Road Trip Days 3 And 4 – Oregon Coast and Northern California
One pattern that has emerged on this road trip is slow mornings. Rather then get up and rush to leave, we prefer to take our time, explore the local area and enjoy a leisurely breakfast before checking out of the hotel and setting on the new daily adventure.
This morning at Yachatz we went out for a walk with wind and early morning fog making the scene ever more dramatic. In native language Yachatz means dark water at the foot of the mountain and this describes the landscape perfectly: Rocky shore with black lava rocks protruding into the rough water and wild waves crushing against them with considerable force splashing several feet into the air. It is dangerous to get to close to the water in this area. A memorial on one of the cliffs tells the story of two young boys who sadly were swept away from the rocks into the relentless ocean by a waste high sneaker wave. The cold water temperature, rough water and slippery rocks made it impossible for them to climb back out and they lost their lives within 3 minutes. Their friends stood by helplessly watching this tragedy unfolds, unable to rescue their friends without losing their own lives. You cannot take your safety for granted when it comes to the ocean, no matter where you are. The memorial, made of metal shaped in the form of a sneaker wave, was a sad reminder of that.
Eventually we checked out and were on our way to the next destination, intending to cross the California border and look for a place to stay as the last stop before San Francisco which we wanted to reach by Thursday.
We still had several hours of driving in Oregon. One of the most fascinating features of south west Oregon is the 50 plus miles of stunning sand dunes shifting with the winds and rising as high as 500 feet above sea level. These vast dunes encroach on the towns, roads and the forest. Other than in the deserts, I have not seen anything like it. Miles and miles of yellow sand shaped into hills and valleys by the wind stretch from the water three and four miles inland in some areas. Driving along the towns you see hills of sand separating the town from the dunes and driving on the highway you see the sand hills encroaching and fighting for control with the forest. It’s quite a sight. The dunes begin in Florence in the north and stretch to the Coos River in the south. Recreation vehicles are permitted in the north and south ends and although we didn’t stop on the way down, it is on my list to rent a dune buggy or an ATV and ride in the dunes on the way back. Stay tuned.
Moving south along the highway we continued to enjoy the scenery of the rugged coastline and dense forests, interspersed with long bridges over endless waterways protruding inland. Brandon, Gold Beach, Rogue River and the forests all left a lasting impression on our minds as we drove south toward California.
One thing that was sorely lacking along the way was good fresh food. We compensated by stopping at a farmers market and stocking up on blueberries, raspberries and freshly picked and washed carrots to sustain us on the drive until we can find good food, if at all.
Eventually we drove through the entire Oregon coast and entered northern California. The change of scene was evident rather quickly as we entered the redwood forests around Crescent City. What an incredible sight. The giant trees, standing straight as an arrow some reaching up as high as 300 feet. If they could only talk. Standing next to these gentle giants makes one feel rather insignificant in the large scheme of things. It’s impossible to drive through this area without stopping to admire and pay respect to the giant specimen.
We continued along this section of Route 101, aka the Redwood Highway and stopped for the night in Eureka. Not much to tell about this town except that the best accommodation listed on Trip Advisor for Eureka was the Holiday Inn Express. We checked in there for the night and left in the morning without our traditional beach walk but not before we stopped for breakfast at a charming restaurant on the south end of town off the highway at Gill’s by the Bay. This is a family owned and operated restaurant located on the bay at King Salmon. It’s a fun, friendly place worth the slight detour if you are in the area. The woman who served us got our order completely wrong but we made the best of it under the circumstances. I was not going to send my food back to the kitchen. Portions were large but you don’t have to eat the whole thing. We enjoyed the experience (that’s what travel means to me) and have one more fun mental image to store in our minds for the future.
The next leg of the trip was taking us to San Francisco, about 6 hours away. Once you pass the redwood area the landscape changes and you enter wine country. You drive through Sonoma’s Alexander Valley (cabernet and merlot), Dry Creek Valley (zinfandel) and Russian River (pinot noir and chardonnay). It was hard to drive through this beautiful countryside with all the vineyards and wineries without any serious stops but we had to keep going. We’ll stop there on the way back, hopefully. To do it any justice wine country is a destination, not a pass through drive.
It’s not just wine in this area. Here is where you find olive oil producers and on my list is the Dry Creek Olive Oil Co. where I plan to stop for tasting and hopefully bring back a few great bottles of the golden elixir that makes everything taste better.
Soon we were approaching San Fran and found ourselves stuck in slow moving traffic and thousands of cars. One thing we were looking forward to in San Francisco is good food, with all the fabulous restaurants the city is known for. When we could get internet service on the road I went online and reserved a table for dinner at Bar Tartine for 6:00 pm. It was early and tight for us to make it there by 6:00 but the only alternative was 9:30 and we didn’t think we would last until then. I called the restaurant to ask about alternative times but was told that no tables were available between 6:00 and 9:30.
Our projected (by the GPS) arrival time of 4:45 was constantly being pushed up by the heavy traffic and we eventually checked into the hotel at 5:30. We sent our luggage to the room without going up ourselves and off we went driving to the restaurant. Not exactly how I like it but that’s how it worked out. We made it there at exactly 6:00 pm. I have all of Tartines cookbooks and was looking forward to trying their food firsthand. Tartine, located in the Mission area, is a beautiful, large space, a little on the rustic side, very hip and San Fran in feel. Tables in the section we were seated in were very close together. The table next to us was a couple of feet away and there was no private conversation to be had. You can hear everything people at the table next to you discuss. On another note, we were there from 6:00 to 8:00 and I do not understand why they said they were completely booked for that time period because several of the tables remained empty the entire time.
The menu was surprisingly small. One option was a tasting menu of about 14 small dishes ($76pp, add $46pp if you drink), the other option was a sharing menu with three “main” you can choose from and a few starters to add to that. We opted for the menu and selected two appetizers and two main along with their specialty “oatmeal bread”. Appetizers soon appeared, first a pickled turnip puree with sunchoke oil drizzled over and the bread, then a plate of roasted padrone peppers on a saucy bed of feta and onion. The turnip puree was slightly tangy and silky-smooth and made a nice dip to go with the bread. The bread was different than what you’d expect. A chewy crisp crust with very soft and moist crumb (the white part), perhaps due to the oatmeal factor. The roasted padrone peppers came on top of the feta spread and I found that a little distracting. We had padrone peppers in Spain numerous time and I like them the way they serve them there: roasted and served plain, as they are. The cheese spread at the bottom and over top of the padrones made the dish too saucy and salty for my taste and somewhat masked their flavour.
For the main course my husband chose the lamb sausage with sunflower tahini and chard, and I selected the sprouted lentil croquettes with kefir and coriander. I didn’t taste the lamb and G said it was okay. The lentil croquettes were round balls of fried lentil mixture. They were hard on the outside and dry inside and served over a spicy beet sauce if I remember correctly. It was okay but not something I would order again. Sorry, I am sure you would have expected me to gush over the food (I expected the same) but I felt that in this case they took an ingredient an masked it with unrelated flavours. My apologies in advance to all of you who tried and loved these menu items. Taste is very personal.
We wanted to try their desserts and of the three available we ordered two: stuffed dates with buckwheat and caraway served on bronze fennel sauce, and a buckwheat tart with carob mousse, thinly shaved apricots and thyme.The buckwheat tart was dry and crumbly and was somewhat helped by the mousse. The bronze fennel sauce had a very interesting flavour but overall I expected something sweet at the end of the meal and neither one of these desserts quite cut it for me. I know that Tartine is a holly grail in San Fran. Again, my apologies for not being in love with the food, however, we are all entitled to our opinions and I can express mine here. Just saying. Needless to say the dishes all looked gorgeous in terms of the food presentation and I loved the ceramic dishes in which they were presented. The server said that the restaurant owner is in the process of selling Bar Tartine to the chefs who run the kitchen and is partnering up with another group to open more restaurants in the area.
After dinner we still tried to squeeze in a few minutes of “department store therapy” but gave up and went back to the hotel. Tomorrow we will drive to our destination in Paso Robles, or “Pass of the Oaks”, a community of 30,000 nestled in the coastal mountain range of central California. We are visiting family and attending a family event at a winery there. Paso Robles is about three hour drive from San Fran but we plan to take Ca. route 1, not 101, along the coast, so I expect it may take us several hours to get there. We are looking forward to the trip.
Note: Featured image of sand dunes from https://goo.gl/iM6ykv