iMi Travel Journal – Eat Drink & Be Merry In The Valley

bernardus-lodgeMarch 28, 2008–We picked up our rental car at 10 AM in San Francisco and followed signs to Highway 101 South. I was very eager to drive south along the California coast to see what there is to see in this part of the country. The coast was magnificent as we wound our way through small beach towns that exuded charm and an immediate sense of calm away from the big city. We finally hit Monterey after a two hour drive. It’s a lovely enclave on the water and it was lunchtime on a Friday so there were hoards of people everywhere. Don and I turned into the Old Fisherman’s Wharf and found ourselves at Sandbar & Grill overlooking Monterey Harbor. This was just what we envisioned – seafood heaven at what appeared to be a local’s hangout – even better. We each started with a cup of Clam Chowder accompanied by warm, just out of the oven sour dough rolls. Don segued to Fish & Chips while I enjoyed sautéed Pacific Sole with broccolini. An excellent Bloody Mary for me and a glass of Chardonnay for hubby helped as well in our quest for a relaxing afternoon. Finally there was no more “room in the tank” so we passed on dessert as we still had a short drive to Carmel Valley and Bernardus Lodge.

bernardus-lodge-roomBefore too long, we resumed our driving through picturesque Carmel-by-the-Sea for a quick look around then continued down the road just a bit further inland about 10 miles.

Bernardus Lodge is a quaint and inviting resort in Carmel Valley with 57 rooms and suites nestled
under a canopy of oak trees overlooking vineyards and the Santa Lucia Mountains.

The staff is highly service oriented and polished. We were warmly greeted and offered a glass of Bernardus’ Ingrid’s Vineyard Chardonnay before being escorted to room 16. This well chosen space had a gas fireplace, a huge bathroom with double sinks, oversized soaking tub and separate shower. Lavender scented products from Spa Blends adorned the vanity. The featherbed and Italian linens exuded luxury. French doors opened onto a lovely patio sitting area that overlooked the croquet lawn and mountains. Other fine features were fresh cut yellow roses in a vase on a side table as well as complimentary mini-bar treats such as bottled water, Diet Coke, Bernardus white and red wines along with cookies, chips and salsa.


Chef Cal Stamenov, Chef de Cuisine Christophe Grosjean along with Pastry Chef Ben Spungin walking through Ingrid’s Vineyard at the Bernardus Winery

Dinner on the first night of our stay at Bernardus Lodge was at the highly touted on property Marinus Restaurant. Don and I were seated in a cozy corner booth next to the roaring fireplace on a super chilly evening. Chef Cal Stamenov along with Chef de Cuisine Christophe Grosjean have created a brilliant menu allowing diners to pick and choose from whichever courses offered suit their fancy. Just to give you an idea, the choices were: Acidic, Spring, Shellfish, Fish, Classic, Meat, Cheese and Finale (dessert). From the Spring course Don and I both selected the Beet Chioggia with garden greens, feta cheese, black olive and citrus emulsion. The beets were incredibly colorful and the flavors undeniably harmonious. Don chose his second course from the Classic section of the menu – seared Foie Gras with caramelized bosc pear, almond, verjus infusion and thyme. It left him almost speechless it was so perfect. I’d say he was being kind to even give me a bite. It was fierce in texture and taste and simply presented. My second course came again from the Spring header. Local, jumbo green asparagus was served with citrus cured salmon and smoked trout caviar. Wonderful! The Meat course consisted of a free range chicken breast for me and a prime beef filet for my husband.

I must make a point to say that all ingredients at Marinus are of the highest quality available. From carefully selected organic meats, vegetables and fruits – it does make a huge difference. Earthbound Organics which many of you have no doubt seen in your local grocery is a neighbor just down the road from Bernardus Lodge. I felt like we truly savored every bite even more with this in mind.


Hand painted chocolates

Now on to dessert! Yes, this time there was room for dessert or the Finale as they call it. The portions are mercifully petite at Marinus thus allowing for such extravagance with minimum guilt involved. Don chose the Murcott Mandarin consisting of poached meringue, caramel pot de crème and mandarin sorbet. I chose Spice which consisted of a tiny carrot cupcake, coconut, and curry oil with carrot ice cream. Hats off to pastry chef Ben Spungin for what are surely the most creative dessert presentations
and tastes we have perhaps ever experienced. At the conclusion of this remarkable experience we felt satiated but not overstuffed. Our meal at Marinus was a genuine pleasure!

What a day we’ve had! Tomorrow should be a real eye-opener as well as we are attending the Lexus Grand Tasting at the First Annual Pebble Beach Food & Wine event. Please read my full review and comments about this superb occasion in my corresponding article on page 12.

March 29, 2008–Room service was punctual at 7:30 AM with a polite knock on our door. After a healthy start of oatmeal and a wild mushroom omelet we were off to Pebble Beach! It was an incredibly dreary, cold and windy day but spirits were far from dampened. Don and I entered the huge tent precisely at noon with several hundred wine enthusiasts and foodies. I was grinning like a kid in a candy store from ear to ear for 3 hours straight. Everything was so out of this world – a total sensory overload…loved it, loved it!


Hydrotherapy tub

March 30, 2008–With any luck this would be a day of total rest and relaxation. A visit to The Spa at Bernardus Lodge was in order to cap off our visit properly. Don signed up for a Deep Tissue Massage – 80 minutes should lull him into that carefree state that so often escapes him these busy days. I couldn’t wait for my Touch of Hawaii treatment. I entered the Vichy Steam room as it was working at full capacity with the unmistakable scent of eucalyptus wafting through the air. Hawaiian music played in the background which added a distinct authenticity to the treatment. It consisted of a honey mango and ginger sea salt scrub followed by a traditional Lomilomi massage. This impressive spa offeres a wide array of facials, body treatments and massage options. Adding to its rustic charm were steam and sauna rooms, a heated outdoor lap pool and a warming room complete with crackling fireplace, comfy chairs, magazines, and tea service. Lunch was enjoyed at Wickets which is Bernardus’ casual dining venue. The food was extra special across the board at this Mobil Four Star jewel. Service is precise and fluid. It was an absolute treat to spend 3 nights here and I highly recommend it to our friends and colleagues, especially if Pebble Beach is sold out!

March 31, 2008–We were on the road by 7:45 AM for the drive from Carmel Valley to the San Jose Airport. Delta Airlines has one direct flight each day to Atlanta and I had high hopes for no drama or delays! It was a memorable long weekend with my fun loving husband on the West Coast but we’re ready to roll…back to Georgia and an exquisitely green
spring season.