A third-pounder as big as a seal, Treebones reveries Cambria discoveries and Highway 1 turned silver.
Thursday, February 28, 2013
Even with the car zipping down the plunging curves of Highway 1 at 70, the moonlight seems to stop everything. As its entire saucer of light spills over the edges and rocks and pines of the Friday night, all is silver and moonroof-mandatory.
It’s a touch of timelessness in a south-south-coast pilgrimage with many more on the way. First, though, came the classics: Highway 1 curves in golden-hour glory, Nepenthe’s South Coast margaritas at sunset and the Ambrosia burger ($14.50) and bacon Brussels ($11.50) behind it (667-2345).
Next the lofty: The asparagus-avocado-tempura Carlito’s Roll ($18) floating on the yurt-rimmed edge of Pacific Valley at Treebones (805-927-2390), the most inspired sushi setting in the area, and divine cheesecake mousse ($9) that hails from next door Wild Coast Restaurant – plus the easy presence of a Handy family member (Mike this time) telling stories of hitchhikers sleeping in the middle of Highway 1.
By the time Cambria appears in the headlights you’re far enough away – two-and-a-half hours-ish – to escape, treading territory unexplored enough to add adventure, but close enough to do it well within a short weekend.
In Cambria and its own Carmel-Pacific Grove-Morro Bay hybrid vibe that means pasture style coastal hiking at Fiscalini Ranch then a leap 12 minutes north to the best viewing area for the twice-a-year funk fest that is elephant seal beach.
The scene could steal an appetite and melt a heart. Car-sized fugly males protecting harems of females and silkier pups – burping and flopping and barking and farting as the pups grow big enough to embark on journeys that can last four months and reach 5,000 feet deep.
Just seven miles south any amended appetite is sent soaring by the seductive smells and small chalkboards at saloon-style Sebastian’s Store (805-927-3307) hidden in the eucalyptus shadows beneath Hearst Castle. They offer something far more tantalizing than William Randolph’s opulent pools, like the Hearst beef meatloaf with bacon and cheddar ($8.95), the big Big Sur veggie ($7.95) and the melted Swiss pastrami ($9.95). And magic numbers that are fractions: 1/4-, 1/3 – and 1/2-pound burgers made with the meat grassfed right up the meadow, plus toppings like ham steak and grilled onion totaling 12, and six cheeses.
Only unlike the pools, here you get to dive in. In fact, a bathing suit – or a raincoat – could help. This character-rich spot was here long before manic food TV fetishized burgers, and this sucker is old-school. With beautiful bacon, fried egg, avocado and jalapeño jack, ours is also two bites tall, perfect-medium – enough for two and 11 napkins.
Here even the downside has upside: The line gets so long you think they’ll produce a cow prod, but it shares the space with a beautiful Hearst Ranch wine tasting bar staffed with enthused guides and nice wines like a deep Temperanillo ($28), so you can sip in line, and later smuggle the bottle to the nearby pier for beach vistas that evoke Pebble and winds borrowed from Patagonia.
Back in Cambria the one “food and drug” in town has five kinds of hearing aid batteries, but there is hip and crafty to be had at new Cambria Ale House (805-395-1295) and Black Cat Bistro (805-927-1600), where Chef Deborah Scarborough does superb mushroom-sage gnocchi ($10) and Cayucos Ocean Rose abalone ($15).
Still more awaits: Billiards and live rock at old-world Mozzi’s, rainbow moonstone sleuthing, and quick Pinot paradise at Windward Winery and atmospheric Artisan lunch on the way back over to the 101 north.
It’s a trip that stretches the south coast a little further, and one that self-perpetuates. I go for the personalities, the solitude, the new discoveries, the occasional monarch and the seahawk flying by. I come back to take a nap.
• Share a pint of blood, keep the karma and score a pint of Baskin Robbins ice cream during Community Hospital’s St. Patrick’s Day Blood Drive come March 4-15, 625-4814.
• Casa Amigos (from George Clooney), Siete Leguas, Don Pilar and Pueblo Viejo star at latest Lopez Cantina tequila tasting; $15 presale, 869-2752.
• The much-anticipated Beach House at Lovers Point has its executive chef, Christopher Groves, who has logged significant time at some place called the Sardine Factory and Firok Shield’s Bistro Beaujolais, among other places.
• Carmel Bar and Grill (512-3047) is live. Owner Sam Martinez isn’t the Martinez of Chicano All-Stars – though that one has performed there – but he’s using the old Hola/Thunderbird space in the Barnyard to do atypical promotions for Carmel: Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays there are 25 cent wings/$2 beers, half-off apps and $5 rehab drinks and a DJ, respectively.
• Eighth annual International Flavors of Marina, one of the best value food-wine-beer tasting events of the season, is Thursday, March 14, at The Carpenter’s Union Hall. Forty bucks (or $35 now) translates to goods from 20-plus purveyors and a nice lineup of local wines and brews, 1-855-420-4448 or www.marinachamber.com.
•Who wants to go halvesies on a Thai restaurant in Watsonville near the Target shopping center? Call 251-4449.
•The next incarnation of Independent Marketplace in Sand City’s first Thursday events: fewer vendors and folks, more intimacy and selectivity, aka the first mini indy (I should trademark that). The plan: Next Thursday, March 7, at 4pm, farmie-foodies can come for free public market until 6pm with around a half dozen vendors followed by $25 dinner ($10 for kids and $22.50 students, military and with City of the Sand residents) until 75 tix get gobbled up.
• “Life’s under no obligation,” Margaret Mitchell said, “to give us what we expect.”