Trip to Mono Lake & lunch in Yosemite
Over the weekend the gf and I took a trip up Hwy 395 to Mono Lake. We stopped for dinner along the way at the Still Life Cafe in Independence right on 395. Was that ever a surprise. We loved it. It is run by a French couple who have been in the country for a long time and have been running a restaurant in the area for about 16 years. We shared a large salad that was great - super fresh and a good variety of vegetables with a near perfect simple vinaigrette. The baguette and butter were also excellent. The gf had one of the specials of the day - a lamb shank braised with white beans, some tomatoes, garlic and other seasonings. It was perfect, very much like one would find in a neighborhood bistro in France. I had the steak frites in a red wine - shallot reduction that were likewise. The husband - the wife does the cooking - suggested a simple, inexpensive red wine from the southwest of France that was delicious. It was nothing fancy but I would have been happy with the same meal here in L.A. and even for a simple dinner in France.
The next day we went over Tioga Pass to Yosemite for the day - the gf had a friend who was working there. We ate lunch at the Ahwahnee Hotel - the classic old lodge in the Valley. The dining room is spectacular, well-worth seeing. We just had burgers and they were excellent, which they needed to be as they were $18 each. The garlic fries that came with them were also excellent.
That night we had dinner in Lee Vining - at Mono Lake - at the highly recommended Mobil Station - the Tioga Gas Mart and Whoa Nellie Deli. It was good for a gas station restaurant but nowhere near as extraordinary as we'd been led to believe. (Apparently the founding chef has moved on to his own restaurant at Mammoth.) We shared a huge salad which would have been alright if it wasn't absolutely swimming in a truly awful raspberry vinaigrette - the only form of vinaigrette they had. (If you go there and want a salad, go for the blue cheese or ranch or just get bottles of oil and vinegar. The girlfriend had a good - not great but good - and enormous t-bone steak with fries. I had very smoky and pretty good - but nothing I'd go out of my way for in the future - meatloaf with mashed potatoes. Both entrees came with shredded squash of some sort that was actually pretty decent. The whole works, with a couple of beers, came to around $70 - which by gas station standards is rather high.
Thanks for your report. Have long shared your feelings about Whoa Nellie Deli and always thought it was the sheer novelty of it and the over-large portions that gave it its fame ...or notoriety. Glad to hear Ahwanhee Hotel continues to put out far better food than its previously grim reputation. But even if all they had was a PB&J, to experience the room ...and in the day light ... just cannot be missed.
I can't argue with you about the Whoa Nellie Deli - we've loved it for years, but it's not what it used to be. We had lunch there last summer, shared one of the worst burgers ever - dry and tasteless. Too bad, because sitting out on the patio enjoying the view of Mono Lake is one of the state's best experiences.
Also, you used to be able to BYOB, which kept the cost down, and bring dogs up onto the patio - neither is true any more.