Archive for August, 2004

Big Sur and The Post Ranch Inn

Thursday, August 19th, 2004

Big Sur Coastline

Big Sur Coastline

I am constantly amazed by the ocean. This massive body of water harnesses incredible amounts of energy. I find it fascinating to watch waves form seemingly out of nowhere, at times reaching heights of over ten feet. They then unleash their power and come crashing onto shore, sounding almost like thunder. Although the ocean may appear violent, as waves break onto the sand, it is rather tame compared to those that explode onto rocky coasts. Black jagged rocks rise 20 feet out of the sand, and the waves crack up against these spires spraying seawater in every direction. The gnarly rock cliffs provide an awe-inspiring backdrop to the fearsome ocean, and it happens to be one of the most beautiful scenes in nature…welcome to Big Sur.

Along the California coast, just south of the Monterey peninsula, is the area best known as Big Sur. It’s a combination of beaches, mountains, and hundreds of acres of National Park that encompasses some of the most beautiful scenery in the world. The shoreline is extremely rough, a real contrast to those flat, wide open beaches of southern California. In Big Sur, the mountains seem to rise right from the sea. These craggy cliffs form a dramatic segue to the Pacific Ocean. Along this coastline are a few inlets with spectacular small beaches. These tiny enclaves are never crowded because they can only be reached on foot – yet this remoteness only adds to their beauty. Big Sur is a nature lover’s paradise; a magnificent collection of mountains, canyons, beaches, waterfalls, and all types of wildlife and plants.

Experiencing Big Sur can be achieved on anyone’s budget. There are many campgrounds and RV parks for those wanting to get closest to nature. Quaint bed & breakfasts are available for those that prefer charming accommodations. And for a true mind-blowing experience, I recommend the Post Ranch Inn – perhaps my favorite resort in the entire world.

The Post Ranch Inn is understated elegance that cohabitates with the environment. It is a luxury resort with about 30 rooms, which were built with wood exteriors to blend into the surrounding redwoods and evergreens. Several rooms are built as tree houses, but I assure you they are a little more elegant than the tree houses we played in as children. Inside, the rooms are constructed of natural woods, stone floors, and large glass windows and doors. The rooms that face the ocean are designed so that you see no other rooms on the property – it is just you, a few deer, the cliffs, and the ocean. There is also a small stone terrace outside with a couple of Adirondack chairs. The furnishings in the room are simple, sleek, and of top quality. The marble bathroom is luxurious and warm with a huge slate tub. Each room has a large stone fireplace that roars on those chilly nights. Although there is a full spa at the resort, you may want to take full advantage of the fireplace and have a nightly massage in your room.

A Deer Grazing

A Deer Grazing

Besides a top-notch spa, Post Ranch has a few other enriching activities: morning yoga, guided nature walks with extensive discussions on the local plant life, and stargazing with the resident astronomer. The grounds are stunning; sculpture and reflecting ponds dot the landscape. There is also an infinity pool perched on the edge of a cliff with an unobstructed view of this awesome coastline. Hot tubs are also available, a nice amenity to soothe your aching muscles.

The Post Ranch Inn is a superb resort, and their restaurant, Sierra Mar, will delight any culinary aficionado. Their chef Craig von Foerster has been with Sierra Mar since 1994, and in 2003 the restaurant received the highest rating from Zagat for cuisine in California. The restaurant serves a 4-course prix fixed meal of organic/seasonal fare. A sample meal might include California red abalone with tomato-basil brown butter sauce to start; followed by a wild mushroom soup with nutmeg crème fraise; an entrée of pan roasted pheasant breast with potato puree and foie gras gravy; and for dessert a chocolate napoleon with espresso sauce.

Yucca Plant

Yucca Plant

The wine list is every bit as impressive as the food. The cellar has 22, 000 bottles with over 4, 000 selections. Wine connoisseurs will be in heaven. Everything is so good, it is hard not to over-imbibe. But the good news is that you don’t need to feel guilty, just get out and enjoy the outdoors in the morning.

The Ventana Wilderness of Big Sur straddles the Santa Lucia Mountains providing hundreds of miles of marked hiking trails for every level hiker. Sharp-crested ridges separate V-shaped valleys providing miles of spectacular scenery. These hikes vary greatly, from strenuous mountaintop treks to a leisurely stroll trough the redwoods just enjoying the fresh air. Vertical walled canyons and streams provide beautiful points of interest along the hikes. And if you have interest in the flora, you will see everything from cactus to wildflowers. Big Sur is also home to abundant wildlife. Bald eagles and condors are two truly majestic birds that call these mountains home.

The short hike to Pfiffer Falls is particularly rewarding, and it is easy enough for all to enjoy. It is only 1.4 miles round-trip over rather flat terrain. The trail meanders through a redwood grove and ends at a 60 foot waterfall. My favorite trek in Big Sur however, was on horseback. A guide takes you through a redwood forest, in which trees soar 50 feet into the air. The light is filtered by these skyscrapers providing a very serene ambiance. It was interesting to see evidence of several forest fires on our journey, and learn how this can actually help the forest by clearing out the existing brush and providing fertile soil for new plants. After a couple of miles the landscape changes, we exit the redwoods and enter a mix of sage brush and wild grasses, none reaching a height of over 4 feet. The sun is now blaring, you can smell the sea air, and hear the circling seagulls. Finally we reach the crest of a hill, and see a long sand beach 20 feet below us. Wow! The horses follow a path down to the beach and then prance along the water’s edge. The ride was so unbelievable because it encompassed so much diversity: the redwoods, diverse foliage, wildlife, and the ocean.

The Sun Sets on Big Sur

The Sun Sets on Big Sur

Although the hiking and horseback riding are tremendous, a must adventure is driving your car north on Highway One. It is a two lane road with hairpin turns that winds along the coastline offering dramatic views around every bend. Twenty six miles north of Big Sur Valley is the city of Carmel, which is just a few miles from Pebble Beach and the famous “17 mile drive”. Pebble Beach may be the most spectacular golf course in the country, and is a must for anyone that enjoys playing a round. 17 mile drive is breathtaking, with my favorite site being the famed Lone Cypress, perhaps the most popular tree ever painted. The scenery along this route is beautiful, and the wildlife on the rocks in the ocean is abundant: pelicans, sea otters, seals, and sea lions. After this drive, Carmel offers a nice change of pace. It is a picturesque town filled with boutiques, craft shops, many exquisite art galleries, and a wide selection of fine restaurants.

Big Sur is a sensational vacation destination because it offers a bit of something for everyone. It will offer you endless hours of the most intoxicating landscape imaginable. I have tried to capture the beauty of Big Sur in pictures, but the only way to fully appreciate all it has to offer is to visit in person. Perhaps it will become your favorite place too!

Five Places to Visit this August

Wednesday, August 18th, 2004

September and October are great months to travel because the heat subsides and the crowds dissipate. If you can’t visit Big Sur, then perhaps you will find one of these destinations more convenient.

Nantucket,
a tiny island off the coast of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, is a quaint community with cobblestone streets and beautiful beaches. After Labor Day weekend almost all of the summer visitors will leave, but the charm remains. Be sure to visit The Chanticleer for dinner, you will not be disappointed.
Napa Valley, California,
the premiere wine region in the United States is always fun, but there is a special buzz around harvest time.
Stowe, Vermont
is a pretty New England town best known as a ski resort. It is also a great area to view the fall foliage.
Bordeaux, France
is another great region to visit during harvest, and my favorite town is St. Emilion. The Medoc marathon, which is run every September, is a fun event adding additional color to the region. It is more like a carnival than a running race, with many runners wearing costumes. Wine is offered every mile, oysters and pate are also served, and wine parties are everywhere.
Charleston, South Carolina
is a perfect way to experience Southern hospitality. The architecture is amazing, the plantations are fascinating, and chef Bob Waggoner of The Charleston Grill will tantalize your taste buds with low country cuisine.

The Wines of Greece

Tuesday, August 17th, 2004

With the 2004 Olympics being held in Athens, I thought the timing was right to taste some Greek wines. Greeks have been producing wine for over 2000 years, but in the last 20 years or so Retsina has received all the publicity. Retsina is a white wine beloved by the Greeks, but I feel it tastes like pine tar…perhaps it is an acquired taste. Greek wines have come along way since my early days of sipping Retsina, and there are major efforts underway to modernize their winemaking techniques and increase their distribution around the world.

There are more than 300 grape varieties grown in Greece, and to make it more confusing, the names of the grapes are near impossible to pronounce. There are however four major regions that produce some of the best wines.

Mantinia and Santorini are two regions known for their excellent whites. Moscofilero is the key grape from Mantinia, produced in the eastern Peloponnese. It is a floral gewurztraminer-like wine, and Domaine Tselepos and Nasiakos are two of the better producers. On the island of Santorini, Assyrtiko is the primary grape, and the wine is a crisp, mineral filled white. Argyros and Heliopoulos are two outstanding producers.

Naoussa and Nemea are two primary regions for red wines. Xinomavro is the important grape grown in Naoussa, a section of Macedonia, and the wine is a big, spicy red. Boutari and Tsantali are two of the better producers. Agiorgitiko is the grape from Nemea, a region of Peloponnese. These lush, plumy reds are typically enjoyed young. Gaia and Palivou are two producers to look for.

Note that 2002 was a very difficult growing season in Greece due to heavy rains, 2003 will be a much better choice. I have found several of the Greek wines enjoyable and quite reasonably priced. Keep an open mind toward Greek wines, they have made some major strides, and I believe they will continue to improve.

Worth Seeking Out…

Monday, August 16th, 2004
  • Quail Hill Farm in Amagansett, N.Y. is having their annual tomato tasting on August 28th at 9am. It is a smorgasbord of heirlooms, with over 35 varieties available.
  • The Shake Shack in Madison Square Park of NYC is a retro food stand run by famed restaurateur Danny Meyer. They’ve stepped back into the ’50s by serving hamburgers, hotdogs, fries and shakes. The burgers are delicious, flavorful and juicy. The fries are also very good. The Chicago hotdog is unique; it is topped with among other things cucumber, pickle, and peppers…more toppings than I care for. But this is a fun way to enjoy lunch in the park.
  • Apples are just coming into season. It is a fun outing to go to an apple orchard and pick your own, but if that is inconvenient then a farmers markets will be your best choice.
  • Vento Trattoria recently opened in the hot meatpacking district, and it is a more casual spin-off of the 3-star Osteria Fiamma. It is a huge restaurant with over 150 seats outside alone. It’s quite a scene. The good news is that the food is quite good, especially the pizza and pastas. It is located at 675 Hudson St, NYC (212)699-2400

Wine of the Month: Huber Gruner Veltliner ’03 ($12)

Sunday, August 15th, 2004

Gruner Veltliner is on the most popular white wines from Austria. Huber has produced a very reasonably priced one that is delicious. It is a light straw color with a fresh citrus aroma. Although this is a simple crisp wine, it has plenty of character. This Gruner Veltliner has layers of flavors: lime, green grape, peach, and a touch of green grass. I first tried this wine with a plate of fried oysters, and it was heaven. This wine would also pair well with any seafood, grilled vegetables, and spicy Thai food.

This wine is pretty well distributed, however if you can not find it, ask your retailer to suggest an alternative. Chardonnay is not the only white wine, have fun and experiment.