The northern coast of California is one of the most beautiful places with rugged rocky cliffs, breathtaking views of the Pacific ocean, and idyllic small towns.
We spent a weekend away from the hustle and bustle of the Bay Area to celebrate my birthday and drove up to Mendocino, roughly over three hours north. We started off our day with an easy 5 mile hike along the coastline at Mendocino Headlands State Park where the ocean views are absolutely stunning. It was a gorgeous clear day with blue skies, a slight breeze, and miles of endless ocean scenery. Along the hike we gazed at secluded beaches, sea arches, and even hidden grottos.
After our hike we walked through the streets of charming Mendocino before driving up the coast further.
We drove up to Fort Bragg, another small coastal city known for their glass beach. From 1906-1967, all sorts of garbage including cars, batteries, bottles and cans, and appliances were discarded over the cliffs into the ocean which was a normal practice of seaside towns for centuries. After 1967, cleanup programs began to undo the years of damage from the waste. Over the next few decades, whatever was biodegradable degraded and metal items were removed. However the waves from the ocean eventually broke down all the glass and pottery which resulted in sea glass, beautiful small smooth colored pieces.
After an adventure filled day, we drove down the coast to the tiny town of Elk past Mendocino where we would be staying the night. We arrived at the Harbor House Inn, a newly remodeled inn along the coast with absolutely jaw dropping views of the Pacific ocean. Harbor House Inn has a rustic charm with a modern flair with its classic antique furnishings and fireplaces.
When we arrived we were greeted with tea that was infused with herbs and flowers from their garden, a nice touch.
After enjoying our afternoon tea we dropped off our bags in the room.
Before our dinner we had to explore the amazing inn’s grounds. Harbor House Inn has their own culinary garden and secluded pathways leading to their private beach below the inn.
What initially intrigued me to visit northern California was to dine at Harbor House Inn’s restaurant that just opened a few months ago where the chef, Matt Kammerer, was executive sous chef at the three Michelin starred Saison in San Francisco. The intimate restaurant’s dining room has magnificent ocean views of the coastal line where you can marvel at the landscape. The restaurant offers a hyper local tasting menu that’s shaped by the North coast terrain, seasonality, and weather focusing on seafood and vegetables. The menu can change daily depending on what vegetables, fruits, herbs, and flowers are cultivated from their garden and the foraged ingredients found within their tide pools.
Incredible view to say the least.
Crispy salty nori chips were piled with lightly salted crunchy cucumber and local sweet creamy uni. A nice bite to start off the tasting menu.
Canary rockfish, a fish found in the Northeast Pacific ocean, was actually caught by local fishermen within the cove below the inn. The meaty yet luscious pieces of canary rockfish were nestled on top of a refreshing vinegar gelée with bitter radish, slight heat from the jalapeño, and a touch of richness from the smoked butter drizzled table side.
Their homemade sourdough bread had a beautiful crunchy crust with a fluffy moist interior. The bread was delicious with the butter where the sea lettuce was foraged from the beach below.
The meaty slices of abalone had the most supple tender texture and the various slippery seaweeds (foraged again) added that ocean umami. Definitely my favorite dish of the night.
Summer squash from their garden still had an al dente texture with a tart vibrant preserved lemon condiment on top. A simple dish that embodies their ethos.
An intensely flavored broth was like a warm hug with pieces of tender chard stems from their garden.
The main course was a gorgeous spread but some elements felt disjointed. The red wattle, a breed of pork, was prepared two ways. The slices of pork shoulder were served on top of wild rice that lacked seasoning. However, the pork belly pieces were divine and were the most delicious meat candy you could dream of. The various pickles were good but not anything memorable. I did enjoy the basket of various fresh herbs and lettuces from their garden because each one had such a distinct intense flavor and was incredibly crisp.
A refreshing palate cleanser that just had a kiss of lavender flavor and a bit of tanginess from the honey kombucha.
A delightful medley of summer berries included blueberries, raspberries, tayberries, and loganberries (both crosses between a raspberry and blackberry but tayberries are considered larger) all arranged on a silky white chocolate cream. Summer in a bowl.
The final dessert was a citrus marigold ice cream with almost a soft serve consistency. So creamy yet light and airy.
Harbor House Inn’s tasting menu was a harmonious sequence of beautiful and delicious dishes utilizing their garden and foraged ingredients found within their cove. While I enjoyed my overall experience, they didn’t do anything special for my birthday which was a little underwhelming. Also the pacing for us was a bit too slow for our liking as we spent three hours at dinner for 10 courses. Perhaps some people enjoy a more leisurely dinner but both Tommaso and I eat fairly quickly and don’t like waiting 20 minutes or so in between courses. Otherwise service was friendly and personable and of course the ambience is one of a kind with an astounding view. Therefore my rating is a 8/10.
The following morning we had our complimentary breakfast where we both could have one dish each which we shared.
The biscuits were flaky and buttery with dried fruit. Simple and delicious. The gougères were nicely made but I wanted more intense cheese flavor.
The waffles themselves had a nice crispy yet fluffy texture and I liked the fruit butter and compote. The syrup given almost had a vinegary flavor which I didn’t care for so I asked for maple syrup instead which made the waffles better in my opinion.
I’m not a fan of eggs or mushrooms but I did have a small bite of the dish and it was fairly tasty. I know Tommaso enjoyed it a lot.
When people visit California, they typically go to San Francisco, Los Angeles, or perhaps the Wine Country. However, the northern coast of the state is a place worth visiting with endless extraordinary ocean views, numerous beautiful state parks, and even famous wineries.