Looking for an excuse for an overnight getaway to gorgeousness? Maybe the renovated rooms at the RITZ-CARLTON HALF MOON BAY coupled with the somewhat recent hire of chef Jason Pringle who is now leading the Navio dining room are enough of a one-two punch to coax you to visit.
First, the property. It has always been a beaut, with a stunning view of the coastline and trails that impel you to walk in the morning, afternoon, and at sunset—there are even tide pools to visit. It goes without saying that golfers love this spot, while I prefer a cocktail or glass of bubbles out by the fire pits. Bring on the bagpiper.
The service is always so gracious and warm, you never want for anything. It’s fun to see families enjoy the resort, along with romantic couples, golf buddies, and girl getaways (there’s a fantastic spa on-site). It has something for everyone (well, if you have room on your credit card—keep your eye on their offers).
The renovated rooms are the picture of peaceful, with soft tones of gray and silver, and natural elements throughout. You walk in and just say “ahhhhhh”—the tones and materials are so calming, and the deep soaking tubs tell you it’s okay to forget about the drought (at least right now). Nothing tops Ritz-Carlton bedding, it’s always a dream to sleep in their cloudlike feather beds with 400-thread count Egyptian cotton sheets. It’s worth holding out for a room with a coastal view—the ocean is beyond breathtaking, especially at sunset. Your window becomes the best artwork: a picture of NorCal beauty.
Since chef de cuisine Jason Pringle has taken over the hote’s maritime-feeling NAVIO restaurant, the food has definitely upped its game a few notches. (The restaurant will also be getting a renovation soon, I was told.) His background includes Epic Roasthouse and Aqua, where he worked for five years with Michael Mina and Laurent Manrique, eventually becoming executive chef. His style is definitely rooted in French technique and elegance, and his love of the seasons and Northern California bounty keep things changing daily—he’s big on foraging as well. The menu is primarily a celebration of seafood, but meat lovers have some choices too.
One evening, my dinner was a combination of dishes off the à la carte menu and the tasting menu ($125, now $135). If you see something on the tasting menu, you can order it à la carte. Our meal started with a stunning amuse-bouche with Dungeness crab, avocado, aioli, and a perfect quenelle of Sterling caviar—a bite built for bubbles.
My friend’s course of fluke crudo with matsutake and pear was far more interesting than my ahi tuna ribbons. While the flavors of mostarda and watermelon radish were complementary, the execution was just too strange (and the plate coated with black sesame overwhelmed—I found the dish was more about drama and show than truly enjoyable flavors and textures).
Things were back on track for me with an elegant dish of local red abalone with matsutake, freshwater eel, arugula oil, sea beans, agretti, fennel, and sea urchin. It had a Japanese simplicity, with an earthy broth, and let the freshness and flavors of the crustaceans really shine.
Hey, you, try not to fill up too much on all the breads from the extensive bread service. (It’s almost impossible to resist—mmmm, warm olive bread.)
Wine pairings are on point, even my curve ball request of only whites and bubbles was greeted with pleasure. (Trust, I can enjoy 2014 Domaine Matrot premier cru Meursault-Blagny alllll night.)
Things dipped again with the pasta course: my spaghetti alla chitarra with Dungeness crab was far too overseasoned and rich, and the pumpkin agnolotto was heavy and a bit pasty with the chestnut—the proportions felt off, like it had too much filling.
But then, an upswing—and to the top shelf! We were there during truffle season, so we got to experience those jewels of the earth with next-level, luxe scrambled duck eggs with shaved white truffle and smoked mascarpone. Ahhhh. Where’s that bread?
My favorite dish was the meaty sturgeon, which got the coq au vin treatment, with black pepper jus, lardons, hen-of-the-woods mushrooms, and other vegetal additions to the plate, which remind you that you’re in California. Brilliant seafood main course, so savory and clever.
One of the desserts ($14) is a total showstopper: the s’mores fire pit. It looks like a little flaming pyre from the outside, with toasted marshmallow mousse, spiced chocolate granita, and graham cracker cake. Our apple dessert, however, turned into a mess of kataifi and melting apple sorbet. A pretty selection of migniardises ends the meal charmingly—oh, canelés.
If you stay overnight, you can return for breakfast in the morning and enjoy the view (more so than at night). The weekend brunch buffet is famous, a gluttonous affair every Sunday, with everything from dim sum to caviar to oysters and carving stations ($119). If you want to impress out-of-towners or take Mom out for a special meal, this is the spot.
A couple things to note: Navio is closed Mon-Tue. And the valet parking fee is an exorbitant $49 overnight ($15 during the week and $30 on the weekend is what you would pay to park for dinner). You kind of feel like you’re at a little kingdom in the sky while you’re there—it’s one hell of a special property. And nope, keys to the kingdom (or to get your car back) don’t come cheap.