Archive | July, 2013

Honeymoon: Mendocino, CA – Little River Inn

31 Jul

A few weeks before leaving for the honeymoon, we made a last minute change and trimmed the first day from our wine country hotel stay to spend a night between Eureka and Sonoma in Mendocino, CA.  We heard it was a beautiful town and worth a stop.  It was also a bit of an intermediary on the drive from Eureka, so we decided to check it out. Turns out, Mendocino is beautiful. It’s a artsy, hippie town built into the side of the ocean.  We were in town after most of the shops closed, but we could easily see the charm.  We checked out a few restaurants in town, but nothing tickled our fancy, so we went back to our inn and decided to try the restaurant there.

The Little River Inn as a place to stay was quite lovely.  Our room had a great view of the ocean and we enjoyed our adirondack chairs with a bottle of wine later that night.

The restaurant itself was listed as having an ocean view (on a 3rd party website, so not the inn’s fault)… but it didn’t. It looked onto a very nice garden, however.


They pride themselves on being a family run inn and restaurant, with one of the owners cooking in the kitchen.


As soon as we sat down and perused the menu, I informed our waitress that I had an allergy to peppers and was interested in a fish/sea food dish (since we were right on the water). She went to the kitchen and came back to inform me that there were really only 2 fish dishes that I could have: the fish and chips and the pine nut crusted salmon. While not a huge fan of salmon, I had been liking the Pacific Northwest salmons and I LOVE pine nuts, so I opted for that. It also came with spinach puree, parmesan polenta and basil coulis which all sounded great.

A few minutes later, the waitress came out to inform me that the spinach puree actually had some peppers in it, so I changed that to broccolini instead.  She offered “plain?”  And I responded that was fine (but finding it peculiar that she didn’t offer any other way other than “plain.”)

Out came some parker house rolls, which were decent but needed some salt.


Mike and I split the wedge salad, which the restaurant kindly split for us (always tough to cut a wedge at the table to split).  The bacon on this was fantastic and a really nice blue cheese dressing.



Mike got the flat iron steak with green peppercorn Diane sauce, crispy red onions,smashed red potatoes and green beans almondine.  It smelled great and tasted great.  Nice char and the sauce was really good.



But then mine came out…


My pine nut crusted salmon with polenta, spinach puree and basil coulis. Um…

As soon as I looked at it, I asked the waitress what happened. She informed me that there were peppers and paprika in “everything.” I asked her why she didn’t inform me of that before serving it (like she did the spinach) and why she told me at the beginning that this was a safe dish.

Her response: “Well the kitchen didn’t tell me until now.”

So I tried to smile and began to dig in. It was plain (very plain) salmon with plain (very plain) polenta and plain (very plain) broccolini. At least the last one was expected.

I got really angry at this moment. I mean COME ON… a little white wine? A little lemon? Maybe a little SALT? SOMETHING?!?!


And no warning.

This was not okay.

So I called over the waitress and she once again tried to defend herself (and only herself) that she wasn’t told until the end. So I nicely informed her that this dish was listed as a $29 dish, but since I didn’t receive most of the items on the menu, I didn’t expect to pay the full price.  She immediately said she would get a manager.

And then I got red. (Really red… Mike says).

I was mad.

Mistakes happen.


I’d rather they serve me plain things than things with peppers all over them, just as a safety, but this was still completely inappropriate service. If they informed me this is how it would have been served, I would have gotten something else. Anything else.

But then the manager came over and immediately apologized, said there were no excuses at all, and mentioned that when he saw it come out he thought it looked pretty bad as well.  He said he was going to comp the dish entirely and would like to offer us a dessert on the house in the hope that we would try them again.

And you know what… I would.

I was so mad at first but he immediately said all the right things. Mistakes happen, but it’s about how you react to it. And this was the right reaction (if not above and beyond).  I always feel bad when comps happen at restaurants (I know it costs the owners money), but in the end, if mistakes happen, reactions matter.  They matter more than the mistakes. And this mistake was entirely avoidable had someone just informed me ahead of time and given me an option.

As for the dessert, we decided to take it back to our room, which I’m sure led the restaurant to scramble to figure out a way to package their warm Olallieberry Cobbler with ice cream “to go.” But they did so and this was absolutely awesome.  It reminded me of a pop tart but with fresh, rich, layered flavors.

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It’s a bit hard to give Little River Inn a fair review, but if I take out the salmon dish all together, everything else was great.  So based on that, and on the fact that the manager went above and beyond when such an egregious mistake was made in the kitchen, I can recommend this restaurant in Mendocino quite highly.

Total Nom Points: 6.5 out of 10

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Honeymoon: Eureka, CA – Carter House Inn

29 Jul

Our drive from Bend, OR to Eureka, CA was one of the longest on the road.  We drove through some beautiful country, however, including Crater Lake (where we saw a lot of wildlife and the absolutely stunning view before it got totally covered by fog), the Red Woods (Stout Grove is amazing and I hugged a whole lot of big trees), stopped at some wineries, and saw an entire herd of elk walk through an RV park!

We had decided to stay in Eureka because it’s the only major city on the map between Crater Lake and Northern California Wine Country/Mendocino (the next step).  We heard Eureka wasn’t much to look at, but I heard that there is a great B&B in town that is a collection of old Victorian houses near the beach, Carter House Inn.

Well… “not much to look at” translated to a city filled with very dirty, very obviously drugged out homeless people wandering the streets.  I think we came at the wrong time on the wrong day, but there was an abandoned building across from the inn where we saw a whole lot of people wander into right around sunset.  It was… concerning… but we tried to put on our NYC brave faces and just kept to the inn (which was absolutely lovely on the inside).

I don’t know if we missed the good part of the town, or if we came at a strange wrong time, or if it really is just that awful. But it was pretty awful.  I actually felt bad for the town. It looks like something that was beautiful at one point, but it just fell into a bad state.  If someone with a bit of money invested in it, I’m sure those old Victorians and the beach would be wonderful.  But that just isn’t the position that Eureka is in these days.

The only highly rated restaurant in Eureka was actually in the inn itself, and after hours on the road, we were perfectly happy to eat at their Restaurant 301.


We had some decent local wine as we perused the menu. I was pretty surprised to see the prices, which seemed awfully high for this beat up town.


And then out came an amuse, which was a puff pastry with mushrooms and caviar.


Not bad.


They had lovely salt on the table, including a nicely flavored pink salt.


There were local oysters on the menu, and when we asked, we were told there were 5 left. So we ordered all of them. Unfortunately, there were 2 of us, and we are both very equitable people so we wound up with 1 left on the table and a stand-off. Our waiter advised we rock-paper-scissor for them and that seemed as equitable as anything, so I threw paper and Mike through rocks and I happily downed the final oyster.


Mike chose the Porcini Fettuccine with Roasted Garlic & Red Pepper, Little River Farms Arugula, Rosemary Cream & Leek.  I couldn’t try it due to the peppers, but Mike said it was just okay.


I went with the Crispy Duck Leg Confit (!) which came with Sweet Potato Ginger Gratin, Braised Napa Cabbage & Natural Jus. This was pretty good. The sweet potato and ginger gratin was actually the highlight.  It had really great flavor.  The confit wasn’t bad.  Decent flavor, but the skin was lacking in crispiness. Which is sad since they actually called it “crispy” in the description.


We were given little truffles at the end which were pretty good.


I don’t know… this meal was just okay.  It seemed like they had some really great ideas but were lacking a wee bit in the execution.  It was certainly overpriced for how good it tasted, though if they could fix the execution and make it as good as it could be, it could have worked. Sadly, it just didn’t this time around.

And the breakfast the next morning was okay.  Nothing overly special and certainly not the “foodie destination” we had read it was.  Not even good enough for me to take a picture of.  So my best advice… find somewhere else, anywhere else to stop besides Eureka, CA.

Total Nom Points: 5.5 out of 10



Restaurant Week Summer 2013: L’Ecole at the French Culinary Institute

28 Jul

On the same day I went to Ai Fiori for lunch, we went to try L’Ecole for dinner. (I am insanely thankful for my charmed life).

L’Ecole is part of the French Culinary Institute and where students of The International Culinary Center’s culinary arts program get real life experience.


We immediately noticed that they were advertising “The Rolls-Royce of Lobsters” with a special offering of (apparently very hard to come by) Fourchu lobsters that are grown in a very cold area near Nova Scotia. We Googled it and found many articles raving about how it’s the best lobster you can find.  As Maine lobster snobs, we were curious.  (We find that for some reason, the moment lobsters cross the Maine border, they just aren’t as good. I cannot explain it, but go to Maine and get a lobster bake from a shack off the water, probably for less than $20, and I would bet you would agree that it’s better than any of the best lobster you’ve had in a NYC fine dining establishment).


Inside the restaurant it is bright and modern.


With some beautiful photography that certainly shows a love for food preparation.


The bread was absolutely delicious and tasted very fresh.



The Restaurant Week menu was the only option (many restaurants have their regular menu in addition to the Restaurant Week Menu), but they included special items with an incremental charge.  The main three-course RW menu is $38, and there was the option to also go with that and a wine pairing for $60.50.  You could also go with four courses for $53 or $83 with the wine pairings.  They told us early on that the wine pairings are 3, 3 ounce pours, equaling about a single glass of wine by the end.  Typically, it’s worth it at most places since they give you great wines. (When it’s not Restaurant Week, they feature a prix-fixe dinner for $44)

Our amuse-bouche was a chilled pea soup with creme freche.  This was a beautiful pea flavor and a very nice first taste.  I’ve noticed a huge glut of pea soup as amuse-bouche recently.


We chose to split the wine pairings with his Restaurant Week selection. Our first wine was a rose and was so-so.


Mike chose the sauteed stuffed calamari. This had pork and rice filling, parsley sauce, radishes, and grape tomatoes.  This dish was really well prepared with a great combination of flavors.  The stuffing in the calamari was somehow comfort food without being heavy.  And the dressing was a nice compliment to the main dish.


There was a crab and roasted corn bread pudding on the menu that sounded sensational, however, they were out of it. So I went with my second choice, creamy corn bisque.  This came with black peppered bacon and tarragon beurre blanc.  The corn flavor in this dish was really strong.  Corn can be hit or miss, but this was obviously made from corn that was at the peak of flavor.  And the cream was a really nice compliment but wasn’t too heavy.


Our second wine was a Malbec and again, it was so-so.  Both wines somehow missed the mark and were just blah.


Mike’s entree was the Grilled Hanger Steak Vidalia Onion Rings, Creamless “ Creamed ” Corn, and Sauce Choron which came with a $7 surcharge on top of the prix-fixe.


I couldn’t try it since there were peppers (I’m allergic) but Mike said it was pretty good.  He said it was tasty but probably not worth paying the up-charge.


I had to try to the special lobster. I just couldn’t resist. And I love the simple preparation of a steamed lobster.


The presentation looked nice with the entire lobster cracked open and displayed.


But someone forgot to consider that the innards (which you can’t eat and don’t taste very good) would leak out all over the plate.  And since there was a small amount of water from boiling the lobster on the plate, my plate was suddenly flooded with gross juices.

And the lobster itself? Ehhhh. It tasted kind of bland.  Hardly lobster-y at all.  I’ve had much better lobster elsewhere and it sure wasn’t billed as a “Rolls Royce.” If this is what a Rolls is like, I’ll stick to Toyotas.



The fries that came with the lobster were nice; crispy on the outside and good potato flavor on the inside.  The lettuce and tomatoes were incredibly well dressed and a surprising highlight of the meal.


For dessert, I got the creme brulee.  It was very good but I’ve had better elsewhere. The top was a bit thicker than it should have been so it didn’t have the delicateness that makes creme brulee so great.


Mike chose the goat cheese cherry turnover.  This was decent but nothing special.


We were given cookies on the way out and they were soft and packed with flavor.  Another surprise highlight.


When we checked in on FourSquare, the Special at the restaurant was a baguette.  We opted to take them on our way out and enjoyed giving one away and making the other into nice garlic bread.


Overall, this meal was very hit or miss.  Both of our apps were great, both of our entrees were so-so (and an up-charge) with the lobster being very disappointing. The desserts were also just okay.  I wonder what it’s like when it’s not Restaurant Week, but I would choose many other places besides L’Ecole for Restaurant Week.

Total Nom Points: 6.5 out of 10

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