Monday, October 5, 2009

NorCal 2009, Day Four: Carmel Valley and Big Sur

After a few days on the run – working, shopping, cooking and bopping around town – this was our day to relax and truly enjoy Monterey before heading north to San Fran.

Day 4 AM: Carmel Valley.

On to another hike, full entourage this time, to burn off the previous night’s celebrations of the Jewish New Year. Heading south from Monterey toward Carmel by the Sea, a quick turn east took us inland into the low mountains of the Carmel Valley and through the heart of one of the less heralded areas of California’s northern Central Coast vineyards. Not long after spying Bernardus Lodge nestled in the hills to the north, we turned off the main road, bypassed the state park entrance, and headed for a trailhead that promised lighter crowds and the possibility of more than a little elevation gain. Our outbound ascent led us through old redwood groves, scarred by decades of wildfire damage, while the return descent revealed beautiful vistas and the occasional glimpse of late morning fog rolling over the hilltops.

Day 4 PM: Big Sur.

Having missed out on any wildlife sightings on our morning hike, we headed to what our hosts refer to as Condor point –a particular scenic overlook along CA Coastal Highway 1 that they’ve found a near foolproof spot for California Condor sightings. Sur(e) enough, within five minutes or so of our arrival the big birds started to arrive. A red-tailed hawk, several turkey buzzards and then, not long after, the anticipated Condor. A severely endangered species, rescued from the brink of extinction through captive breeding programs, the California Condor is North America’s largest land-dwelling bird. A beauty it’s not but unmistakable it is, dwarfing the other birds of prey and bowing the top of the full grown tree on which it landed. Birdspotting mission accomplished, we lingered cliffside, taking in the breathtaking views of the Big Sur coastline and enjoying the warming setting of the sun.

After all the condor watching, steep trail hiking, whale sighting hoping and twisty road driving? Dinner, of course. Big Sur Bakery’s roadside location – sharing a parking lot with a gas station and its structure with a collection of arsty-craftsy galleries – makes it the kind of place most pass by without a second thought, assuming it’s just another tourist trap or basic greasy spoon. Too bad, as there’s seriously satisfying food to be had. A bakery by morning, BSB opens its doors wider at night to become a full-on country inn, with a menu that focuses on seasonal California cuisine and a daily selection of wood oven pizzas.

Though I’m told the wood grilled steak is damn good, the $35 price tag steered me more toward other options, while our waitress steered me on to the house specialty, the meatball pizza. Well seasoned and ridiculously amply spread meatball slices, fresh mozz and judiciously applied, tangy tomato sauce made for a fun meal, just right to cap off our day. Just a touch more spring and yeastiness to the crust and it would have been dead on.

To drink? Affligem blond with our appetizers, then a bottle of Beckmen Vineyards 2007 Santa Ynez Valley “Cuvée le Bec” red with the ‘za, a good deal at only $32/bottle on the rather sparse wine list. It’s a Rhone-style blend I’ve sold for ages yet one I hardly ever drink for pleasure. In tastings over the last few years, I’ve noticed it getting darker and darker, oakier and oakier, to the point where I’d nearly written it off in spite of the fact that I kind of want to like it (it’s estate grown and biodynamically farmed after all). On this night, though, it was tasting surprisingly good. Fresh, not too big, well-defined fruit, not overtly manipulated and, most surprisingly, barely oaky at all. Not what I’d remembered. So yes, I actually do drink and enjoy Cali wine once in a while. When in California....

Next up: on to SF.

Big Sur Bakery
47540 Highway 1
Big Sur, CA 93920
(831) 667-0520
Big Sur Bakery & Restaurant on Urbanspoon


Robear said...

Would love to hear more about Big Sur Bakery. First read about their breakfast pizza in the NYT; bought their book just last month. Very "California". I so appreciate, however, the interconnectedness of their suppliers and employees. It reminds me a little of Kennett.

David McDuff said...

Salut, Robear.

I can see the comparison to Kennett (I presume you mean TT) in the enthusiasm of the staff and organic harmony of the restaurant. However, that connection was less apparent on the menu than it may be in the cook book. I was surprised to find that the beef and lamb on the menu was being sourced from Texas rather than from a local farm (yes, there are cattle ranches on the hillsides along Route 1 in and near Big Sur).

That said, it's still a place I'd very much return to and that I think you'd very much enjoy should you ever be in the area. In fact, it's very much worth an excursion from anywhere in the Monterey Bay and/or Carmel Valley region.

Little_Jewford said...

While still sits on top of my Monterey area food experiences, my opinion is still evolving and I look forward to catching some of the truly seasonal seasonal fair outside of what I've had from the late summer offerings (even some of the ingredients like local mackerel, which are more a happenstance around here then a reliable seasonal catch). I too was disappointment that the lamb wasn't local, but I don't think its a deal breaker.

Robear, FYI, one of the local suppliers found in the book, Justin Severino, charcuterie expert extraordinaire, is now located less then 3 hours from you:

Robear said...

LJ, thanks for the heads up! This is why I love MCDF&WT! In particular, I thought the Big Sur book was unique in how they devoted so much space to the people who provide their product. It's nice to have that direct contact with people who contribute a significant part of the overall experience.

RE: Wine Gift; "White wine with Phish, Red whine with meet- well you get the idea...and have nice day!"

David McDuff said...

Robear, thanks for the lovin!

And WGO, thanks for the SPAM. Always a pressure. If Robear hadn't already made reference to it, your comment would be in the trash can right now.

David McDuff said...

And that comment is in the trash, now, after doing a little clean-up without remembering/noticing the reference....

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