St. Orre's Inn, Gualala
We had a fantastic experience at the St. Orre's Inn last weekend. The dining room has a lovely romantic feel, with only a handful of tables, large windows overlooking the Pacific, and a very high ceiling (the inside of a Russian-style onion dome) festooned with healthy hanging plants. The huge paintings on the walls were a bit strange .... reminding one of a Grateful Dead concert, complete with skulls, snakes, and animals performing unusual acts. But aside from that, the copper plates, tall roses, and quiet music were marvelous. The waiting staff were excellent, too .... present enough for any needs and yet not too present to interfere with the romance.
It was also fun to bump into Pete McCloskey, who was hosting his yearly Holiday dinner for his law firm here; for those of you California natives who remember our Congressman-with-a-conscience, he was also a fraternity brother of my father's and we had a nice chat and I managed to get in several pro-Cal anti-Stanford digs just to set the record straight (Go Bears).
Our first night we decided to simply have appetizers. But first we were presented with a small loaf of house-baked rosemary garlic bread with local olive oil. The bread was a touch too soft, but otherwise delicious and kept warm by means of a heated tile underneath ... rather clever. The oil wasn't as green as I'd like, so the flavor was weak ... but still not too bad.
The appetizers, however, were incredible. We had "stilton cheese in filo, with apple slices" - the description doesn't do justice to the dish. The cheese was perfectly strong and the exact right temperature, and the filo was flaky and delicate. The fresh granny smith apple was sliced to resemble a swan and sprinkled with lime, adding a bit of tang. An edible work of art, really, with a pathway of candied walnuts and little spheres of apple on each corner of the large square dish. The final touch was the nasturtium flower and leaves. Delicious.
We also tried the spinach/ricotta cheese ravioli, with porcini mushrooms and cherry tomatoes in cream sauce with a liberal helping of freshly grated parmesan. The pasta was al dente and after multiple trips to Italy, I must say this dish rivaled anything I've had there!
After this great experience, we went back the next night for a complete dinner. Again, we were served the wonderfully scented hot bread, and this time we indulged in a bottle of '97 Chateau-neuf-de-pap (Vieux Telegraph; as Melanie knows, my husband's favorite).
The appetizers we chose this night were the chili relleno (incredibly tasty, made with a spicy anaheim pepper, generous amounts of monterey jack, and killer salsa over all) and the duck and pheasant pate. The latter was again a work of art, with the pate surrounded by toast slices, raspberry sauce, crushed pistachios, little red onions, and tasty homemade seedy mustard.
The soup we chose was butternut squash with creme fraishe .... wow. I love butternut squash soup and have had some good and some bad over the years ... this rates among the best.
We were also served a salad dish, which was really cute. Hard to imagine a "cute" salad? Well, it was such an interesting presentation: red lettuce with a side of dijon mustard dressing mixed with fresh white corn kernels and little cubes of fresh red pepper ... upon the lettuce were a few pieces of polenta cut into little star shapes, and the entire dish was sprinked with fresh popcorn!
Our main courses were eggplant terrine (fantastic blending of thinly sliced eggplant, red onion, and tomato, layered with basil and mozzarella; decorated with crunchy "swizzle sticks" which were at least 12" high and quite striking) and sword fish (served in a tall pile, over coconut rice and mango chutney, and adorned with large potato crisps). Again, heavenly tastes!
I'm sorry to say that we could NOT have a dessert (we could barely walk back to our little cabin in the woods, as it was). But we saw a large basket-like creation being delivered to one table, and overheard expressions of delight ....
Our cabin was rather nice, too, by the way. It was called the "Guest House" and was a bit old and "funky." The St. Orre's Inn have apparently decided to phase it out as they build a newer cottage next to the site, which is ok as it really was getting old. However, the bed was very comfortable, the breakfast delivered to the room at 9 am was delicious, the fireplace was romantic ... a perfect weekend retreat. We are already planning to return ....
I'll enthusiastically second the recommendation for St. Orres. I've been very charmed both times I've dined/stayed there. The chef focuses on local, fresh ingredients (lots of mushrooms, berries, wild game) and while the food isn't as stellar as say, Chez Panisse, it's still quite good and beautifully presented. You get soup, salad, and an entree for $35; appetizers and desserts are a la carte.
The breakfast delivered to the cabins is usually a frittata of some sort, fruit, muffins, and granola. Not quite up to the level of the dinner, but still wonderful as you lounge in front of your fireplace and watch the ocean.
The buildings (all Russian style) are unique, the gardens are lovely, and there's a roaming flock of wild turkeys for your amusement (they gobble early in the morning, beware...)
Also, for cheaper chow, we really liked the pizza place in Gualala. Can't remember the name, but it's the only one there, right at the end of the strip.