LOVE AT FIRST BITE

Prestige (Malaysia) - - Contents -

Wel­come to The Har­bor House Inn

The open­ing of The Har­bor House Inn gives gemma price new

rea­son to taste her way through coastal Men­do­cino, Cal­i­for­nia’s most

ex­cit­ing din­ing desti­na­tion

i haven’t been beach­comb­ing s ince I w as a child, but for Chef Matthew Kam­merer, who launched his am­bi­tious first solo pro­ject The Har­bor House Inn in north Cal­i­for­nia’s Men­do­cino County in May, a trip to the black­peb­bled shore­line fronting the prop­erty is a daily un­der­tak­ing.

His pared-back, sea­sonal tast­ing menu high­lights prod­ucts unique to this rugged Pa­cific Coast culi­nary ter­roir. Most are sourced from within 24km and a large pro­por­tion is grown, for­aged and fished from the prop­erty’s grounds, beach and bay.

As we hop be­tween tide pools, walled in by craggy, lichen-car­peted cliffs and waves crash­ing through dra­matic rock arches, Kam­merer gath­ers sea­weed no longer at­tached to rocks by its hold­fast for his house-made bread. It is served as a stand­alone dish with house-churned kelp-in­fused but­ter.

“It’s ac­tu­ally one of the most labour-in­ten­sive cour­ses,” he ex­plains, as we head back up the steep cliff­side steps to tour red­wood-framed culi­nary gar­dens and patches left wild, where he points out chard, al­lium flow­ers, sheep’s sor­rel and bronze fen­nel. All this is part of the kitchen staff’s picks for tonight’s meal.

This his­toric, nine-room inn first opened its doors along Cal­i­for­nia’s Scenic High­way 1 in 1916. It re-opened in spring after un­der­go­ing eight years of metic­u­lous ren­o­va­tions with Kam­merer, 29, over­see­ing its culi­nary pro­gramme (his work-life part­ner Amanda

Ne­mec is the gen­eral man­ager).

After hon­ing his nat­u­ral­is­tic cook­ing style at In De Wulf in Bel­gium’s Dra­nouter, Ni­hon­ry­ori Ryu­gin in Tokyo, and most re­cently as sous chef at three­Miche­lin-starred Sai­son in San Fran­cisco, Kam­merer wants guests to take in and feel in­vig­o­rated by the nat­u­ral vi­tal­ity of their sur­round­ings.

Din­ner, served Thurs­day through Mon­day, starts with an aper­i­tif of lo­cal cider and ex­pan­sive ocean views on the restau­rant’s deck. Once in­side the wood-pan­elled din­ing room, dishes — morels with grilled pine and Cal­i­for­nia kosho, ar­ti­choke and trout roe — ar­rive in fam­ily-style por­tions and in­clude rel­a­tively few in­gre­di­ents, served raw or cooked sim­ply over wood, char­coal or steam to high­light the qual­ity of each prod­uct.

The menu changes daily, in­formed by what the kitchen team finds on the prop­erty each day and what they are brought by the re­gion’s ec­cen­tric fish­ers, farm­ers and for­agers.

“Mike the fish­er­man”, who lives a lit­tle fur­ther north in Al­bion, might sup­ply live rock fish from the bay that fronts the prop­erty. Trout — who lives on a com­pound in the mid­dle of the woods — brings oys­ter, shi­itake and lion’s mane mushrooms he cul­ti­vates by hand-sep­a­rat­ing spores from wild spec­i­mens.

Since few peo­ple here have a web­site, e-mail ad­dress or even a mo­bile phone (the town of Elk, pop­u­la­tion 200, doesn’t even have mo­bile phone re­cep­tion), Kam­merer of­ten doesn’t know what his sup­pli­ers will bring, or when.

“We just kind of go with it. It’s a more hon­est style of cook­ing and in that mo­ment you get a lit­tle more creative,” he says.

While Men­do­cino County is over­shad­owed by neigh­bour­ing wine coun­try des­ti­na­tions Napa and Sonoma, known for high­style winer­ies, bou­tique ho­tels and cel­e­brated Miche­lin-starred eateries, it has a culi­nary cred of its own. Har­bor House is the lat­est of its long tra­di­tion of inns with res­tau­rants that are worth mak­ing the trip (San Fran­cisco is three hours to the south).

Driv­ing north of Elk, the Al­bion River Inn Restau­rant is lauded for James Beard Award-win­ning chef Stephen Smith’s coastal cui­sine — Bouil­l­abaisse, pan-roasted white fish, grilled filet mignon with fetabrie grat­inée — ac­com­pa­nied by a stel­lar list of Scotch whiskies. Perched on a hill­side within the tim­ber-framed Four-Di­a­mond Stan­ford Inn is Ravens Restau­rant, which serves stand­out vegan

fare. If you’re headed this way on a Thurs­day or Fri­day, a prix fixe Shared Ta­ble din­ner at the adult­sonly Glen­de­ven Inn is a hot ticket.

Men­do­cino town proper, beloved by po­ets and artists and home to salt­box houses and ram­bling Vic­to­ri­ans, is the only spot on the Cal­i­for­nian Coast listed among the US Na­tional Reg­is­ter of His­toric Places. It is a great place to spend the week­end, not least for its charm­ing places to eat, drink and stay.

Cafe Beau­jo­lais, set within an 1893 Vic­to­rian farm­house, is cred­ited with al­most sin­gle- hand­edly establishing Men­do­cino as a din­ing desti­na­tion in the 1960s for its Cal­i­for­nian-style French cui­sine that show­cases lo­cal pro­duce. MacCal­lum House Restau­rant also spe­cialises in lo­cal pro­duce and house-made breads and pas­tas while white­washed wood-walled Tril­lium Cafe serves sea-to-ta­ble prepa­ra­tions of lo­cal salmon, rock cod, Dun­geness crab and abalone in its fire­place-lit din­ing room and out­door deck that over­looks the restau­rant’s culi­nary gar­den and the Big River.

And because the re­gion’s abun­dance — well­stocked off­shore fish­eries, grass-fed cat­tle and bi­son, com­mit­ment to or­ganic, sus­tain­able farm­ing prac­tices, grains and grapes — means culi­nary fes­ti­vals abound year-round, there’s no bad time to visit.

While Men­do­cino

County is over­shad­owed by neigh­bour­ing Napa and Sonoma, known for high­style winer­ies and Miche­lin-starred

eateries, it has a culi­nary cred of

its own

The culi­nary cal­en­dar kicks off with the Crab, Wine and Beer Fes­ti­val in Jan­uary. On the first Satur­day of July, Noyo Har­bor in Fort Bragg hosts the World’s Largest Salmon BBQ. In Au­gust, there’s the Black­berry Fes­ti­val in Round Val­ley, fol­lowed by the World Cham­pi­onship Abalone Cook-Off & Fes­ti­val in Oc­to­ber and a 10day Mush­room, Wine and Beer Fes­ti­val in Novem­ber, with fix­tures such as my­col­o­gist-led for­ag­ing ex­pe­di­tions to dis­cover the re­gion’s 3,000 fungi.

Of course, if you’re a fan of al fresco drink­ing and din­ing, you’ll want to come dur­ing the long sunny days be­tween spring and au­tumn to en­joy the prod­ucts of Men­do­cino’s 90 winer­ies in situ.

On this oc­ca­sion, I was lucky enough to snag a room at The Har­bor House so after a break­fast of shirred eggs, I de­cide to do just that. Head­ing in­land from Elk along the Philo Greenwood Road, in 30 min­utes the ma­jes­tic red­woods thin to re­veal rolling vis­tas of the lush vine­yards of Men­do­cino’s most lauded wine re­gion, the An­der­son Val­ley, renowned for ex­cel­lent pinots, chardon­nays and high-brow ac­co­lades. Gold­en­eye Win­ery’s 2005 Pinot Noir was served at the Obama in­au­gu­ral lun­cheon. Husch, the val­ley’s old­est win­ery, is an­other must; the list of­fered at the tast­ing room in a con­verted 1800s pony barn lists 22 wines, of which only six are dis­trib­uted na­tion­ally.

But to­day I stop at the Roed­erer Es­tate, an off­shoot of revered French Cham­pagne house Louis Roed­erer, and es­teemed as one — if not the — top pro­ducer of bub­bles in north­ern Cal­i­for­nia, to pop a cork and un­wind be­neath am­ber awnings on the back pa­tio.

As the say­ing goes, and any vint­ner will tell you this, it takes good beer to make great wine and Men­do­cino does not dis­ap­point. Be­fore craft brew­ing took the US by storm, there were al­ready many ar­ti­sanal brew­eries here, in­clud­ing the first brew­pub to open i n Cal­i­for­nia fol­low­ing the Re­peal of Pro­hi­bi­tion in 1933. The aptly named Ho­p­land Brew­ery (now Ho­p­land Tap House) quickly be­came a lo­cal land­mark along Cal­i­for­nia’s scenic High­way 101. Nearby is an­other first; the Ukiah Brew­ing Com­pany was the na­tion’s ear­li­est cer­ti­fied or­ganic brew­pub.

The An­der­son Val­ley Brew­ing Com­pany in Boonville, mean­while, is an­other pop­u­lar spot for its

pic­nic groves, horse pas­tures, and disc golf course, as well as a so­cial Tap Room where you can en­joy am­ber nec­tars on tap not found any­where else, and a les­son i n speak­ing Boontling — an elab­o­rate turn-of-the-cen­tury jar­gon patched to­gether from re­gional Ap­palachian, Span­ish, and the lo­cal Pomo In­dian ver­nac­u­lar by hop field work­ers as well as women want­ing to ex­clude “bright­lighters” (city folk) from the con­ver­sa­tion. Fewer than 100 peo­ple still speak it flu­ently but I’ve found most locals will give it their “bahlest” (best) go after a cou­ple of pints.

Nearby, the Boonville Gen­eral Store is a one-stop shop for lo­cal pro­duce, grab-and-go sal­ads and sand­wiches, and Pen­ny­royal Farm’s award-win­ning hand-crafted cheeses, although a visit to the cream­ery it­self is well-worth for a tour of the milk­ing par­lour and so­lar-pow­ered barn to meet animals be­fore en­joy­ing a cheese and wine tast­ing.

For a sub­stan­tial din­ner, The Ta­ble 128 Bistro + Bar at modern road­house Boonville Ho­tel is a good bet for prix fixe fam­ily-style Amer­i­can meals fea­tur­ing dishes that range from green bean salad with toasted wal­nuts and Pen­ny­royal blue cheese to pan-seared flat iron steak with roasted pota­toes.

To­day, fresh from my flight of Roed­erer sparkling, I opt for chef-owner Janelle Weaver’s new eatery The Be­wil­dered Pig, a col­lab­o­ra­tive ef­fort with Men­do­cino’s farm­ers, ranch­ers, for­agers, fish­er­man and artists, and or­der her “chou­croute” braised pork belly.

For­tu­nately, Men­do­cino of­fers plenty of op­por­tu­ni­ties to work off all those calo­ries. Hik­ing trails at the Point Arena-Stor­netta Cal­i­for­nia Coastal Na­tional Mon­u­ment crisscross more than 1,600 acres of rugged, windswept coast­line, where spray from waves crash­ing against the cliff faces leaves salt on your lips and i n your hair and you can whale-watch while walk­ing (or pic­nick­ing) on the bluffs. The coast­line’s myr­iad breaks make it a pop­u­lar desti­na­tion for surfers; the 130-year-old Skunk Train is a great way to jour­ney into the red­woods for a walk­ing or moun­tain bik­ing ad­ven­ture.

And when din­ner time rolls around again — or you need a snack on your way back to the city — you might want to visit Stone and Em­bers, lo­cated within The Madrones in Philo. This is where to savour smoked potato beignets, per­fectly spiced meat­balls, and the Fume Blanc pie, with fresh moz­zarella and salami topped with cal­abrian chilli, charred onion and smoked parme­san. Yes, it’s one of Kam­merer’s favourite places to grab a bite, too.

HOME TO LAUDED DIN­ING ES­TAB­LISH­MENTS AND BELOVED BY PO­ETS AND ARTISTS, MEN­DO­CINO TOWN IS THE ONLY SPOT ON THE CAL­I­FOR­NIAN COAST AMONG THE US NA­TIONAL REG­IS­TER OF HIS­TORIC PLACES

CLOCK­WISE FROM LEFT: BUILT IN 1916, HAR­BOR HOUSE INN HAS NINE ROOMS AND A TAST­ING MENU-ONLY RESTAU­RANT; THE INN IS SUR­ROUNDED BY ARED­WOOD FOR­EST; TRIL­LIUM CAFE SERVES UP LO­CAL CATCH; ENROUTE TO AL­BION RIVER INN RESTAU­RANT

FROM FAR LEFT: HUSCH WIN­ERY; NAVARRO RIVER RED­WOODS STATE PARK; THE CREAM­ERY AT PEN­NY­ROYAL FARMS; ITS VINE­YARD IS WEEDED BY BABYDOLL SHEEP; THE BE­WIL­DERED PIG SOURCES FROM MEN­DO­CINO FARM­ERS the­har­bor­hou­se­inn.com; mc­farm.org

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