"By peaceful waters He leads me, to revive my soul." Psalm 23
Just about 2 years ago, I was invited on a weekend media trip to visit Monterey. The invite came at an extremely difficult time in my life and I wondered if I should go at all. But in discussing the opportunity with my family and a friend who was helping us at the time, I decided to take the time out. "The next few weeks will be hard, there will be a lot of work", the friend told me, "if you can take a break and rest, I would do it."
So off I went, driving up the Pacific Coast to spend a couple of days. I have driven up and down Highway 5 (the quicker route) to the greater Bay Area countless times in my life. I know it like the proverbial back of my hand, but even though I enjoy the drive, it's not particularly inspiring scenery. The Central Coast of California, however, is another story altogether.
It's a sparsely populated, heavily forested area - filled with old growth redwoods, and jaw dropping views of the ocean from elevated heights. I stopped in for lunch at Café Kevah at Nepenthe, a quirky spot perched high above one of those vistas in Big Sur. The food was all right, although nothing extraordinary, but sitting on the deck, enjoying the above view, I felt as if I was in a whole other world. Actually, I had that feeling more than once in traveling up the Central Coast.
And then I reached the little town of Monterey, situated on the southern edge of Monterey Bay, where I was the guest of the Portola Hotel. The hotel is an environmentally friendly, Silver LEED certified space. In a move to meld the indoor and outdoor spaces, even the lobby of the hotel was built right around the trees to preserve them. Ah - and the hotel is pet friendly, too, so there were quite a few pooches warily sniffing around each other as I checked in.
General manager, Janine Chiccourat, made sure our every need was attended to.
These fabulous chocolate cookies were waiting for me up in my room:
There was a meet and greet cocktail hour a little later, and then it was off to a private dinner at Rancho Cielo, overlooking the Salinas valley. A former judge in the juvenile court system - and friend of Janine's and her husband, Dave - had begun a culinary program there to train at risk young people he had grown tired of seeing pass through his revolving door. Over dinner, they explained to us the divide in Salinas County, where on one side of "the lettuce curtain," there is tremendous wealth (for example, Carmel is the home of Clint Eastwood), but the other side was populated mostly by agricultural workers with little opportunity.
The next morning I was wakened just before dawn by the distant calls of sea lions. I found that delightful, but as we sat at dinner later that night, Dave told me other guests had complained about it. What is wrong with them - we both shook our heads, wondering.
Later in the morning Janine took us on a trip to join ag against hunger to glean in a broccoli field (even this second picking filled a very large truck which was sent off to a food pantry). I was grateful, however, that she didn't pack every minute of our weekend, as can sometimes happen on media trips. The afternoon was left free for us to wander on our own. While there are several galleries and shops just up the street from the hotel, and great wineries nearby, I gratefully relaxed and had a wonderful massage at their in house spa.
That evening we met for a beer and food pairing dinner, prepared for us by Chef Jason Giles, at Jack's Restaurant, the hotel's fine dining room. I hope you'll come back for my next post, where I chat with Jason about how he pairs beer and food, among other things.