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Apr 22, 2013 04:06 PM

CA Road Trip: North Bay portion

We drove from Riverside to Bodega Bay with stops in the Inland Empire, Coalinga, Santa Cruz, Olema, Freestone and Bodega Bay. This post covers just the Bay Area board portion.

Dinner at Olema Inn. The remodel is lovely; wide planks of the wooden floor and the freestanding candelabras in our small dining room gave it the feeling of a updated tavern, even more so when I ordered a bowl of onion soup that was a much better version of what was served at the 18th century roadhouse near my school.

The menu's ambitious intent is to source within 5 miles of Olema. We split a set of three oysters, artichokes with aioli, onion soup, a duck egg salad with lardons, Dungeness crab, dinner rolls. The prices go by set (small apps are all priced the same, large apps slightly higher price, entrees are all $20).

The meal was enjoyable, highlights being the remarkable dinner rolls, satisfying duck egg salad, sweet-crispy broccolini, and onion soup, which was rich and satisfying without the typical beef broth.

I've never had this problem with Dungeness before, but much of the meat stuck to the crab shell and didn't release; it was a lot of work to scrape them and still leave a good portion behind in the shell. (Anyone know why this happens? Overcooked or old crab, or just bad luck?) The artichokes were a little undercooked and hadn't been drained thoroughly so they managed to be both tough and waterlogged.

The dishes that were successful were so accomplished that the downers didn't bother me much. The perfectly salted, buttery yet light dinner rolls would find a spot on my death row last meal list. Service was warm, professional and unobtrusive.

The night we dined was also a special event with Deborah Madison, which took up the main dining room; it seemed like a lot of coordination for the small kitchen and staff to synchronize a dinner for maybe 30 while at the same time host regular diners in a separate room, so I wonder if that might have had something to do with our meal being very good but not faultless.

Wild Flour bread in Freestone: amazing. You can smell the wood oven fire as you turn down Bohemian Highway to find the bakery. A big garden outside is lovely for a stroll--they're growing herbs, lettuces, onions and hops. Of the breads I tasted, I liked the olive best. Sticky bun seemed very popular, but I adored the tender, luscious meyer lemon scone. (Sign at the door: "We need more meyer lemons! Will buy or trade!") They take cash or check only, and I heard the clerk assuring several customers that they could just mail a check later when they got home. Hippies: I love you, never go away.

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  1. All pix of Wild Flour

    6 Replies
    1. re: pane

      Always enjoy reading your reporting, dear pane. Some make reference to long lines at Wild Flour, so I wonder if you could comment on that. I've never experienced more than two or three people ahead of me over many years, but perhaps it's because I'm rarely there on Saturdays.

      1. re: Melanie Wong

        A pleasant buzz of activity, but no real line. Probably there were always 5 or so people on the grounds (bakery + garden) while we were there.

        1. re: Melanie Wong

          I was at Wildflour last Friday around 1. It looked like a crowd, but there were three women giving out samples and exchanging money and bread and it was really fast.

          1. re: wally

            That's been my experience as well, even on a mid-summer weekend.

          2. re: Melanie Wong

            We were at Wild Flour two Saturdays ago and there was only a few people there. We grabbed our bread and scones to hang out in the garden. When we were out there, a line formed 20+ deep and didn't diminish the whole time we were eating the scones. We drove by an hour later and the line was even longer! So, who knows... Worth the wait though. Loved the savory scones and mushroom bread.

            1. re: The Dive

              Thanks all for the wait time feedback. Guess long lines do happen, just thankful I've not run into them.

        2. Nice write up Pane - ready to jump in the car and take a ride to Bodega Bay...

          I've been told that if Dungeness crab doesn't come out of the shell easily/cleanly, it means it might have been frozen.

          2 Replies
          1. re: RWCFoodie

            I'd say there's zero chance of Margaret Grade selling previously frozen crab.

            1. re: Robert Lauriston

              Talked to a friend who lives in Inverness over the weekend asking if she'd tried the cooking at the revitalized Olema Inn yet. She corrected me, "The Olema".


          2. Those meyer lemon scones are amazing! Last time I was there I made what may or may not have been an error in judgment. I bought some things, including a (giant) ginger almond biscotto, and then sat down with a cup of tea and said biscotto. Before I knew what had happened, my biscotto was gone (I'd only intended to eat half), and the woman at the counter was saying they had meyer lemon scones fresh out of the oven. So I had to buy a scone and a replacement biscotto. In other words: once you've made your purchase, stay on the premises at your own risk!

            1. Monday was an unfortunate evening to be in Bodega Bay, as all the restaurants that seemed interesting and were within a reasonable drive are closed. I glanced at the hotel restaurant menu, but it didn't appeal--a "seasonal" salad of bagged greens with dried cranberries, etc.

              We ended up at Lucas Wharf Restaurant, which was fine and cheaper than a hotel restaurant. Crab is only available through the end of April, so I got a Dungeness Louie with a hard-cooked egg, split cherry tomatoes, unripe avocado, and dressing on the side. Ample portion of crab. A very pretty view out to the bay and an seal giving the side-eye to a fisherman gutting his catch on the pier.

              Breakfast at Della Fattoria in Petaluma. Friendly service, and I liked that there was a toast sampler for the indecisive type such as myself. The bread stays the same, the toppings are different: Rancho Gordo mashed beans, egg salad, and smoked salmon. The glossy roll on the egg/ham breakfast sandwich looked good. I pity the elderly or disabled person who tries to climb two flights of stairs to that restroom through the back kitchen.

              1 Reply
              1. re: pane

                Oh, sad to miss an opportunity for a good meal in Sonoma County.

                Yes, the restroom at DF deserves some warning. But if you can navigate the way, here's the view into the kitchen from the upstairs window.

                FWIW, the small plaza in the middle of the same block has an ADA public restroom.

              2. Wanted to mention that we also had a good late lunch at Hops & Barley in Occidental. Interesting menu (a bit more creative than typical pub fare -- I liked the sweet potato crostini and pretzel, and had a good fish special with a sauce made with Damnation). Great beer list.