I grew up in Sonoma County and over the years, my home turf has become more popular: oft-mentioned in travel, food, and wine magazines and frequented by Silicon Valley-ers looking for a weekend getaway. And while I love that my stomping grounds are beloved by so many these days, things have gotten, uh, busier.
I was looking for Sonoma County in a time capsule, before the tourists. When there were more livestock than people and when tasting rooms were quiet enough to hold a conversation with the friendly-yet-tough-as-nails Jerry Garcia Band-loving winemaker who grew the grapes. I wanted farm-to-table, a rugged coast, rolling hills, and majestic redwoods.
I didn’t have to look far: Mendocino County has all that and more. There’s a cultural link between the two counties: people have long moved between the two and the region that touches is called Mendonoma for short. But Mendocino is unique in its own: more rugged, more rural and dare I say more independent.
I surprised Nishan with a weekend in Mendocino for his birthday. If you only have a couple days to spare, follow this itinerary.
Friday: sample some Pinot Noir at Navarro Vinyards in Philo along Highway 128. Don’t forget to try the verjus (that’s ab ghooreh for my Irooni readers)!
Make friends with the resident chickens and llamas at the Glendeven Inn in Little River. Then start your evening right with small bites and a drink in their lodge.
Head back to Philo for dinner at the Bewildered Pig. This place is bursting with personality — and seasonal ingredients. Aren’t these the prettiest miso deviled eggs you’ve ever seen?
The fungus among us. Oh, the mushrooms! Mendocino County has the best mushrooms I’ve ever tasted and this dish was among my favorites: wild foraged mushrooms tossed with loads of local greens and a bracing vinaigrette.
Creamy, runny, decadent mac and cheese.
Caramelized parsnip and shallot acorn flour ravioli.
Saturday: attempt to hike from your inn to the Mendocino coast in the uncharacteristically late season rainstorm. Give up on hiking in the mud, but stop and enjoy the view first.
Make the quick drive over to Fort Bragg for lunch at Taka’s Grill, a hole-in-the-wall Japanese restaurant. Get the locally-caught sea urchin: a decadent treat at a relative bargain.
Drive back towards Mendocino Village for a fun walk around town. Stop at Corners of the Mouth, a former church converted into a health food store, and stock up on local dried porcini mushrooms. Stroll on over to Gallery Bookshop and then to Good Life Cafe for organic coffee and health-conscious treats. (In case you haven’t noticed yet, Mendocino is extremely into local, healthy fare and I am here for it.)
Try to explore the Mendocino Headlands in the middle of an ever-strengthening rainstorm. (Or you know, just visit when it’s sunny.)
Have dinner at Cafe Beaujolais, a France-meets-Mendocino restaurant. Ask for a table in the atrium so you can enjoy their garden view. Start with a huckleberry spritz made with housemade huckleberry syrup, because you know, local all day every day.
Grilled asparagus, hen-of-the-woods mushrooms, and burrata. Did I mention mushrooms? This was topped with duck cracklings and a balsamic glaze. Perfect.
Local black cod with wild mushroom agnolotti. MOAR MUSHROOMS. Ooh, and the beets and the cod! So many of my favorite ingredients.
Dungeness crab mac and cheese. This was not a mac and cheese per se. Not that I’m complaining.
Bone marrow mashed potatoes.
Sunday: enjoy one last homemade breakfast at the Glendeven Inn before checking out. Thanks chicken frens for the eggs.
Stop at Van Damme Beach on your way out because the sun has finally come out and hey, it’s a lovely beach.
You’re not ready to say goodbye to Mendocino County just yet. As you drive back towards the Bay Area, stop in Boonville on Highway 128 for lunch at Pennyroyal Farm. Say hi to the goats, try a sandwich and salad made with (you guessed it) locally-grown produce and goat cheese and sample some wine.
Okay, now you can say bye to Mendocino County. For now.