Paleo & Primal Food, Wine, Travel & Living

Timber Cove Inn: A Retreat and Culinary Destination on the Sea

timbercoveinn
I first became aware of the Timber Cove Inn last June through a press release that was sent to inform me of their 50th anniversary. The restaurant inside the Inn, Alexander’s, was serving a pre fixe dinner menu and throwing a Mad Men-era party in honor of the anniversary. I was intrigued, and after a few emails back and forth with the marketing company that sent me the release, I was invited to stay at the Inn last weekend (August 24 & 25th), as well as try a great deal of food at Alexander’s. I can’t say enough about the hospitality of each staff member and the incredible food Andy and I enjoyed at the restaurant. I (and Andy as well for that matter) really got the star treatment without being intruded upon, and the trip was completely private and relaxing.

Once in a while, it’s good to get far, far away from where you work and normally play and try something completely different. Timber Cove Inn is about the most remote place I have ever traveled. We left for Jenner (where we thought the hotel was located) at about 4:45pm on Friday and arrived in Timber Cove at about 8:45.  Timber Cove Inn is actually 13 miles north of Jenner on a winding, slow-moving road. I am telling you this not to deter your travel to the Inn, but so that you can factor it into your travel time. Once we arrived at the Inn, I quickly forgot about the travel time and became fascinated at the Inn’s greatness out in the middle of nowhere. I began to ponder all the logistics of running a hotel of this size and accommodations and just how it might be done. As Baruch Spinoza said, “All things excellent are as difficult as they are rare.”

We arrived at Alexander’s for dinner and were seated right next to the fireplace just as the sun finished setting. The restaurant dining room overlooks the ocean and provides a view from most of its tables.

menu and fireplace
The pre fixe menu was still available as an option, but Andy and I stuck to the regular menu for both nights. We kicked off the meal with a glass of wine each (I had a sparkling wine, Schramsberg, and he had a glass of Flowers Chardonnay). Our waitress for our two night dining extravaganza was Stacy. If you’re lucky, she’ll wait on your table, too. Stacy knew the food menu as well as the wine menu very well, despite being a non-drinker. She has traveled to many of the tasting rooms (as the list is predominately if not all Sonoma County wine), and tasted most of the wines featured on the list. We selected the Fort Ross Pinot Noir because of our entrée selections (cioppino and pork), and sipped on our starter whites while the appetizers began to arrive.

crab
The first small plate was a Local Crab & Citrus Salad with Pink Peppercorn Vinaigrette and Fennel Puree. It was probably my favorite plate of the evening, but it’s hard to say for sure. I know the dish was the first thing I tasted during the meal and it really set the tone for what was to come. I started thinking about some of the things on the menu and how the food is similar to things I would make for myself. Not the fancy plating, but the flavors and ingredients that I would choose to go together. “The Chef, (William Oliver), must be reading my mind!” I thought, “I don’t see a thing on here I wouldn’t like!”

beetsalad
The next plate we chose was a Local Roasted Beet Salad with crumbled Chèvre, Almonds and a Sherry Vinaigrette. I really loved all the green on the plate and the two different colors of beets the chef used. The vinaigrette did a great job of corralling all the flavors. I liked this salad so much, I almost ordered it again our second night at the restaurant.

caprese

The last appetizer we chose was a Caprese Salad with Heirloom Tomatoes, Burrata Cheese and Golden Balsamic Reduction. This was a stunning presentation and tasted even better. The cheese was made fresh that day and it was creamy and salty, which was just the right balance for the acidity of the tomatoes.

Andy went with the Cioppino for his entrée, a mixture of clams, mussels, and huge chunks of tender salmon resting in a zesty tomato broth. Definitely a paleo dish if I ever saw one.

cioppino
Our wine selection was a Pinot Noir by Fort Ross Vineyard “Sea Slopes”. It was very full bodied for a pinot noir and could have even been paired with a steak. The wine also received a “95, Editor’s Choice” rating in Wine Enthusiast. The winery is located fairly close to Timber Cove Inn, off of Myers Grade Rd.

fortrosspinot
I went with the Grilled Pork Chop served with Mixed Local Beans on a bed of Sweet Potato Mashers and topped with Arugula Slaw with a Dijon Jus. Once again, everything on the plate was in complete harmony. My entrée could almost be referred to as comfort food, but with a modern twist. And comforted I was! I was so happy to be there, sitting beside my favorite person in the world and having dinner on the ocean by the fire. And just I stuffed my mouth with a huge bite of pork chop, guess who walks up? The chef. Um, embarrassing… Yes, we were well into the bottle of wine and happy as pigs when Chef Oliver came to the table. I remember being very enthusiastic about the meal, indeed. Of course, he was happy that we were happy. Then, we arranged to meet the next morning to chat more about the restaurant.

porkchop
Tired, but happy after our welcome meal, we went back to our room, and great bottle of local wine and a king size bed was there to greet us.

welcomewine
The next morning, I hit the gym to do some damage control on all the calories I would be taking in over the weekend. You have to pay to play, and Timber Cove Inn had just what I needed to burn some calories. It’s a small gym, but the equipment is great and so is the view from the elliptical machine. Arrive early to hog the treadmill like I did.

gym
Andy went on some crazy death run all the way up hill and then back down again. Whatever, Andy. 🙂 After we cleaned up from our respective workouts, we met with Chef Oliver in the lounge area beside Alexander’s. And I have to say, it was one of the most interesting conversations I have had with someone who I don’t really know all that well.

It’s kind of an exciting thing interviewing chefs. You never know if you are chatting with someone who might get the next write-up in Bon Appetit, or be awarded a Michelin star. Andy and I chatted with Chef Oliver for about an hour and a half (which went by very quickly) and we both felt William is already doing great things at Alexander’s and has a bright future ahead. The biggest question I had for the chef involved the logistics of running a restaurant that is basically out in the middle of nowhere. How often do you get deliveries? Where do your staff live? How far do they commute?

The Chef told me that deliveries come basically every day except for Saturday and some items (such as pork) are actually drop shipped. Some of the staff live in a town close by called Cazadero, some live in Bodega Bay (45 minutes away) and a few of them even commute from Santa Rosa every day (nearly an hour and a half away).

I also asked about his career history and background and found out that he is originally from Maryland, and graduated with honors from the Culinary Institute of America. Early on, Chef William realized that wine sales were a big part of a restaurant’s success, and so he went to California to learn as much as he could about the industry.

He became a Sous Chef for celebrity Chef Joachim Splichal’s wine country outpost Pinot Blanc.

Much like myself and my discovery of California wine and the agriculture present here, I think Chef Oliver realized this was home. There’s just nothing better than a place where food is made to pair with wine and wine is made to pair with food.

The chef continued to cook for wineries such as Folie a Deaux, Clos Pegase, Mayo Family Winery and Arista, and then went on to Cook St. Helena and Russian River’s Farmhouse Inn. Through the years, Chef William developed relationships with food purveyors that remain in place today and allow him to develop menus that utilize local seafood, cheese and produce that he would not be able to obtain otherwise.

Then the Chef came to Timber Cove Inn. After shaking up the kitchen, dusting off the menu a bit, and putting mostly all local wines on the wine list, things are falling into place. We also talked about the “struggle” of traditional food versus modern. One dessert mentioned was “S’mores”. He tried doing house made graham crackers and marshmallows, and using a much higher quality chocolate, but many people revolted. I’m not sure why. I told him that if I am going to eat junk food, I would prefer it be from scratch junk food. Ah well, don’t worry boring people, Chef William went back to providing pre-packaged ingredients for the S’mores. (There’s a fire pit right outside the restaurant where you can make them).

Of course, I was already thinking about dinner, so we talked briefly about how much we enjoyed the previous night’s dinner and how much we were looking forward to this night’s dinner. We decided in advance on the steak and Chef William spoke a little bit about the dish. The meat is grass-fed and the Worcestershire sauce is house made. We also inquired about the size of the plate because we planned on splitting it (he confirmed the meat serving is about a pound and it is the biggest plate on the menu).

I want to thank Chef William for taking time (out of what would become a very busy Saturday), to chat with us. After our conversation with the Chef, we went over to the restaurant and had a little breakfast (even though after all the steak talk I was ready for dinner!) Andy and I ordered the same thing: 2 poached eggs with fruit and potatoes (served with salsa).

fruitbreakfast
potatoesbreakfast
The potatoes were seasoned with dill, so now I am kind of addicted to that, and have been spiking my sides (butternut squash, sweet potatoes) with the same treatment ever since the trip. The plating of the fruit was spectacular and I was shocked and delighted to see figs make a cameo appearance on my plate. Actually, melon and figs are my two favorite fruits, so you can imagine when the menu just says “mixed fruit” and I am not expecting that much–maybe strawberries or grapes and some banana–and I end up with figs and melon, I am doing cartwheels. Thanks, Chef!! 🙂

Following breakfast, Andy and I went on a walk around the property at Timber Cove Inn. The Inn originally opened in 1963, and was redesigned and reopened in 2008 ($2.5 million renovation). It is built on 25 acres, and there are two miles of hiking trails for guests of the hotel to use. I will say “hiking” because I they really are not run-able, but great for walking and taking in the ocean view. And that’s what we did for an hour and a half. Roam around the property and take in the views. There are benches around the grounds at Timber Cove where you can sit and face the ocean and just stare out at it. It was great to do just that and enjoy our time together.

horizon5
Timber Cove Inn has 47 guest rooms and 2 suites. All rooms offer views of ocean, cove or forest. The Inn was designed by a protégé of Frank Lloyd Wright, and the Timber Cove Inn reflects his style, evident especially in Alexander’s bar area in the frames around the lighting fixtures. A three-story stone fireplace dominates the lobby and the structure that houses the lounge, Alexander’s, the gift shop and the main lobby is much like a large lodge. The Pacific Ocean outside only 50 yards away.

horizon1
Soon, it was time to head back to Alexander’s for dinner. We sat by the fire again, and soon greeted by our server Stacy (from the previous evening). I spotted a gazpacho on the pre fixe menu that I really wanted to try, and asked if it was possible for me to sample it without getting the entire menu. Of course, I never heard the word “no” one time on this getaway, so soon out it came, and even a serving for Andy, too. There were chunks of crab in it, and I think I would have been happy with a large bowl of it and a big glass of pinot noir from the previous night.

gazpacho
But, no! We had more work to do. More food to taste and explore. And so we decided on the 5-Spice Pork Ribs with a Sweet Chili Glaze and Asian Cole Slaw.

ribs
And the Prosciutto Wrapped Scallops with Corn, Sweet 100’s (cherry tomatoes) and Aged Balsamic:

scallops
I remember really loving everything and for one, eating more than Andy. 😉 That evening, I began to consider moving into the Timber Cove so I would have this kind of food every night. Maybe Chef William would let me work a few shifts in the kitchen now and then?

The wine we chose was a Meritage by Flowers Vineyard and Winery called Perennial. Again, a local wine to drink with local food.

flowersmeritage
Then our entrée, the aforementioned steak, was presented. A Grilled Delmonico Steak with Brown Butter Mushrooms and served with Horseradish Mashed Potatoes and House-made Worcestershire sauce. Topped with Onion Rings. Of course, the onions and the sauce are not Paleo, but I really didn’t want to be a pain to ask to leave them both off, because I had been enjoying the chef’s food so much exactly the way he intended a normal guest to taste it, I didn’t want to start messing things up now. Besides, if you stay away from the bread basket (but do ask for the chimichurri (YES!!) that comes with it!) at Alexander’s, the menu is pretty close to Paleo/Primal anyway with a few exceptions.

steak

hoizon3
The next morning, I worked out in the gym again and Andy went off to do his death run before we both got cleaned up and again snagged breakfast before checking out. I had exactly the same thing I did the morning before because I’m telling you, the dill potatoes are addictive. Even though I am so happy to get back to work on Mondays, I was so sad to leave such a beautiful, calm, serene place. I am looking forward to returning to Timber Cove Inn, especially to see the progress of Alexander’s with Chef William Oliver at the helm.

You can find Timber Cove Inn on Facebook here and follow them on twitter here. Read more about the Timber Cove Inn over at my friend Virginia’s website, The Perfect Spot, here.

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