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Apr 25, 2023 13 min read

This week’s tablehopper: coastal beauty.

This week’s tablehopper: coastal beauty.
Table of Contents

what’s cookin’

Orchid rock roses at SCP Mendocino Inn and Farm. Photo: ©

Happy sunny days, gang! I can’t wait to enjoy a walk on the beach tomorrow, and later this week, I’m heading down to Carmel for a couple days, which is going to have some pretty gorgeous weather, so yay. All this sunlight and blooming pink cherry blossoms are doing wonders for my mood.

Although I’ll be really honest, today I am dragggggin’—I had my second shingles vaccine yesterday, and it’s royally kicking my ass. I’m all achy and tired and it’s kind of a miracle I was able to focus and write (shoutout to espresso and Ceybon Fungi Focus). Since it was kind of a slow news week, I was able to finally write up the second part of my jetsetter piece about my roadtrip to the Mendocino Coast. It’s the perfect time to take advantage of early springtime offers, and can you even imagine everything blooming and sprouting up there right now after the rains we had? I hope you can make some time for a getaway.

But if you have to stay around the city, there is plenty going on (um, my favorite DJ Harvey is playing at The Great Northern on Saturday night). Last Saturday, my friend and I caught the Nan Goldin show at Fraenkel Gallery (it’s on view through Saturday April 29th), with some recent portraits and Memory Lost, the 24-minute, multimedia slideshow with music and answering machine recordings from the 1980s that is so evocative and haunting. (This 48 Hills review will tell you more.)

I’m so glad I caught the show, because after watching the deeply revealing (and Oscar-nominated) documentary about Goldin’s life, her career, and her bold mission to bring down the Sackler family, All the Beauty and the Bloodshed (on HBO Max), I wanted to see one of her famous and ongoing The Ballad of Sexual Dependency slideshows. I haven’t stopped thinking about the documentary since I saw it a few weeks ago—it’s a doozy. You can see how Goldin harnessed all her residual pain and anger from the AIDS crisis and applied ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) strategies with her activist group P.A.I.N. (Prescription Addiction Intervention Now) to confront the Sackler family (and their company, Purdue Pharma) for their responsibility in creating and fueling the opioid crisis with their highly addictive OxyContin (which Goldin experienced firsthand). P.A.I.N. sparked a grand reckoning that ultimately led to museums and cultural institutions around the world to stop accepting multi-million donations from the Sacklers, stripping their name off of galleries, rooms, endowments, and special exhibits. It’s staggering and so satisfying to watch—Goldin is such a fierce activist and truly badass woman. This powerful documentary will take you through dark waters, punching through to the top for a gasp of air and light.

Just as I was beginning to lay out my Mendocino story, I saw this piece of really unfortunate news: it looks like Club Deluxe may not be reopening after these past months of renovations (and successfully navigating their landlord issues last August, thanks to the help of the community). Broke Ass Stuart’s team wrote about the closure here, pointing to this Instagram post from a longtime Deluxe bartender. The closure has not been confirmed yet by owner Sarah Wilder, so we’ll have to see exactly what’s happening, but I wanted to share this developing story for now. HUGE UGH.

I hate leaving my intro letter on a sad note, but hopefully these pics below of the Mendocino Coast will add some twinkle back.

Go take a wisteria walk!

the jetsetter

Mendocino Coast

Sunset view at Harbor House Inn.
Sunset view at Harbor House Inn. Photo: ©

Last year, around the middle of May, my friend and I had an incredible weekend getaway to the  Mendocino Coast. Now that spring flowers are in a state of mega bloom and the weather is less of a torrential nightmare, I wanted to inspire you to take a little roadtrip up north. Some of these spots are doing early-season specials (especially for midweek stays), so that’s another incentive. (It’s also great to head up during mushroom season, which begins in the fall.)

I wrote a jetsetter post last year about where to visit in Anderson Valley, so be sure to take a look at that piece when planning your trip for ideas on where to stop on your way up to Mendocino (or back). Sadly, the Bewildered Pig is closing soon (perhaps at the end of May), so you may need to choose another option for lunch if you’re planning a trip for later this year, FYI.

view from the Carriage House.
Our view from the Carriage House at SCP Mendocino Inn and Farm. Photo: ©

On our first night, we stayed at what was previously Glendeven Inn in Little River, which is now the SCP (Soul Community Planet) Mendocino Inn and Farm. The 15-acre property includes an 1867 farmhouse, an adjoining modern lodge, and other types of buildings, from a cottage to houses, with 31 rooms in all (most have wood-burning fireplaces and ocean views, and the cottage has a deep-soaking tub). We stayed in the spacious Carriage House, which was a second-floor suite and loft, with a deck that overlooked the gardens. The room had a classic Americana style, with lots of wood and natural colors, and furnishings that ranged from Victorian to contemporary. Everything was so comfortable and cozy—the bed and linens were great.

The suite at the Carriage House
The suite at the Carriage House. Photo: ©

Touring the grounds is a delight—there are llamas you can say hello to, chickens to feed, and the most gorgeous flowers (briar roses and purple foxglove!) and vegetable gardens (with five-foot-high chard) to admire.

Llamas at SCP Mendocino Inn and Farm. Photo: ©

Walk down the lush trail to Van Damme beach, a peaceful cove and great place to watch the water while reading a book or drinking some wine or both.

The trail to the beach.
The trail to the beach. Photo: ©

Breakfast was delivered to our door, with red potato quiche made with their farm eggs (I’m glad I had some hot sauce in my bag, swag); yogurt with berries and granola; freshly squeezed OJ; and orange-almond polenta cake. Keep in mind that there wasn’t any cell reception (this happens a lot along the coast), and they were having trouble with Wi-Fi, so we were kind of flying dark for the night. Bring a book!

Breakfast in our room. egg quiche
Breakfast in our room. Photo: ©

We were staying just minutes from the restaurant at the Little River Inn, which has some of my favorite clam chowder, evah (I always have to get it when I’m in Mendo). It has freshly steamed clams in the shell, with Roundman’s bacon, potatoes, onion, celery, and a touch of cream (and a nice chunk of crusty sourdough bread). They also make an excellent bouillabaisse (currently a cioppino), and regulars adore their fish and chips and burger, especially while sitting on the deck at Ole’s Whale Watch bar.

Clam chower at Little River Inn.
Clam chower at Little River Inn. Photo: ©

It’s an ideal spot for a sunset cocktail (try the Pink Whale, a spin on a gin fizz with gin, pink peppercorn honey, lemon, egg white) and you gotta love a glass of local bubbly for $12.

The Pink Whale. cocktail
The Pink Whale. Photo: ©

Little River Inn is celebrating 80 years as a family-run resort (five generations!), and the staff has the approachable warmth of a team that has worked together for a long time.

front of Little River Inn.
Little River Inn. Photo: ©

During the pandemic, they took advantage of their spacious back patio, turning it into a tented and enclosed dining area (it’s quite cozy)—they open the sides of it when the weather warms up.

The enclosed back patio. little river inn
The enclosed back patio. Photo: ©

It was time for some exercise: the next day, we drove up to Fort Bragg for our 1pm appointment on a Skunk Train Railbike. This was one of the coolest excursions I have ever done, you won’t believe how simultaneously fun and scenic this activity is. We were invited to experience the Pudding Creek Express Railbike, which is a two-hour tour, but you can book a longer ride if you’re really into it.

Riding a Railbike! Video: ©

The custom-built, two-person railbike is pedal-powered, so you can get a bit of a workout if you want it, but there’s also an electric-assist motor, so you could just cruise the entire time (seven miles total). What’s amazing is you get to travel along the world-famous and historic Redwood Route, on actual train tracks. You don’t even have to steer, you just need to make sure you don’t get too zippy and bump the people cruising in front of you. (Easy, lead foot.)

Crossing over the creek.
Crossing over the creek. Photo: ©

You wind your way along Pudding Creek, crossing trestle bridges, and admiring all the old-growth redwoods and gorgeous ferns and foliage and birds. There’s a pitstop midway in the tour at Glen Blair Junction, where you’ll be able to walk along a mile-long loop trail in the forest, and see so many incredible flowers and trees and plants, from sorrel to miner’s lettuce.

Dewdrops on Pacific Bleeding Heart. wild plant
Dewdrops on Pacific Bleeding Heart. Photo: ©

You then get back on your Railbike and are guided to the train station in town. Don’t miss this unique excursion, it’s an absolute blast, and the nature you get to admire is so gorgeous and special. (There’s also the option to ride the Skunk Train instead of the Railbikes, FYI.)

railbike through the forest
Riding the rails. Photo: ©

We had fun cruising around Fort Bragg for a bit, checking out some antique and housewares shops, an amazing sock shop (Pippi's Longstockings), the Triangle Tattoo and Museum, and a dispensary (The Bakery).

The view at Elk Cove Inn and gunderson rock
The view at Elk Cove Inn. Photo: ©

It was time to head back down the coast to our next destination: Elk Cove Inn & Spa. Elk is 17 miles south of Mendocino Village (pop. 208) and the property features a mansion from 1893, which was converted into one of the first bed and breakfasts on the Mendocino Coast in 1968. We stayed in one of the Oceanfront Jr. Suites (the L.E. White Suite) on the second floor in a Craftsman-style, shingled building on the property, with gleaming redwood in a cathedral ceiling. I can’t believe our luck with the weather that day, it was clear as a bell, and our view of the water and Gunderson Rock was breathtaking.

The building with the Oceanfront Jr. Suites.
The building with the Oceanfront Jr. Suites. Photo: ©

The rooms have an Arts and Crafts aesthetic, with lots of oak furnishings and Mission-style reclining chairs, and copper and stained glass lights. The bedspreads look quite plain and dated, and honestly, the photography of the rooms on the website doesn’t do them any favors, but our cozy room was quite comfy and very NorCal. And that view! We slept well with the waves crashing gently in the night.

The L.E. White Suite (with a redwood cathedral ceiling).
The L.E. White Suite (with a redwood cathedral ceiling). Photo: ©

I had a fun morning walk down their private stairs to the trail to Greenwood State Park Beach—it’s wonderful to breathe in the fresh, misty air first thing in the day. (You can also request an evening bonfire kit, with wine and s’mores.)

wild plants on the path to the beach
Walking to the beach. Photo: ©

You’ll want to stroll around their charming gardens, and you’ll meet Porcini and Truffle the cats, and Bella the husky—there are also chickens, goats, and rabbits! And: the property is dog-friendly. Breakfast on our deck with that view was so lovely (and the menu features their own fantastic eggs). In fact, hotel guests can buy a dozen eggs (if the inn can spare them). You want these eggs.

The main house at Elk Cove Inn.
The main house at Elk Cove Inn. Photo: ©

We didn’t have dinner at their on-site, European-influenced restaurant, Sibo, because we had reservations at Harbor House, but they use many foraged and house-grown ingredients; chef Victor Passalacqua offers foraging and other excursions, so be sure to check their calendar and Instagram. His wife, Melissa Boon, and Rakesh Taneja, a retired hotelier, all came together in May 2020 to take over as innkeepers, and they have a very welcoming and easygoing style of hospitality. You can also book an appointment at the Inn’s European-style Day Spa. Be sure to check the inn’s special offers.

Harbor House Inn dining room at sunset.
Sunlight streaming into the Harbor House dining room at sunset. Photo: ©

The finale of our weekend getaway was dinner at the highly lauded (two Michelin stars, and a green star for their sustainable practices) and utterly transporting Harbor House, just a three-minute drive from the Elk Cove Inn. You can easily drive past it—the entrance isn’t very obvious. The location dates back to 1916, and the inn (with nine guest rooms) and restaurant reopened in 2018, after a five-year refresh.

The restaurant offers seatings for the tasting menu at 5:30pm, 6pm, and 6:30pm, with just 20 seats or so. The dining room has a classic, Craftsman, coastal feeling, full of redwood, and natural elements like abalone shells displayed like art and a live-edge wood centerpiece. Once the sun dips down low enough, they open the blinds to reveal the stunning view of the ocean. It was such a clear evening, that in between courses, I slipped out and walked on the deck to admire the setting sun over the gardens before it got too dark.

Harbor House Inn at sunset.
Harbor House Inn at sunset. Photo: ©

The hyper-local menu from chef Matthew Kammerer pays homage to and celebrates North Coast terroir, with ingredients that literally come from their backyard. The team harvests from their onsite gardens daily (which includes herbs and flowers) that all get a gentle spritz of salinity from the nightly fog, and on low tide, the teams forages for sea vegetables (like sea lettuces) and more just in the cove below, which ends up in dishes and kombu dashi and truly divine cultured butter and sourdough bread.

Chilled vegetables from Harbor House Ranch.
Chilled vegetables from Harbor House Ranch. Photo: ©

The overall aesthetic was very Japanese-meets-coastal California, with clean presentations that really sharpen your focus on each ingredient and flavor and texture. A chilled green garlic broth is as fragrant as a hot broth—the broths here are really notable, like a makrut lime broth (with kinome leaf oil and preserved lime) that surrounded tender lobes of dashi-poached skate wing, with salted and grilled cucumber and chrysanthemum leaf. What phenomenal, clean flavors.

Skate wing in makrut lime broth.
Skate wing in makrut lime broth. Photo: ©

The fragrance from each dish here will enchant you, with so many tastes evocative of the ocean and the forest, true NorCal terroir. Even the smoked black cod over bay laurel will make you feel like you grilled it on the beach. Poached kohlrabi ribbons with Douglas fir and campfire butter (with sunflower oil and clarified butter) will waft and tickle your anticipation to take a bite. Grapefruit and butternut squash miso dressing over a warm salad of grilled Little Gem and turnips, are you ready?

Tableside tempura service.
Tableside tempura service. Photo: ©

You’ll be served dishes by a rotating cast of kitchen and service staff, with many tableside presentations on wood trays—it’s a parade of bowls and cups and dishes. The vibe is friendly and engaging, and you’re encouraged to pick up bowls to drink the last drop, and use your hands for the maitake tempura. The music in the room adds to the relaxed feeling, with R&B and soul playing.

Maitake mushroom tempura, lace lichen, dishes
Maitake mushroom tempura, lace lichen, sesame. Photo: ©

Everything is simply beautiful, it’s all about presenting nature as the art that it is, along with earthy local ceramics and a reused abalone shell as your chopstick rest. You dip your spoon in the Fort Bragg uni chopped custard and take a sip of your nutty soba cha from Kettl and ponder: are you on the Mendocino coast, or maybe on Hokkaido?

Sea urchin, dulse, chopped custard. harbor house
Sea urchin, dulse, chopped custard. Photo: ©

It’s an exquisite and singular meal, one of my favorites in recent years, making Harbor House truly destination-worthy. As a native Northern Californian, I loved how the tasting menu is such a wonderful exploration of our local ingredients, and if you were from out of town, it would be the dreamiest introduction. It shows a deep reverence and romantic love for our coastline, and the thoughtful care of all the super-local sourcing and ingredient preparation is so notable. No waste, no fake luxury, just purity and precision. Guests are presented with some storytelling cards about the restaurant’s sustainable practices, culinary techniques, ethos, and more—you’ll gain even more appreciation for the overall experience when you read them, perhaps while on the deck.

Dusk at Harbor House Inn. Elk
Dusk at Harbor House Inn. Photo: ©

The menu is $275 per person (plus tax/gratuity), and the spot-on beverage pairing is $195 (it’s not just about wine: sake lovers are in for some special pours, along with unique beers, like Chevallier Helles-style lager beer from Hanabi Lager). A more-accessible option is to come for lunch: five courses for $95. Reserve here. Whatever you do, if you can, make it happen.

the archivist

vintage view of giant breaker on the pacific

Our always-dramatic California coast.

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