Any trip to California entails eating extremely well. With its unmatched agricultural bounty, stellar wine industry and easy-to-access ocean, California never fails to amaze me with the diversity, style and excellence of its restaurants. Here are those we most enjoyed on this trip.
We visited the restaurant at this small property during our stay at The Heritage House Resort, which is just three minutes away. A convivial spot with a bar that boasts 100-plus whiskeys, the restaurant offers fine fare that includes the wonderfully comforting seared-then-braised chicken with wild mushrooms, carrots, onions and garlic all in a rich Madeira sauce.
Albion River Inn
3790 North Highway 1, Albion. Tel. (707) 937-1919
This restaurant is an exception to the prevailing casual atmosphere of Anderson Valley. The menu changes regularly, but look for such starters as seared rare tuna crusted with peppercorns and mustard and served with a parsley purée and main courses like Roundman’s Smokehouse grilled double-cut porterhouse pork chop.
The Bewildered Pig
1810 Highway 128, Philo. Tel. (707) 895-2088
Bravas has garnered a dedicated following for its Spanish-influenced tapas menu. In a casual, comfortable setting, we enjoyed a delicious meal of paper-thin Ibérico ham; whole Gulf shrimp roasted with paprika, salt and pepper; and the satisfying fideuà, a crisp pasta cake with Dungeness crab. We paired our food with some of the 20 sherries on the list.
Bravas Bar de Tapas
420 Center Street, Healdsburg. Tel. (707) 433-7700
I have admired this Mendocino classic for many years, so when I heard that new owners had bought the café in late 2016, I made it a point to visit. Any concerns I might have had were dispelled by finding the place as charming as it has always been, with white wainscoting, green-blue walls and food as appealing as ever. We began with a superb black bean soup, and then followed with plump Dungeness crab cakes in a tangy scallion vinaigrette.
961 Ukiah Street, Mendocino. Tel. (707) 937-5614
We have passed this seaside restaurant on previous trips through Jenner. It looks like a roadhouse outside; inside, it is a casual but congenial spot with fantastic views of the Pacific at the egress of the Russian River and delicious food. We went with the season, enjoying a creamy, flavorsome wild-mushroom soup and a Dungeness-lobster cake in a truffle cream sauce.
11048 Highway 1, Jenner. Tel. (707) 865-2484
For the coastal segment of our Northern California trip, several people told us to go to this restaurant when we reached Anderson Valley. The Little Gem Salad to start had the crunch of roasted seeds and the extra punch of Pennyroyal Farm goat cheese. And the Grandpa John pizza, right from the woodburning oven, came with a thin, crisp crust and a topping of tomato sauce, onion, garlic, olives, mushrooms and fresh mozzarella.
Stone and Embers
9000 Highway 128, Philo. Tel. (707) 895-3471
For a long time, the only real restaurant in Anderson Valley was in The Boonville Hotel. The hotel now belongs to Johnny Schmitt, whose family were the original owners of Napa Valley’s renowned French Laundry. The hotel isn’t quite a Harper property, charming as it is, but the restaurant is first-rate. The set-menu prix fixe meals are served family style. We loved our slow-roasted pork posole with Nora peppers, guajillo chile, red cabbage, cilantro, avocado, lime and toasted pumpkin seeds. And we ended with a superb coconut flan. The wine list stresses local Pinot Noirs.
14050 Highway 128, Boonville. Tel. (707) 895-2210
New since our last visit to Mendocino, this proved a real find. It is a small space on the ground floor of a red-doored house, with a fireplace and, in good weather, a deck with ocean views. Hearty contemporary fare makes up the menu, with starters such as the caramelized-onion-and-goat-cheese tart and mains like the grilled pork chop with gnocchi, butternut squash, white beans, sun-dried tomatoes, rosemary and an apple cider reduction.
10390 Kasten Street, Mendocino. Tel. (707) 937-3200
I had high hopes for Valette from my pre-trip research, and our experience justified them. Ensconced in a corner space just opposite SingleThread Farms, the handsome restaurant with a brick interior and white tablecloths serves a menu of locally sourced ingredients. We enjoyed a starter of house-made prosciutto with burrata cheese and a delicious main of arugula-crusted halibut with candied-onion vinaigrette, smoked Duroc coppa and pea shoots.
344 Center Street, Healdsburg. Tel. (707) 473-0946
Some said this was the one Mendocino-area restaurant we had to try. Others rejected the idea outright. Certainly the setting is not going to inspire rapture. The tiny spot is tucked in next to the post office in Little River. But I thought the food — all the seafood is local and wild — well worth the visit. We began our lunch with a wonderful smoked-seafood chowder, then relished the crisp local rock cod with a Thai curry sauce and jasmine rice.
7750 North Highway 1, Little River. Tel. (707) 937-3055