A trendy and culture-forward enclave on the Oregon Coast, Nye Beach retains a human scale while offering the best in food, art, music, and nature. I’ve just published a post about it on HubPages. Please click on this link to read Nye Beach, Oregon: Newport’s Culture Coast. I look forward to hearing your responses on HubPages as well as here on this post.
I took a spontaneous solo trip up the California & Oregon coasts, all the way to the Olympic National Forest in Washington state, making inland ventures to visit friends, family, and natural phenomena. But that was more than 20 years ago. My recollections of Newport were hazy at best. They didn’t include the Oregon Coast Aquarium (which opened one year later), nor the touristy fisherman’s wharf area. I remember natural seascapes with real working towns and real fishermen in little buildings behind mounds of oyster shells. Things have obviously grown up a bit since then. For all of its 10,000 inhabitants, this seaside community really holds its own, maintaining charm, natural beauty, and culture. There is something for everyone here, from family style tourist to hard-core naturalist to artsy bohemian to yuppie culture vulture.
A mural at the dock
Marine Discovery Tours boat
Whale mural at the pier
While I used to grab a pair of shoes and a backpack and just go when I wanted to travel, I now have a family where things must be planned in advance. So for this trip to the Oregon coast, we checked the tour books, researched the websites, and booked our hotels and activities. One thing I was glad to have reserved was seats on the Marine Discovery Tours boat in Newport. It’s an educational vessel that goes on tours to see marine life: specifically, hopefully, whales.
A slight nip in the 9 a.m. air sent us off under a gray sky. Our seasoned captain gave facts about the history the Yaquina River and Harbor, as well as the impressive Yaquina Bridge and Bay. Our young naturalist guide (a University of Oregon student) pointed out the NOAA research facility and ships, as well as the Hatfield Marine Science Center, operated by the University of Oregon. We went “over the bar” into the ocean, where the dip and roll of the waves necessitated rail-grasping for those brave enough to ride the bow. The sky was overcast, but the slight chill would soften to a muggy warmth within an hour. Our captain, a retired seafaring policeman named Bob, was kind, about 5 feet tall, with an easy smile and an outgoing manner. He invited all the children on deck to take turns “driving the boat.” Our naturalist student showed the young people how to bait and set out crab pots off the stern of the boat.
In my July 8th post, “Of Pelicans, Seals, and Ghosts,” I blogged about the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve in Moss Beach, California, and mentioned the Moss Beach Distillery, a historic restaurant with a special story. Apart from having been a speakeasy in the late 1920s, it boasts a ghost, who purportedly appears occasionally to visitors, and sometimes makes strange, inexplicable things happen. I had the opportunity to dine there last night, and I emerge from the experience with mixed reviews.
The ever-changing view of the Pacific Ocean, dotted with fishing boats and changing light and cloud patterns, is gorgeous. The large windows on the upper floor are positioned to take full advantage of nature’s grandeur, as is the outdoor patio below. Dogs are welcome here (outside) and they even offer a doggy menu.
The decor is interesting: the stained-glass front windows seem to be original, while the bar sports a mixture of various tiffany-style lamps. The stamped-metal ceiling in the upstairs dining room gives an Old Spanish feeling. The large windows dominate, however, drawing your attention to the view.
The ambience is relaxing and the bartenders and waitstaff are jovial and attentive. The food quality is somewhat spotty, and the menu selection a bit unusual. For example, I ordered oyster shooters with vodka as an appetizer. You can only buy them by the piece (a lot of seafood places will also offer a six-pack). The oysters themselves were rather miniscule, and for $5 a piece ($7 with vodka), one would expect something a bit more substantial. The glasses in which they were served seemed too big for the oysters, and there was definitely too much tomatoey booze for my taste. Also, you can’t get a traditional crab cocktail or a crab louie here.
They served delicious, fresh, hot sourdough rolls with butter, and refilled our basket three times. Three people in our party of four ordered salads with their dinner. They were substantial in size and could easily serve two, each. I was able to sample two of them. The Caesar Salad had crisp, fresh lettuce and an irresistible creamy dressing. The Beet and Mandarin Salad was delightful, with fresh “designer” lettuce, freshly cooked beets, tasty mandarin slices, and delicious candied walnuts.
The meal unraveled, however, when it came to the entrées. One person in my party ordered the Crab Quesadillas, which were “good.” Another ordered the Pesto Salmon ($32) which she reported was way overcooked. Two of us ordered “Coquille de Mare” (also $32), which was described as a casserole of rock crab, prawns, and crimini mushrooms baked in jack, swiss, and parmesan cheese. I expected to find pieces of seafood in the casserole portion, but all I could find were mushrooms, and while it was flavorful, it was also quite heavy and greasy. The brown rice and vegetables that it was served with, however, were excellent.
I was too full to order dessert, but had a taste of my friend’s Lemon Ricotta Cheesecake, which was really excellent.
Upon returning home, I researched the story of the ghost (the “Blue Lady”). She apparently had been the lover of the piano player at the Distillery, which she frequented in the 1920s. Unfortunately, her husband discovered her affair, and murdered her on the beach below the speakeasy, attempting to kill her lover as well. Her ghost is said to enjoy the company of the living, and she is reportedly seen from time to time at the bar.
Wikipedia reveals that some of the “sightings” of the Blue Lady were deliberate hoaxes by restaurant personnel, who admitted to placing images of the Blue Lady in the mirror of the women’s restroom (I did notice that the mirror seemed like one-way glass), piping in the sound of a woman’s laughter, and making lamps sway in the bar. The establishment is proud of its ghost, displaying her glowing head and bust in its entryway, and including her story as an insert in their menu. I also overheard our waitress telling another guest about some unexplained incidents that she had experienced in the restaurant: things being moved, and unexplained messages on the intercom.
This place has a lot of charm, history, and cachet, not to mention location. As some reviewers on Yelp pointed out, the restaurant can get by on these things alone, and tourists will continue to come here. If you want to get a drink and some appetizers, enjoy the view, and maybe catch a Giants’ game on TV, this is a very acceptable place. If you come here for fine dining, however, as the pricing on the dinner menu would lead you to expect, you will probably be less than satisfied. Not enough attention is paid to the finer points of food preparation, especially of the dinner entrées. I give Moss Beach Distilley three stars out of five.
Sometimes you get tired of the same, old same-old when cooking—especially when cooking chicken. I found a fantastic recipe for chicken cacciatore in the May 2014 issue of Food and Wine Magazine. It is offered by celebrity chef Giada De Laurentiis, and calls for Peppadew peppers, Castelvetrano olives (new to me and very tasty), baby bell peppers, and fresh fennel bulb, along with fresh herbs, cherry tomatoes & pearl onions. The whole chicken is stuffed with thyme sprigs and set in the refrigerator overnight before you even begin the main preparation. Then you make a red wine reduction sauce with tomato paste and butter, and layer it under the skin before roasting (with fresh garlic and herbs inside) and the veggies.
I had never made or tasted anything quite like this. The peppers and specialty olives made for a zesty accent, yet all of the ingredients together created a mellow and rich flavor, at once comforting and sophisticated. The chicken itself was tender, and offered itself up for seconds. The platter was clean at the end of our family dinner–down to the last pearl onion.
(I made one substitution: since Peppadew pepers are hard to find, I substituted Mezzetta’s sweet cherry peppers. I’m sure the real thing would make this dish even more fantastic.)
Last weekend I did something I always wanted to do: I had dinner at Chez Panisse. The Berkeley, California restaurant, opened in 1971 and still owned by world renowned chef/food activist Alice Waters was everything I had heard and imagined it would be.
First, it was a magical spring evening in Berkeley. The weather has been unusually warm over the past several days, so it was in the balmy 70s as the dinner hour approached. Walking along leafy Shattuck Avenue, we were charmed by the Arts & Crafts style homes and shops in the neighborhood. We passed through a homey but elegant entry patio on the way to the front door. The warm wood interior, punctuated by Mission-inspired wall sconces and chandeliers and subtle stained glass, welcomed us as we ascended the stairs. The restaurant is really a two-in one establishment. Upstairs in the “Café,” you can buy your meal à la carte, whereas downstairs, the more formal “Restaurant” offers one menu per night, “prix fixe” style. The food and dining experience are equally magnificent in both. The menu changes daily. For either, phone reservations a month in advance are advisable, as the best seating times fill up quickly.
On one of those nights when you’re tired and want something kind of light, it helps to have a few simple ingredients in the fridge and pantry. First, cook up some packaged fresh tortellini in boiling water in a medium saucepan. Drain, quickly run cool water over it and transfer to a glass serving bowl. Heat about 1/4 to 1/3 cup of extra virgin olive oil in a nonstick frying pan on over a high flame. When it’s good and hot, add 2-3 sections of sliced garlic, 2 tablespoons of capers, and a can of drained, pitted California olives. Stir rapidly and allow all to get warm, for about a minute or two. Add sea salt to taste as you’re stirring. The idea is just to warm the ingredients enough to where the flavors are released and blended–don’t allow anything to burn or get crispy. During the last several seconds, add sliced baby tomatoes. Pour the heated mixture over the tortellini.
Serve warm with steamed asparagus. Yum.
This can be paired with a delectable salad made of fresh baby lettuce, pear tomatoes, sliced Persian cucumbers, and blueberries (I found all of thes ingredients at Trader Joe’s.). This salad is so good, it doesn’t need dressing. Or, you can add a scant tablespoon of your favorite vinaigrette. A tangy variation is to add tangerine slices to the mix. In addition to being delicious, these dishes are very nutritious and low in fat. Again, yum.
Whou’da’ thunk it would be such a beautiful day in late November on the bay? Heck with black Friday. Black has never been my favorite color. I’d much rather go out in the sun and feel the wind on my face.
A BART ride to the historic Ferry Building. Once the second-busiest transit station in the world outside of Charing Cross Station in London, it now spends most of its time as a trendy shopping center, housing permanent upscale restaurants and shops, as well as a huge Saturday gourmet farmer’s market.
Arriving in Sausalito, my girls and I meet up with our boating friends. As we motor out onto the all but windless water, we enjoy brie, crackers and olives, along with some champagne. It’s been a while since we’ve seen each other. Conversation is punctuated by laughs as we glide along the channel, past sunning cormorants, pelicans and a few seals.
It’s a fine day for just being on the water. Not a hint of the normal San Francisco chill. My youngest is offered the helm, and, feeling a bit tentative at first, she quickly adapts to her new status. And then, a steady 4-knot breeze picks up, enough for her to learn how the wind vane and tell-tales work. As we saunter leisurely towards the city skyline, she maintains her heading, reading the wind to avoid luffing the jib.
No hurries, no worries out here on this sparkling blue lake of a bay. Knowing how rough it can be toward the Golden Gate with its treacherous “potato patch” makes us relish the extreme languor of the moment and the day.
Then, noting the sun heading behind the Marin Headlands, my benjamin daughter calls “Ready about?” and then, “Helms alee!” and we gracefully come about and make our way back to the marina.
We enjoy some delicious ice cream at Lappert’s in Sausalito before catching the last ferry back. Night has fallen, and it’s getting chilly. We are greeted by the Ferry Building’s glowing clock tower (the largest mechanical dial clock in the world), and the holiday-lit outlines of the Embarcadero Center high-rises.
BARTing it back to Union Square, we are almost crushed by the hordes returning from the tree-lighting ceremony. We hike up to meet my sister and her husband in Chinatown,
and then proceed a few more blocks to North Beach, where we have the best cioppino ever at the quirky Mona Lisa restaurant. A reproduction of Michelangelo’s “Creation of Adam” as well as a topless version of the Mona Lisa are prominent among the confusion of artworks and sculptures lining every inch of the restaurant’s interior.
What better way to spend the holiday than out enjoying some local color in my own backyard?