Half Moon Bay

August 7, 2007

Since I grew up in San Mateo, I'm no stranger to the ocean-side charms of ~HALF MOON BAY~. I remember olallieberry u-picks when I was a kid, weekends with my family tide pooling or playing on the beach at Pescadero, summers at Girl Scout camp on the coast, and back in the pre-driver's license days (the dark years), my friend Vicky and I would take the 90H bus to the beach, conveniently stopping in front of Tres Amigos, where we'd grab a burrito to take with us.

I totally have a soft spot for Half Moon Bay, with its easygoing attitude, agrarian roots, and captivating landscape. For those of you craving a quick and easy getaway out of the City, a drive down Highway One will get you relaxed and breathing some fresh sea air, pronto (well, if you manage to avoid some of that pesky traffic). Since the majority of the restaurants in the Half Moon Bay area are casual and kid-friendly, it's an easy place to bring the family, whether it's just for a day trip, or an overnighter.




Driving south on Highway One, before you reach the town of Half Moon Bay, you'll see ~SAM'S CHOWDER HOUSE~ perched on the coast. I've never understood why we have such great seafood and so few places to enjoy it here in the Bay Area. Paul Shenkman, a former co-owner of Cetrella, wondered the same thing, so we have him to thank for making this place happen. (Chef Lewis Rossman also hails from Cetrella.) Sam's is a prime spot to hit during the day, with its spacious patio outfitted with blue-and-white checkered tables and expansive views of the water, plus a menu to make an East Coaster proud. I brought a Rhode Islander pal here, who was thrilled to see cherrystone clams on the menu ($1.75 each), and gave the fish and chips ($15.95) with thin pieces of cod in a light and crispy batter a big thumbs up. We demolished the lobster roll ($19.50), laden with tender hunks of Maine lobster cooked just right in a buttery and lightly toasted roll (the owner worked with Bay Bread to specially make the rolls for the restaurant). Oh, and both the New England and Manhattan clam chowders hit the spot ($5.95/cup). Ditto on my ice-cold pint of Stella. It's the kind of place that inspires you to keep it simple, but they do have some good wines as well.

Kudos to the restaurant's environmentally friendly stance, with a focus on serving sustainable seafood, plus they installed solar panels on the roof, use eco-friendly packaging and lighting, and they recycle their rice-based, trans fat-free vegetable oil (which can clock in at 300 gallons a week, and is used by a dude who filters it and heats it to produce "diesel" fuel for a converted Hummer, hilarious). Sam's also has a unique private party setup if you are so inclined: you can host your own clambake!

Sam's Chowder House

4210 North Cabrillo Hwy.
(just south of Pillar Point Harbor)
Half Moon Bay, CA 94019
650-712-0245

Lunch
Mon-Fri 11:30am-4:30pm
Sat-Sun 11am-4:30pm

Dinner
Mon-Fri 4:30pm-9pm
Sat 4:30pm-9:30pm
Sun 4:30pm-9pm

Apps $7-$16.25
Entrées $11.95-$27.95






Photo by Mezza Luna.

My father naturally gravitates to his fellow Calabresi--it's like a homing mechanism. Years ago he managed to find some paisan buddies at ~MEZZA LUNA~, long before they moved into their current (and much more spacious) location in Princeton Harbor, a short distance north of Half Moon Bay. My family actually has "our table" here, but this easygoing Italian place is adored by a number of locals, too.

We always get spoiled with some off-the-menu items, but some of our faves on the menu include the fried calamari ($9)--Mezza Luna is one of the only places where I'll order this overdone dish. The house-made gnocchi ($12.50) truly rock my socks (but I always go for the bright tomato sauce instead of the gorgonzola option). I usually order any specials on offer (I am still pining for the fava ravioli I tasted this spring)--go for any seafood specials since the selection is molto fresh. The wine list also has some serious gems on there, and you'll go nutty for the homemade bread. There's a bar in a side room if you feel like hanging out with some locals over a drink and a simply dressed pizza, which I usually find hard to resist. It's all about the sauce!

Mezza Luna
459 Prospect Way
Half Moon Bay, CA 94019
650-728-8108

Mon-Fri 11:30am-3pm and 5pm-10pm
Sat-Sun 11:30am-10pm

Apps $5.50-$10.50
Entrées $14.50-$22






Now, since my family has been hanging out with the Mezza Luna crew for all these years, I never had the chance to check out ~PASTA MOON~, another longtime favorite in the area. (Italians take things like loyalty very, very seriously.) I visited Pasta Moon for a weekend lunch, and was impressed with the freshness of the ingredients; one component you'll note on many menus in the area is a strong relationship with local farmers.

We had a local bean fest, including ale-battered blue lake green beans ($9) from Iacopi Farms, and then proceeded to lose it over the house-made sausage pizza ($17), a melting and blistered mass of salty speck, mushrooms, and Fontina cheese on a crispy, cracker-thin-crust from the wood-burning oven. The flavors (and decadence) of this little number will haunt me.

The pastas should come with a warning: Nilda's lasagne ($18) is enough to feed four, but once you take a few bites, you'll only want to share it with (maybe) one more person. There were something like 20 layers of delicate house-made noodles (I'm not kidding), with a nice whisper of sauce that somehow kept it "light"--my friend called it the 400 lb. ballet dancer. Service is small town personable, and the vibe is relaxed and friendly. There's a full bar, and a full house, so make reservations if you can. At lunch you can gaze into the adjoining garden or at folks ambling by on Main Street--I imagine dinner would feel cozy here. There is also a private room in the back for parties.

Pasta Moon
315 Main St # C
Half Moon Bay, CA 94019
650-726-5125

Lunch
Mon-Fri 11:30am-2:30pm
Sat-Sun 12pm-3pm

Dinner
Mon-Thu 5:30pm-9:30pm
Fri-Sat 5:30pm-10pm
Sun 5:30pm-9:30pm

Apps $5.50-$10.50
Entrées $14.50-$22






If you're looking for more of a splurge experience, head to ~NAVIO AT THE RITZ-CARLTON HALF MOON BAY~. The primo location is downright breathtaking, with gorg views of the coast, and the dining room gives the impression you're under the inverted hull of a ship. Chef de cuisine Aaron Zimmer, who hails from CityZen in Washington, D.C., crafts some refined yet playful tasting menus, and the wine pairings are on the mark. Other options include the famed Sunday brunch, or you can visit the Conservatory Lounge for a drink and bites while taking in the views. Of course the entire time you are steeping in the refined service the Ritz is known for. Top drawer, baby.


Navio
Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay

1 Miramontes Point Rd
Half Moon Bay, CA 94019
650-712-7000

Breakfast
6:30am-11am

Lunch
Mon-Fri 11:30am-3pm
Sat 12pm-3pm

Dinner
Mon-Fri 6pm-9pm
Sat 5:30pm-10pm
Sun 6pm-9pm

Sun. Brunch
Seatings: 11am and 1pm

Dinner
Apps $10-$30
Entrées $29-$43

Tasting Menu $105
Wine Tasting Supplement $70

Sunday Brunch
$82 per person
exclusive of tax, gratuity, and alcohol






14 miles down the coast from Half Moon Bay, and about two miles inland, is sleepy and historic Pescadero, where you will find the famed ~DUARTE'S TAVERN~. People come far and wide for a meal here, whether they are part of a motorcycling contingent cruising the back roads for the weekend, to grandpa who wants some abalone, to food writers who want a slice of pie. This family-run place dates back to 1894, and is a warren of rooms, including a diner-esque counter in one and a bar in another (not recommended lest you sit at the crank pot's section of the bar--let's just say someone needed a happy pill).

For me, a visit to Duarte's is all about a half and half bowl of soup: half cream of artichoke soup that is made with artichoke hearts, and half cream of green chile soup ($7). (It's off the menu, but now you know.) Depending on the specials, you can tuck in to all kinds of seafood--the cioppino is a big seller. There are some old country numbers on there too, like linguica, and tripe. Whatever you do, save room for a slice of the famed pie with the just-so flaky crust, preferably olallieberry ($6), made from their own berries. Oh, and call it "Doo-Arts," otherwise people will think you're a city slicker or something.

Duarte's Tavern
202 Stage Rd.
Pescadero, CA 94060
650-879-0464

7am-9pm daily
(except major holidays)





Another culty place in Pescadero is located in of all places the gas station across the street from Duarte's. Yup, the gas station tacos from ~MERCADO Y TAQUERIA DE AMIGOS~ have quite the fan club (partially due to the New York Times article about the place). I say keep it simple: my carnitas taco was muy muy bien, full of crispy bits of meaty goodness, but my pal ordered his super and ended up with a pile of shredded lettuce and un-melted cheese on top. (No gracias.) The freshly fried tortilla chips were bonus. There's also something to be said for being able to order $15 worth of gas and two tacos.

Mercado y Taqueria de Amigos
1999 Pescadero Rd.
Pescadero, CA 94060
650-879-0232



One more note about Pescadero: if you're into artichokes, grab a loaf of the garlic and herb artichoke bread from ~ARCANGELI GROCERY COMPANY/NORM'S MARKET~ (287 Stage Rd., 650-879-0147). The business dates back to 1929 and has been family-run the entire time; cheers to that. There's also a deli in the back if you want a sandwich on one of their homemade rolls.

Another sandwich place that is reportedly good (I didn't get a chance to try one myself) is the ~GARDEN DELI & CAFÉ~ at San Benito House in Half Moon Bay (356 Main St., 650-726-3425). I had at least three locals recommend it to me, so the next time I'm heading to the beach, I know where to pick up a sando. Follow the smell of the baking bread! Open Mon-Fri 11pm-3pm, Sat-Sun until 3:30pm.

One more random tip I was given: get breakfast at the ~3 ZERO CAFÉ~ at the Half Moon Bay Airport. Funny, no? For the sheer novelty of dining with pilots, this merits a check-it-out. Which I need to do.




~WHERE TO STAY~



My favorite stay was at the ~HALF MOON BAY INN~, a historic building dating back to 1932 that was recently redone. I enjoyed the personal and Euro feeling of the inn, with curved arches, well-chosen furnishings, and the comfy bed with divine, silky linens (it was a pillow fest, too). There's a restaurant downstairs, Kitchen and Cocktails, which is easy for brunch, lunch, or whenever hunger strikes--don't miss dining on the spacious patio on a sunny day. (Also make sure to request a quieter room if you want one, since some overlook the patio.) You can burn off your meal with a walk (or run) to the beach, which has a trail that runs along the coast.

Half Moon Bay Inn
Rates $120-$325




Photo by Beach House HMB

For those craving a view of the water, one of the few spots with waterfront rooms is the ~BEACH HOUSE HOTEL HALF MOON BAY~, conveniently next door to Sam's Chowder House. The style was a little "Middle Class East Coast Mom" for my taste, but we dug our fireplace and our balcony overlooking the water. Be sure to go through the back gate and take a walk along the path trailing the coast. We strolled to Pillar Point Harbor for our morning coffee at Café Capistrano (460 Capistrano Rd., 650-728-7699)--you can also get breakfast here, served until noon, or tuck into some Mayan dishes, like cochinita, for a budget lunch.

Beach House Hotel Half Moon Bay
Rates $185-$405





Maybe I'm not cut out for B&Bs (they feel a lot like adult dorms to me) but caveat aside, the ~OLD THYME INN~ just toward the end of Main Street was a sweet little spot, with nary a doll or dust ruffle in sight. The charming house dates back to 1898, and innkeepers Rick and Kathy Ellis do a marvy job maintaining their pretty garden in the back. We stayed in the downstairs Thyme Room, which had a fluffy feather bed and a whirlpool tub (nice towels too!), but I think I'd prefer one of the upstairs rooms so I wouldn't have to hear people walking around above me, or coming in through the front door. We had fun choosing an in-room movie from the vintage VCR tape collection ("Heathers" anyone?). Rick and Kathy have a wealth of knowledge about the area, and make a mean breakfast (we had a savory soufflé, meow!).

Old Thyme Inn
Rates $155-$325




~WHAT TO SEE AND DO~



If you are in Half Moon Bay on a Saturday, swing by the ~COASTSIDE FARMERS MARKET~ (May-November, 9am-1pm). Be sure to say hi to friend Farmer John and his wife Eda of Daylight Farms, who are known for their huge pumpkins, heirloom produce, and gorg dahlias. The market is in the Shoreline Station Parking Lot, 225 So. Cabrillo Highway (east side of Hwy 1)--look for the signs around town in case you get lost, I did.





~THE RITZ-CARLTON HALF MOON BAY~ puts on some groovy culinary events throughout the year, including theme weekends, cooking classes with guest chefs and bar chefs too (I attended a class during the Mixology Weekend and now I can actually make a decent manhattan, thankyouverymuch), and the popular Inside the Kitchen series of events. Sign up for the mailing list here to keep posted on everything.





Need to really chill out? My mom swears by the massages at ~UJUVA SALON AND SPA~ in El Granada; Sigrid is supposed to be the bomb.





One of the highlights of the area for me was visiting ~HARLEY FARMS~, a goat dairy in Pescadero. Many a cheese lover knows Dee Harley's award-winning farmstead cheeses, like the tortes decorated in edible flowers, the sublime feta, chevre logs, and delicate ricotta. Be sure to schedule a tour--the American Alpine goats are frisky and hilarious, and learning about the entire artisanal process, and Dee's dedication to it, is downright inspiring. Cheese never tasted so good.



While we're on the eco-tourism tip, there are a couple suggested itineraries on the Half Moon Bay Coastside Chamber website if you're interested in touring local farms, nurseries, and the like.





On my way home, I like to stop by our pal ~DOMINIC MUZZI'S FARM~ in San Gregorio for some strawberries and whatever seasonal something he has growing (hello favas!). Look for the sagging barn at 950 La Honda Road, just east of the San Gregorio Store--follow the strawberry signs you see along Hwy. One (the ones that say "no spray strawberries").



You can pick up some fresh fish direct from the ~FISHERMEN AT PILLAR POINT HARBOR~. A pal in Half Moon Bay tipped me off to this: just call the hotline at 650-726-8724, press 3, and you'll hear that day's catch. Bring a cooler in your car so you can keep your fishy treasure on ice.



There are all kinds of stunning beaches dotting the coast. I've always been partial to Gray Whale Cove in Devil's Slide, but be aware half of the beach is clothing optional (I know, how frisky of me).



If you want some more ideas, my pal John Vlahides over at ~71MILES.COM~ did a super round-up of where to go, eat, stay, and play in Half Moon Bay--check it out here. I really trust his palate (we have dined together a few times), so definitely consult his reviews for some of the other restaurants I didn't get a chance to hit.

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