Sunday, August 13, 2017

Martine Inn Owner to Race Newly-Restored Vintage MG at Laguna Seca This Week

Don Martine has restored this one-of-kind 1952 Deidt-Bell Special MG and will race the car this week at Laguna Seca
The Martine Inn in Pacific Grove

As a young child, Don Martine watched Johnny Von Neumann drive his #11 1950 MG TD Special to victory at the inaugural Pebble Beach Road Races. For the long-time owner of the Martine Inn in Pacific Grove, that race was one of the earliest sparks to Don’s lifelong fascination with cars and racing.

Johnny went on to win seven out of 14 races in that car before becoming a Porsche distributor and having to sell the MG. After numerous owners and reconfigurations, Don Martine purchased Johnny’s 1950 MG TD Special in 1988. As a racer himself, he restored the car and went on to race it over a 100 times around the country, winning 25 races.
Don Martine racing the 1950 MG TD Special

A second MG race car was built for Johnny in 1952. Known as the Deidt-Bell Special, the aluminum body was built by master Southern California metal fabricator Emil Deidt. Like the first MG, it changed hands many times and even disappeared for a period of time until a physician purchased it in 1980. The physician raced it once and then never raced it again. It sat in a garage for over 30 years until the physician called Don up and offered to sell him the car last February. It was an offer Don couldn’t refuse.

The 1952 Deidt-Bell Special MG sat in a garage for 30 years
The MG was in poor shape. The body was badly dented with gashes so large you could put your hand through them. The faded orange paint was scratched and peeling in places. Old sponsor logos showed through the paint, and it had at least four sets of racing numbers. But car had the original engine and it still ran. And to Don, the car was a work of art. “It’s an absolutely amazing race car,” said Don. I’ve never seen a car this forward-thinking for its time.”

Borrowing from aeronautical design innovations circa 1952, the car was built with thin-walled tubing, which makes the car incredibly light. Emil Deidt’s hammer-shaped aluminum body design was welded into just four pieces that attach to the frame with Dzus fasteners, which allow for quick removal to service the car. It was also the first race car with a belly pan, which keeps air from coming up and interfering with the mechanicals.

The 1952 Deidt-Bell Special has the original engine
Don and his team at Martine Inn Motorsports brought the car back to Pacific Grove and immediately went to work restoring it. They stripped the car to the frame and began their sprint to ready the car for the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca August 17-20, 2017. The esteemed race is the largest and oldest vintage racing event in the U.S.

MGs on display at the Martine Inn
Don and his team sandblasted and repainted the frame, replaced a bent front-end suspension and front wheel bearings, rebuilt the shocks, restored the brakes, installed a new rack and pinion assembly, and much more. They ordered a set of original Borranni 72 spoke wire wheels to replace the wheel hubs and retrofitted the driver’s seat with safety equipment since there had been none in the original car. Don asked one of his housekeepers at the inn to clean the inside of the body, and she polished it until it gleamed, showing all of the indentations from Emil Deidt’s hammer marks.

Two weeks out from the race, they re-installed the engine and discovered the distributor had a bent shaft that needed to be replaced. Don has yet to actually drive the car.

“I’m chomping at the bit to get behind the wheel, but I’m also frightened and excited. Unlike the 1950 MG TD, which I drove so many times and knew backwards and forwards, I have no idea how this car with perform. I’m in great wonder of what it will do,” said Don.

Don and the spectators at Laguna Seca will find out this week. Don will take practice runs on the track on Thursday and Friday, August 17-18. He’ll compete in the qualifying rounds on Saturday, August 19, and hopefully the race later that afternoon.

Martine Inn at dusk
The Martine Inn still has a few rooms available for the race weekend and Concours Car Week, which runs August 15-20. In addition to the race festivities, guests can also check out the rotating collection of rare and vintage MG cars on display at the inn. Currently on display is a 1952 Hot Rod MG-TD, a 1953 MG-TD MK II Roadster, a 1955 MG-TF 1500 convertible pickup, a 1949 MG-Y Sedan, and several others. In addition to the MGs, the gallery also features vintage automotive art and equipment, racing trophies, and nearly 100 model cars.

Marie's Room at the Martine Inn
The inn itself is furnished with museum-quality American antiques. Many of the rooms have fireplaces, claw foot tubs, and views of the waves crashing against the rocky coastline overlooking the Monterey Bay.

Martine Inn
255 Ocean View Blvd.
Pacific Grove, CA 93950

All photos courtesy of the Martine Inn

Sunday, July 16, 2017

A Spectacular Cedar Log Lodge and a Love of Tennis in the Sierra Foothills

The Great Room at Courtwood Inn in Murphys, California

If watching Roger Federer win his eighth Wimbledon title over the weekend has you craving more Grand Slam aficionado fun, consider a stay at the Courtwood Inn just outside the historic Gold Rush town of Murphys. The 8,000-square-foot, newly-built, custom-designed cedar log lodge is owned and run by USPTA tennis pros Chris and Larry Parker. Each of the inn’s luxuriously appointed guest rooms pay homage to the world’s major professional tennis tournaments and its players.
Courtwood Inn

The deck at Courtwood Inn
The grand lodge sits on a five-acre hilltop overlooking the Sierra Foothills and the San Joaquin Valley. A soaring great room features plush seating, a gas fireplace, and towering windows with French doors that open to a spacious wooden deck with panoramic views. The great room’s beverage bar is open throughout the day for guest use and offers a Keurig machine for self-serve hot coffee, tea, and hot chocolate and a mini refrigerator stocked with soft drinks and juices. A changing assortment of cookies and other homemade treats are also available. During happy hour each evening, Chris pours local wines and serve artisanal cheeses, crackers, and fruit. The outdoor deck provides a perfect spot for enjoying a glass of wine while watching the sunset.

The loft at Courtwood Inn
Upstairs, in the loft above the great room, guests will find a wide assortment of books and games. Downstairs, below the great room, you can challenge your partner to a game of table tennis or indulge in a relaxing massage in the inn’s private spa room (massage packages are available). Two championship tennis courts are currently under construction behind the inn. Larry hopes to begin offering private tennis lessons in September.  Plans are also in the works to build an outdoor hot tub and fire pit for guests to enjoy under the star-filled skies.

Wimbledon Room at Courtwood Inn
I recently had the chance to stay in the Wimbledon Room, which is elegantly appointed in the classic Wimbledon colors of purple and green. The spacious room features vaulted ceilings, French doors that open to a private deck with spectacular views, and a large tiled bath with a two-person Jason MicrsoSilk tub. In an understated tribute to the world’s oldest tennis tournament, the room is tastefully decorated with antique tennis rackets and framed vintage postcards and other memorabilia from Wimbledon tournaments of the past. The supremely comfortable California King bed is outfitted with luxuriously smooth linens, a purple satin bed covering, and coordinating satin pillow shams. A flat screen TV provides the opportunity for catching up on tennis coverage from around the world.

The inn’s other guest rooms include the U.S. Open, French Open, Australian Open, Davis Cup, and Mickey’s Room. Each room offers stunning views and is elegantly appointed with subtle nods to the respective tournaments and the sport.

Wimbledon Room's private deck 
In the morning, Chris prepares and serves an incredible multi-course breakfast along with fresh brewed, locally roasted coffee made by Gold Country Roasters. The morning of my stay, the other guests and I were treated to mixed berries served with lemon curd, a pillowy, fresh-out-of-the oven Dutch baby sprinkled with powdered sugar and served with fresh raspberries, and homemade scones. It was a deliciously sweet start to the day.

After breakfast, I set off on a hike among the giant sequoias at nearby Calaveras Big Trees State Park. Later that afternoon, I wandered the tree-lined main street of historic, downtown Murphys, which Chris likened to a Gold Rush version of Carmel. The charming, historic buildings house countless wine tasting rooms, cafes, shops, and galleries.

Private massage room at Courtwood Inn
Not far from the inn, Ironstone Vineyards offers a star-studded summer concert series, which runs June through September each year. This year’s headliners include Matchbox Twenty, Steve Miller Band, and Willie Nelson.

Another must-do activity is to take a wine tasting tour along the region’s scenic, backcountry roads. Courtwood Wine Tours offers an intimate, behind-the-scenes look at Calaveras County wineries. The tour includes door-to-door transportation, a personalized wine tour itinerary, tasting fees at each of the wineries, chilled water and soft drinks, a delicious picnic lunch, and flexible scheduling all in one price.

Courtwood Inn
2081 Ponderosa Way
P.O. Box 468
Murphys, CA 95247

First photo courtesy of Courtwood Inn; all others by Ranee Ruble-Dotts for CABBI.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Modern Farmhouse Design and Gourmet Cuisine in the Heart of the Santa Ynez Valley

Newly-redesigned dining room at the Ballard Inn
Nestled among the bucolic vineyards and horse ranches of the Santa Ynez Valley, Ballard is a tiny outpost with a little red schoolhouse, a couple of churches, and an outstanding inn and restaurant. Founded in 1880 as the first stagecoach stop between Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo, Ballard is Santa Ynez Valley’s oldest town. It’s also the smallest. Unlike the tourist-clogged streets of nearby Solvang and Los Olivos, Ballard has remained a sleepy village with a little more than 400 residents.

Lobby of the Ballard Inn
Ballard’s only business sits alongside a country road at the center of town: the newly-redesigned Ballard Inn and its revamped restaurant, The Gathering Table. Upon walking into the lobby, my husband and I were immediately smitten.

Living room of the Ballard Inn
The ground floor renovation combines rustic, Early American antiques with a spare, modern farmhouse aesthetic. The lobby is painted a stark white with black trim. A grand, spindled staircase rises to the left of the front door and is softened by a natural fiber runner. A black-framed collection of antique keyhole plates lines the wall along the stairs. A large, wood-burning fireplace stands to the right, with just an earthenware vase and a couple of rustic candlestick holders resting on its mantle. Two oval framed, sepia-toned photographs of Ballard’s earliest pioneers—Cynthia Ballard and George Lewis—hang on the back wall on either side of a pair of rustic doors and a front desk built of reclaimed wood. The modern farmhouse light fixtures feature exposed filament bulbs. A handful of plants add bursts of natural greenery to an otherwise neutral color palette.

The effect exudes a modern, sophisticated elegance with a nod to the town’s Western frontier roots. The design elements are carried throughout the ground-floor renovations. Wide-planked wood floors grace most of the common areas. The dining area, where wines and hors d'oeuvres are served each afternoon, is anchored by a long, rustic, antique farmhouse table with matching benches. Two enormous black-and-white photographs of oak trees hang on the wall. The living room is a blend of antiques and modern furnishings surrounding a fireplace. Brass tack leather chairs are complemented by white linen-upholstered seating draped with cozy linen/silk blankets in neutral colors.

Entrance to The Gathering Table
The same blankets are draped over the backs of the leather booths in the restaurant, which features a long, communal farmhouse table in the center flanked by more intimate rustic wooden tables on either side. Both the design and the dining style is a departure from what it had been since Chef Budi Kazali and his wife Chris purchased the inn and restaurant in 2004.

“The restaurant had long been a fine dining establishment with white linen tables; it was known as a special occasion kind of place,” said Budi. “We wanted to create a less formal, more convivial space for locals and visitors to gather over incredible food.”

The award-winning chef is best known for his French-Asian cuisine. Budi was born in Indonesia, but grew up in Santa Barbara, where his family still owns hotels. After earning a degree in economics, he followed his passion for cooking to the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco, where he learned the foundations of French culinary techniques. He went on to refine his skills at high-profile restaurants in San Francisco and Boston--including Crampton Place and Blue Ginger--before returning to Santa Barbara County to purchase the Ballard Inn and Restaurant with his wife when his oldest son was still an infant.
The Gathering Table at Ballard Inn

Budi’s new restaurant concept builds upon his skillful blending of Asian flavors with classic French-style dishes. The menu features a variety of new and inventive shared plates and signature dishes highlighting local, seasonal produce and seafood. In addition to the warm, inviting atmosphere and fine cuisine, the restaurant offers an excellent wine list showcasing a number of regional wines and impeccable service.

Hamachi with avocado and soy-yuzu vinaigrette
The Vintner's Room at Ballard Inn
Tucked into one of the cozy leather booths inside the packed restaurant, my husband and I worked our way through half a dozen shared plates. One of the stand-outs was the hamachi. The melt-in-your-mouth fresh fish was layered between slices of avocado, drizzled with a soy-yuzu vinaigrette, and topped with delicate watercress, crispy shallots, and porcini mushrooms. We also savored the candied bacon in the grilled Little Gem greens salad, a wild mushroom risotto in a porcini broth, and a spicy hangar steak with charred Brussel sprouts. Full from dinner, we tried to pass on dessert, but the menu proved too tempting. We opted to share one of the smaller items: a chocolate whoopee pie filled with banana cream. It was a thousand times more delicious and surprisingly lighter than any childhood whoopee pie concoction we remembered.

After dinner, we returned to our room to find warm cookies on the bedside table. The cookies are part of a complimentary turn-down service in which the innkeepers freshen up the rooms, draw the linen shades, and turn down the bed.

Vase detail at The Gathering Table
Our room, the Vintners Room, was recently redesigned to echo the ground-floor renovations. Spare but comfortable in its simple farmhouse furnishings, the room featured dark-stained wood floors and a woven rug, a round wooden table and two chairs basking in the sunny glow of the wrap-around bay windows, and vintage suitcases stacked beside an antique mirrored armoire. In the back corner, an antique vanity was plumbed to resemble an old fashioned wash basin. The bedding featured natural linen accents and a soft linen/silk blanket folded at the foot of the bed. All of the inn’s 15 rooms will be upgraded over time.

Ballard Inn
After a restful night’s sleep, we returned to the restaurant downstairs for breakfast, which includes a choice of a cooked-to-order breakfast and a buffet assortment of fresh pastries, fresh fruit, yogurt, granola, cereals, juices, tea, and coffee. We spent the rest of the morning relaxing on inn’s broad front porch as we plotted our day’s wine tasting adventure in the Santa Ynez Valley. But we could have easily spent the rest of the day on the porch, overlooking profusion of garden blooms and watching cyclists and the occasional car roll by.

Ballard Inn and The Gathering Table
2436 Baseline Avenue
Ballard, CA 93463

Sixth photo by Tenley Fohl Photography courtesy of The Gathering Table. All others by Ranee Ruble-Dotts for CABBI.