It has been there since the late 60s I think, and I have a cookbook of theirs from 1984.) We asked if they had any spots available for that evening, and got a choice of 5:45 or 9:30. We made reservations for 5:45 and wandered around town some more, went to our hotel in Ft. Bragg and changed clothes, and went back to the restaurant.
We started dinner with an appetizer – “Sautéed prawns dressed with oven-dried tomato vinaigrette and basil oil, served with warm herbed white beans and roasted garlic.” The beans, which had a bit of extremely good pancetta, were delightful. The prawns were very lightly dressed, and very fresh.
We ordered two dinners. We asked for advice and the waitperson was very helpful. What we do is to eat halfway through our dinner and then trade plates, so we have to pick things we both agree on.
The “Washington sturgeon filet, pan roasted with truffle emulsion sauce, served with house made tagliatelle, wild mushrooms, beets, and snap peas” was magnificent. We ordered it because of the waitperson’s description of the sauce – truffles, port and local wild mushrooms called “candy caps” that are described as tasting like maple – and yes they are sometimes used in desserts. All I can say is, “Wow!”
The other main course, “Roast free-range chicken with a lemon, Grappa and dill cream sauce, served with mashed potatoes, romano beans, glazed pearl onions, and crispy pancetta” was just as good! The sauce had a bit of a bite to it from the Grappa, and was “to-die-for”. “Wow!” again. The mashed potatoes were very plain, the chicken actually tasted like chicken, and the veggies were great – there’s that crispy pancetta again.
We shared one glass of white wine with this. It was ok.
Then for dessert we had, “Local blackberry clafoutis (warm French pudding cake) served with whipped cream”. Joyce is an aficionado of clafoutis, and pronounced this just right.
We asked the waitress where we could get some candycap mushrooms, we paid the bill (under a hundred dollars all inclusive), and went around the side of the building to the window to buy some of their brick-oven baked bread – onion rye as a matter of fact. Very good bread.
Then we drove around for a few minutes, found the Art Center, ascertained that there was indeed a play that evening, and went in: The person selling tickets knew me from years ago. We spoke briefly with the friendly usher, and saw a very good play – “Honor”. They started two minutes early. The theater looks like it seats about 40.
The next morning, we had breakfast in the café at the Motel 8 we stayed at – ordinary, but in no way bad. We drove down the hill to the Noyo harbor and looked around, then we went back to Mendocino (Ft. Bragg and Mendocino are about 10 miles apart) to attend church. It turned out that the man giving the sermon was the usher at the theater the night before! And we had a mutual friend back in San Mateo. Small world.
Lunch was at the Moosse Café (I hope I have the name right – it was spelled in more than one way on their signs and menus.) Very nice California food – we had a nice fresh salad and split an interesting chicken sandwich with roasted peppers and a light cheese. It was good but nothing to write home about.
Then we went in search of candy cap mushrooms. We were told to look in the Fetzer tasting room: we thought this was weird, but we went in. We’d dropped in the afternoon before but they were very busy. Now there was no one but us, and David behind the counter. We asked for the mushrooms and he did indeed have them – they were dried. It turns out David was a chef and had had his own restaurant –the Gardens Grill at the Botanical Gardens (not sure where). We discussed using the candy caps over a pork roast marinated in maple syrup…. We got to talking, and he gave us a taste of a dessert wine (Bonterra 2002 Muscat), which we really liked and bought a bottle. Talk continued – he gave us a taste of some lovely port (Fetzer Reserve 1998 vintage Syrah Port), which we really liked and bought a bottle of. He served it with some chocolate-chile truffles, which went with it soooo well, well we had to get some…. (Gil's Gourmet Gallery Port Wine Chocolate Jerk Nuggets, made in Sand City CA.)
Soon, it was time to head home. Which way to go? So, we did the un-obvious and headed North. We went through Cleone, and up to Westport, again oooohing and aaaahing at the gorgeous coastline. Then the highway turns Eastward and goes through quiet forest til it hits highway 101 at Laytonville, where we continued South. The section from Ft. Bragg to 101 looked like about 20 miles on the map but was really closer to 60 I think. Highway 101 was easy going and pleasant til Santa Rosa, where we stopped for a junk food snack, and continued south to the Tam Valley exit where we went to The Buckeye Roadhouse for a late dinner. It was about 9:20 pm when we sat down to dine – we had to wait for a table even that late. We had Sonoma smoked duck and a green (spinach-Parmesan?) risotto. We split one dinner, and the waiter split it for us, and each plate looked almost like a full dinner. The risotto was excellent, duck isn’t my favorite….it’s too dark for me. Joyce pronounced it excellent. It was certainly moist, with some crispy skin.
Then we continued southward to San Mateo. We made it home tired but happy after a near-perfect weekend!

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