Tuesday, September 12, 2017

A New Star in the Santa Ynez Valley

Fess Parker Wine Country Inn & Spa’s new restaurant, The Bear and Star
Waygu Meat Loaf at The Bear and Star
In Chef John Cox’s hands, a dish as humble as meatloaf takes a gastronomic turn into greatness at Fess Parker Wine Country Inn & Spa’s new restaurant, The Bear and Star. Having earned accolades for his ventures in micro-regional cuisine at Sierra Mar Post Ranch Inn in Big Sur, John is now the leading force behind the vision and culinary team for The Bear and Star, which just opened this past spring.

Like the late Fess Parker, John hails from the Lone Star state but also calls California home. In developing The Bear and Star, John sought to combine the techniques of a chef with both the Parker family heritage and his own to create a “refined ranch cuisine” that draws upon California’s bounty.

With the meatloaf, John aimed to create the best possible version of the dish using Waygu beef raised just seven miles away on the 714-acre Fess Parker Home Ranch. The meatloaf is topped with a rich, house-made ketchup using tomatoes grown on the ranch and smoked on-site.

Chef John Cox of The Bear and Star
Sourcing the meats and vegetables almost exclusively from the ranch, John is kicking the concept of farm-to-table dining up a few notches. “We wanted to create a sustainable eco-system on a scale that has meaning,” said John.

Fess Parker Home Ranch
The ranch is raising 120 head of Waygu cattle on the spent grains and pomace from the Parker family brewery and winery. The manure from the cattle in turn feeds the organic vegetable gardens. The ranch is also raising chickens, quail, rabbits, pigs, and bees and tending to over 200 hundreds of acres of orchards and vineyards. Horseback tours of the ranch are available.

The menu is for the restaurant is dictated by the ranch and changes daily. The night my husband and I visited, we were treated to a number of John’s sophisticated riffs on classic Southern fare. The piping hot, cast-iron cornbread featured a delicate honey glaze. The fried green tomatoes were served with watermelon and unexpectedly well-paired cheese sauce. Queso-stuffed jalapenos were wrapped in bacon and served with a smoky chipotle sauce. The brined, double-cut pork chop was perfectly prepared with a slight smoky edge and served with cheesy grits and wine-braised cabbage. We finished the meal with chess pie topped with fresh berries and whipped cream.

The Chef's Room at The Bear and Star
The service is generous, friendly, and unpretentious. The d├ęcor is a cozy cowboy chic. Sliding barn doors open to a dining room with oversized, brass tack upholstered chairs and throw pillows with a Southwestern vibe. A longhorn skull hangs above the fireplace. The adjacent Chef’s Room is an inviting, light-filled space lined with bookcases holding the chef’s personal collection of cookbooks, backlit displays of pickled vegetables, and a viewing window into the kitchen. Hidden behind a wall of wine with rolling doors, the restaurant’s Wine Room is a discreet and glamourous venue for intimate gatherings with a grand dining table, tufted red velvet chairs, and state-of-the-art, temperature-controlled wine storage.

Nearly all of the dining implements are locally sourced. The restaurant’s ceramic dinnerware is made by Rolled Oats Pottery a few miles away in Solvang. The water glasses are hand-blown in Santa Barbara. The leather placemats, linen napkins, and star-shaped iron trivets are all locally made. John has even designed a special wooden room-service box with a drawer for holding a bottle of wine and unique ceramic dinnerware that can both stack and cover dishes to be delivered to the room.
Room 8 at the Fess Parker Wine Country Inn & Spa
Pool at the Fess Parker Wine Country Inn & Spa

While the restaurant is a star attraction, the accommodations at the Fess Parker Wine Country Inn & Spa are nothing short of sublime.  Our room was a spacious suite with vaulted ceilings, two gas fireplaces, a luxurious king-size bed, and two separate seating areas with stylish furnishings in red, cream and blue hues. The enormous tiled bath featured a soaking tub, glass shower, and a wide vanity with two vessel sinks. The suite also featured beautiful built-in cabinetry, a wet bar, wide-plank wood floors, white plantation shutters, and framed sepia-toned photographs of the Santa Ynez Valley.

The inn also features a beautiful rimless swimming pool with a shaded arbor and fire pits and an on-site spa offering a variety of esthetic and massage treatments.

Fess Parker Wine Country Inn & Spa

2860 Grand Ave
Los Olivos, CA 93441

Second, third, fourth, fifth and seventh photos courtesy of Fess Parker Wine Country Inn & Spa.  Other photos by Ranee Ruble-Dotts for CABBI.

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.