Saturday, September 5, 2009


I’m an east coast girl. More specifically, a Long Islander with New England roots. I grew up in and around lovely coastal towns… from Glen Cove and Sag Harbor, to Quogue and South Hampton… from villages on the Cape and Vineyard to my mother’s hometown of Gloucester/Rockport, Mass. So for years after moving to LA, people had told how much I would love the little northern California coastal town of Mendocino, about a 4-hour drive north of San Francisco. They were right.

Recently Richard and I drove to the Bay area to rendezvous with my cousin and her husband then caravanned through the Anderson Valley, zipping through the Valley’s scenic wine country. We stopped for a picnic at the Navarro winery, a lovely Mediterranean structure with a beautifully manicured vineyard, then continued on through a majestic redwood forest to our final destination.

Our rooms were booked at the ‘period’ Mendocino Hotel and Garden Suites, an old hotel (est. 1878) with a wooden sidewalk on Main Street overlooking the Pacific that could have ‘starred’ in any John Ford western. Inside, the lobby, dining rooms and bar were charmingly decorated in Victorian décor as were our rooms in one of the hotel’s garden suites in a separate building away from the main hotel.

That first night we decided to eat in the hotel’s main restaurant which was given an “Award for Excellence” from Wine Spectator Magazine and a “thumbs up” from Zagatsurvey. Executive Chef Joe Brown is fairly new to the hotel and specializes in California cuisine.

We girls had the tapenade stuffed “rocky” natural chicken breast which I learned are from local chickens raised on a soft bed of rice hulls and allowed to range freely. The chicken came with braised cipollini onions, artichoke hearts and picoline olives. The dish was much lighter than we expected and just missed being excellent because it was sitting in too much broth.

Both guys ordered the roasted filet of California striped bass, confit red peppers, “speck” ham (juniper flavored from the Tyrolean region of Austria), baby fennel and marble (petite) potatoes. The fish was cooked well and all the tastes blended nicely.

We paid the corkage fee and brought our own bottle of Sonoma County merlot for the guys and my cousin and I ordered glasses of a pleasant Husch chardonnay, an Anderson Valley wine. As we ate and sipped we decided the new chef was good, but was trying a bit too hard to make his dishes ‘special.’

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