Lodge Restaurant at Carmel Valley Ranch
Ranch Rules: Lodge Restaurant packs ‘sophisticated rustic’ flavor behind seemingly private gates (hint: they’re not).
Thursday, October 13, 2011
After the brief splash made by celebrity chef Michel Richard and Citronelle restaurant at Carmel Valley Ranch, the renamed Lodge Restaurant reflects the vision of the new owner, John Pritzker, a scion of the Hyatt Hotels founding family.
CVR has a new ethos, and thus has added a few more hyphens to its multi-hyphenate resort-golf and tennis club-spa-residential community-sustainable restaurant-organic farm-vineyard-honey bee farm-lavender farm-hiking trail site.
Now guests can stroll among 7,000 lavender plants to a lovely organic garden that in part supplies the restaurant. Lavender is distilled on-site and made into soap and body care products for sale at the gift shop. Some 60,000 honey bees provide the honey wherever it appears on the menu as an ingredient.
A fruit orchard is in its infancy, 4,200 Pinot Noir vines are in the ground, and coming soon: a salt house to make sea salt, and chickens to make fresh eggs. A variety of features and activities make families welcome, and pets, too. The entire experience is appealingly refined, without pretense.
The new logo features a grand old oak tree with a swing, and plays out in real life at the lodge entrance. The sight of two swingers lazily swinging on actual swings in two separate trees started a recent evening visit off with a smile.
A friend and I passed through the lodge lobby and sitting area to get to the dining room and large, U-shaped bar – big points for the expansiveness of this modern but warmly decorated space. If you like to be around a lot of people enjoying themselves, this room provides that infectious spirit, at least at peak times. The acoustics are good, but there’s a smaller, quieter dining room for those preferring a more private environment. All three seating areas make up the Lodge Restaurant, where breakfast, lunch and dinner are served daily.
Chef Tim Wood, who spent years cutting his teeth at Bernardus Lodge, calls his cuisine “sophisticated rustic.” His level of commitment to sustainability and organic foods places his kitchen in the top few in the area to be so inclined. His goal is farm-to-table same day. “Organic isn’t enough,” said Wood. “Food must taste good.”
The guarded gate at the resort entrance down the hill from the restaurant has a way of saying, “exclusivity.” The customers do look polished even in jeans or golf clothes, so keep that in mind if you want to blend in. The graying midweek crowd skews younger on weekends, when it’s a busier, more vibrant experience.
Dining at the spacious granite bar, where I planted myself on two visits, is as comfortable as it gets with ample space between cushy seats. Service was attentive and I enjoyed talking with the bartenders. The bar, too, uses local, seasonal produce in its cocktails.
The Lodge Margarita gets an A+ for its simple recipe of Herradura Blanco, Cointreau, fresh lime and agave nectar ($12). Among the red wines by the glass, I enjoyed the 2009 Smith and Hook Central Coast Cabernet ($11) – dry (thankfully anti-Robert Parker), with moderate tannins and a balance of fruit, earthy wood and chocolate.
On the dinner menu, some items change with seasonal availability but many are steady, like the popular salad Niçoise, the burger (request it if it isn’t on the menu), and chicken wings. We started with a cup of corn bisque ($5) with basil olive oil. It exemplifies Wood’s style – few ingredients that showcase a main ingredient. The bisque was sweet, deliciously creamy and, surprisingly, dairy-free.
Much of the produce comes from Swank Farms and you can sample it raw in the organic beet salad with baby lettuce, oranges, shaved fennel and feta ($13) – a nice medley of flavors. A salad I didn’t try but mention because it sounds so interesting: farmers market white peach and prosciutto with arugula and parmigiano reggiano ($14).
In the appetizer department, the well-seasoned honey-chili chicken wings with extra crispy skin are truly finger-lickin’ good ($12). The exceptional Dungeness crab cake ($14) has chunks of crab and a slight kick from roasted red pepper remoulade and shaved radish.
The best dish I tried was the line-caught Monterey Bay sea bass ($29)served with housemade gnocchi and a tomato sauce accented with fennel. I could have been on the Amalfi Coast dining on the food of gods. Appreciate this dish with as few words as possible.
On the Wednesday members night menu (it has lower priced specials and is for nonmembers, too), I was excited to try a swordfish burger on a housemade brioche bun with the signature truffle fries ($14). But it was oversalted. I didn’t send it back, so I shouldn’t complain, but that’s the kind of customer I am. I don’t like to waste food or aggravate the kitchen.
Dessert can be as down-home as warm chocolate chip cookies ($6) or as intriguing as peanut butter profiteroles ($10). The latter is an improvement on the classic cream-filled pastry topped with chocolate sauce, in this case filled with ice cream and graced by a heavenly mousse of Valrhona chocolate and peanut butter, and house roasted peanuts – large enough to share.
Mid-Carmel Valley can be pretty quiet. If you find yourself there, in need of an energizing social scene or some “ambience therapy” or a bounty of local, delicious, organic food, you’ll find all that at the nearly-all-new Carmel Valley Ranch.
LODGE RESTAURANT AT CARMEL VALLEY RANCH 1 Old Ranch Road, Carmel • 7am-10pm • 625-9500 • www.carmelvalleyranch.com.