Tuesday, March 14, 2017

A New Boutique Hotel and a New Kind of Gold Rush in Plymouth, California

One of the guest rooms at the newest hotel in Plymouth, California: Rest, a Boutique Hotel
Founded during the Gold Rush and set amid the graceful rolling hills of Amador County, the rough-and-ready town of Plymouth seems poised to welcome a new rush of well-heeled visitors. In the last 20 years, the number of local wineries have flourished from a dozen to over 40. In the last decade, new shops and restaurants have popped up along Plymouth’s Main Street and have begun to smooth the town’s ragged edges. And just last year, a new boutique hotel opened and has already begun drawing guests from around the world.

The city park in Plymouth
I rolled into the sleepy town of Plymouth last September and immediately stumbled across the Amador Vintage Market. Owned by caterer Beth Sogaard, the tantalizing shop features a mouthwatering selection of fresh sandwiches, salads, charcuterie, artisan cheeses, desserts, and wines. It’s the perfect place to grab fare for a wine country picnic. I picked up a scoop of gelato to wander through town. Next door, at the city park with a charming gazebo, vendors were starting to set up for the weekly Amador Farmers Market. The newly-opened Prospect Cellars was pouring wines in what had originally been the town’s old post office. Across from the market, the kitchen staff were prepping for dinner at Taste, a restaurant that Wine Enthusiast Magazine named one of the Top 100 wine restaurants in America. Two doors down, I checked-in to Plymouth’s newest and swankiest hotel, which just opened in February 2016.

Rest, A Boutique Hotel
A corridor at Rest, a Boutique Hotel
The 16-room Rest, a Boutique Hotel, blends elements of the town’s heritage and tongue-in-cheek humor with the contemporary furnishings and amenities you would expect to find at a luxury hotel. The owners, Tracey and Mark Berkner (who also own Taste), renovated two rundown apartment buildings to create the hotel. They salvaged some of the original, first-growth timbers from the buildings and repurposed them as sliding barn doors for the lobby office. The lobby’s breakfast bar was made from old doors. The boards that hang above the bar were part of the building’s original siding and feature faint scrawls of graffiti written in cursive, with pencil. The light-filled lobby also features vaulted ceilings, beautiful hardwood floors, a gas fireplace with comfortable seating, and a bank of windows along the far south wall. The computer at the check-in desk is comically hidden inside a vintage suitcase atop a rolling cart filled with other vintage suitcases. Stepping in from the street, the resulting hotel and its gracious hospitality is an unexpected delight.

Double queen guestroom at Rest, a Boutique Hotel
The sweet desk clerk showed me to my room, passing along the windowed corridors overlooking an inviting courtyard. My room was a double queen on the second floor. Sunlight was pouring in through the plantation shutters. An elephant expertly folded from a towel greeted me from one of the beds. The spacious room offered a desk and a seating area and was decorated in soothing shades of sage, cream, and khaki with hints of pale blue and burnt orange. The elevated beds were triple-sheeted with luxurious white linens and incredibly comfortable.

Seating area for the double queen room
The room held a number of thoughtful amenities for a wine country getaway: complimentary water, a wine opener and wine glasses, plates, napkins, and utensils, and a small refrigerator with an honor bar. The room also featured a large screen smart TV, complimentary Wi-Fi, in-room coffee and tea service, an iron and ironing board, and plush robes. The bath, with its polished granite and glass tiled-shower, was hidden behind a frosted glass door. The control knob for the shower was thoughtfully designed to be outside of the spray of the shower head.

Rest serves wine and hors d'oeuvres each evening from 5 to 6 p.m. The night I was there, the staff was pouring two wines local wines—a rosé and a red blend—made by Taste’s sommelier Thomas Allen under his label, Fate Wines. The wines were good, but the hors d'oeuvres—courtesy of Taste—were divine. Any description I could write about the smoked duck with figs or the crostini with eggplant and tomato would fail to describe how amazing they truly were.

Second floor landing at Rest, a Boutique Hotel
I could hear the strains of live music coming from the farmers market. I grabbed one last crostini and headed down the street, where the market was in full swing. One vendor was making pizzas in a portable wood-fired oven. Others were selling vegetables and sampling wine. The market was packed with locals sharing tales of the wine harvest season.

I had a dinner reservation at Taste that I didn’t want to miss, so I left the market for the restaurant across the street. Like the hotel, stepping into the restaurant from the street is a bit like stepping into an alternate universe. It’s an unexpectedly sophisticated urban bistro in a humble western town. The space features warm-hued walls, warm lighting, white table cloths, wood-plank floors, and a long wooden bar stretching across one wall. The service was impeccable. The restaurant’s award-winning wine list showcases many local producers as well as an impressive collection of domestic and international wines.

The menu offerings were impossible to choose from so I opted for mix of small plates starting with a fig, melon, and prosciutto salad with fresh basil, balsamic vinegar and wildflower honey. The late summer flavors lightly drizzled with the emulsified vinegar and honey were a superb combination. I also had the incredibly delicious Mushroom Cigars, which resemble egg rolls, but are made of phyllo dough stuffed with cremini, shiitake, and oyster mushrooms, fresh herbs, and goat cheese. I rounded out the dinner with pan-seared gnocchi with Sun Gold tomatoes, braised lamb, feta, and shaved zucchini.

The outdoor patio at Rest, a Boutique Hotel
Walking back to the hotel after dinner, I found a plate of cookies on the bar in the lobby with a hand-written note that read, “Cookies made with butter and love.” Miles from home and my family, I was touched by the note-writer’s kindness. I poured myself a cup of tea, took a cookie out to the hotel’s rear patio—which glowed with string lights—and called my husband.

The hotel serves a continental breakfast in the lobby from 7 - 10 a.m. each morning. I had been trying to catch up on work in my room that morning, so I hastily ran downstairs to grab breakfast, which turned out to be a much larger spread than I anticipated. The woman busing the tray of empty plates and coffee mugs greeted me with a deep-felt warmth that stunned me. My immediate thought was this: this woman should be training people to work in hospitality, not busing dishes. She must have read the question on my face because she introduced herself as Tracey, the owner I had not yet met. She and her husband have formidable résumés in the food and hospitality industry and a tireless work ethic.

All of this was starting to fall into place.

Breakfast at Rest, a Boutique Hotel
Tracey proceeded to show me the breakfast bar, which included a delicious assortment of pastries, homemade granola, yogurt, fresh fruits, juices, and more. She gently urged me to take a plate and enjoy breakfast in the courtyard. She spoke with such a calming effect that she made my concerns about my work dissipate like wisps of fog on a sunny day. I did exactly as she told me: I filled a plate and took it out to the courtyard, where I sat beside a collection of potted plants and a trickling fountain.

Courtyard at Rest, a Boutique Hotel
A few minutes later, I was joined by two men who were raving about the breakfast. They were from Sweden and had been traveling in the U.S. for a couple of weeks. They told me that this was the best breakfast they had had on their entire trip.

I asked them where else have they had been. They rattled off their list: Walla Walla in Washington, Oregon’s Willamette Valley, Napa and Sonoma, and now here, in Amador County.

“For pleasure?” I asked, wondering how they had ever discovered Plymouth and Amador County among much better-known wine producing regions.

“No, business, actually,” one of the men said. They explained they were wine buyers for European markets.

And so it seems Plymouth and Amador County is not likely to remain little-known for long. A new kind of gold rush is on the horizon. Make your reservations now.

Rest, a Boutique Hotel
9372 Main Street
Plymouth, CA 95669

Second to last photo Courtesy of Rest, A Boutique Hotel. All others by Ranee Ruble-Dotts for CABBI.

Monday, February 13, 2017

A Private, Romantic Escape on the Quiet Side of the Mendocino Peninsula

Mendocino Headlands State Park is located just steps from Mendocino Seaside Cottage
On the quiet northern side of the Mendocino peninsula, Mel Lockey leads me on a walk along the trails in Mendocino Headlands State Park, which is located just across the road from his inn. An expanse of blue sea blurs into the wisps of fog drifting toward the shore. Waves churn and crash into the rocky cliffs below the grass-lined foot path. We walk into a thicket of windswept cypress trees which, in turn, opens into a natural amphitheater encircled by the trees. They frame a dramatic view of the headlands and the vast ocean stretching beyond. Fading rose petals are strewn along the ground, vestiges of a recent wedding.

Mendocino Seaside Cottage
Mel and his wife, Lindalee, were married at this spot 35 years ago on Valentine’s Day. For 42 years, they celebrated the anniversary of their first date at the same restaurant every year. “My wife and I were true romantics,” said Mel.

Special Occasion Suite at Mendocino Seaside Cottage
They bought Mendocino Seaside Cottage in the 1980s and created a private, romantic escape for couples. The heart-shaped sign at the entrance to the inn provides a hint of the romance inside. Beneath a canopy of eucalyptus and cypress trees, guests are welcomed by a beautiful, sun-dappled garden. The inn is a contemporary Victorian in its design with bay windows overlooking the headlands and the ocean. Each of the five spacious suites have private entrances, private decks and balconies with sweeping ocean views, king-size beds, and gas fireplaces. All but one of the rooms have Jacuzzi tubs for two; the Penthouse Suite also has a steam shower with dual showerheads. In the Tropical Cottage, the Jacuzzi tub is set in front of a glowing gas fireplace. The only room without a Jacuzzi tub, Vista View, has possibly the best view of the headlands.

Tropical Cottage at Mendocino Seaside Cottage
There are spotting scopes in each of the rooms for whale watching and bird watching. Built-in entertainment centers offer televisions, stereos, and DVD players hidden behind the cabinets. Free wireless internet is also included.

Jacuzzi tub for two beside the fireplace in Tropical Cottage
Unlike the many B&Bs in Mendocino, the Mendocino Seaside Cottage does not serve breakfast (a choice in keeping with the owner’s desire to create a private hideaway) but village cafes and restaurants are a just short stroll away. Plus, all of the rooms are equipped with full kitchens or wet bars with microwaves and refrigerators, and cozy dining spots with ocean views. So there’s always the option of checking in and never leaving the room. The light-filled dining alcove of the Penthouse Suite, for example, is a place I could easily spend hours gazing out of the wrap-around bay windows with their panoramic views of the ocean and Point Cabrillo Lighthouse.

On our hike, Mel leads me along a trail atop a narrow strip of land jutting out into the ocean, where we can look back at the coves filled with swirling turquoise blue water. “It was our dream, working together,” says Mel.

Honeymoon Suite at Mendocino Seaside Cottage
But after 33 years of marriage and decades of owning the inn together, Mel lost his wife to illness. On what would have been their 43rd "first date" anniversary, Mel returned to the restaurant where they had celebrated all of their previous anniversaries alone. He ordered a martini for himself and a Manhattan for his wife. It was the drink she had always ordered. “I drank both,” he tells me.

He gazes out at the beauty of the Mendocino headlands and says, “I feel her here. I would have lived in a trailer park had it not been for her.”

View from one of the private decks
The special romance between Mel and his wife live on in the seaside escape they created together and continue to share with others.

Mendocino Seaside Cottage
10940 Lansing Street
Mendocino, CA 94560
707-485-0239 or 800-944-3278

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

5 Cool Hideaways in Palm Springs to Warm Up this Winter

Courtyard pool at Orbit In in Palm Springs, California
Frank Sinatra may have been dreaming of a white Christmas, but with snowflakes swirling furiously outside my window, I’ve been dreaming of Palm Springs. It’s been cold outside for weeks now, and I’d much rather be lounging in the warm sun by a shimmering pool, drinking cocktails, and listening to the voice of Sinatra crooning softly above the rustling palms. But since I’m currently stuck in the land of snow, I’ll just share five, cool Palm Springs hideaways where you can warm up this winter.

Courtyard pool at Orbit In


Orbit In

Bertoia's Den at Orbit In
Bertoia's Den at Orbit In
Sputnik was launched into orbit the same year modernist architect Herbert Burns designed the Orbit In. With a time-capsule quality, the ultra-chic boutique hotel transports guests to its swanky mid-century milieu at the base of the San Jacinto Mountains. The nine-room inn features the owners’ personal collection of mid-century designer furnishings such as Harry Bertoia chairs, Eero Saarinen tables, and Charles and Ray Eames textiles. Room 108, the Frey Lounge, pays homage to Palm Springs architect Albert Frey. The room’s private rear patio has an outdoor shower and offers great views of Frey House II, which sits on a ridge just above the hotel.

In addition to the designer furnishings and private patios, the rooms also feature original and impeccably-maintained pastel-tiled bathrooms, vintage white steel kitchenettes, floating wall clocks, melamine tableware, and retro record players with a stash of Rat Pack albums. If you’re looking for a particular tune, you can peruse the lobby’s extensive collection of vintage vinyl ranging from big band to bossa nova.

Hot tub and lava rock fire pit at Orbit In
In classic desert modernist style, the rooms are arranged around a private courtyard with a saltwater pool and retro patio umbrellas and lounge chairs. Each evening, owners Kevin Miller and Jinny Park shake things up with their signature “Orbitini” cocktails served poolside around a boomerang-shaped bar. Tucked in a private corner, away from the rooms, you can soak under the stars in a saltwater hot tub next to the glow of a lava rock fire pit.

Located in Palm Springs’ historic Tennis Club district, the hotel is a short walk to a multitude of downtown cafes, shops, and galleries. You can also hop on one of the complimentary cruiser bikes for a spin around the neighborhood.

Orbit In
562 W Arenas Rd
Palm Springs, CA 92262-6348

Courtyard pool at the Avanti Hotel


Avanti Hotel

Entrance to the Avanti Hotel
Step inside the frosted glass doors of the Avanti Hotel, and you’ll find a stylish, intimate hideaway. Inside the foyer, a white chandelier dangles overhead while soft strains of Sinatra float over the waters of a sparkling pool.

Hot tub at the Avanti Hotel
Avanti is located off the main drag in a quiet section of Palm Springs’ historic Movie Colony neighborhood. The hotel features 10 rooms and suites encircling a relaxing central courtyard with a kidney-shaped pool and sublime views of the mountains. The courtyard pool is ringed with lounge chairs, patio umbrellas, a glass rock fire pit, and showy displays of Mexican birds of paradise. Through a breezeway in the far back corner of the hotel, there’s another, smaller courtyard with intimate outdoor seating and a hot tub for soaking under the stars.

Room 10 at the Avanti Hotel
The hotel was built in 1954, but has been thoroughly updated. Furnishings include comfortable beds with upholstered headboards, crisp white linens, and modern lamps and side chairs. Room 10 is a hip, cozy studio with a queen platform bed, a zebra print throw pillow, a bright orange full-length mirror, and a private back patio. The contemporary bath features a glass vessel sink and a tiled shower with a rain showerhead.

Avanti’s amiable hosts, Jim and Boxley, serve complimentary wine, beer, and mixed drinks poolside each evening from 5-6 p.m. The hotel’s orange and pink retro Huffy bikes are a great way to cruise into downtown for dinner, but if you want to grab carry-out and eat dinner by the pool or on your own private back patio, the hotel offers a picnic basket filled with melamine plates, utensils, and an acrylic wine decanter just for that purpose.

Avanti Hotel
354 E Stevens Rd
Palm Springs, CA 92262-4736

Courtyard pool at POSH Palm Springs


POSH Palm Springs

Entrance to POSH Palm Springs
Also located in the historic Movie Colony neighborhood, the equally intimate and tranquil POSH Palm Springs has a lineage that dates back to Palm Springs’ earliest days as a playground for Hollywood stars. Just one block away from the former El Mirador Hotel--which was Palm Springs’ first resort—POSH Palm Springs was built in the 1930s as an overflow hotel for the resort.

Room #5 at POSH Palm Springs
The boutique hotel features an Art Deco design with arched white colonnades lining either side of the courtyard pool. Pale striped cabana sheers billow in the breeze. Bright blue accent walls and desert succulents lend a Mediterranean flair. The courtyard features views of the mountains, a fire pit, an inviting hot tub at the far end, and offers many more lounge chairs than the hotel will ever have guests. At night, the courtyard is lit with cool blue string lights. In the mornings, the only sounds are the hollow whistle of doves in the trees.

Homemade frittata and danish with veggie sausage
The rooms are impeccably maintained and artfully furnished. Room #5 is a cheery king room decorated in shades of cream and green with ochre-colored walls. The updated bath features a porcelain sink and a shower with two shower heads. A walk-in closet offers closet organizers and baskets. The closet also holds a refrigerator, coffeemaker, wet bar, and a stash of complimentary jelly beans.

For happy hour each evening, owner Tony Gangloff serves up complimentary hors d’oeuvres and his signature POSH Martini. In the mornings, Tony treats his guests to full gourmet breakfasts that are always homemade and always vegetarian. One of his most requested specialties is his Mexican Egg Torta, which is a delicious combination of Southwest flavors baked in a lovely petal-shaped tortilla bowl.

POSH Palm Springs
530 E Mel Ave
Palm Springs, CA 92262-4831

Courtyard hot tub and pool at the Skylark Hotel


Skylark Hotel

Skylar Hotel entrance
The Skylark Hotel is a fabulously-restored, classic mid-century motor lodge with a young, playful vibe. Beach umbrellas and lounge chairs in vivid technicolors line the hotel’s original 9-foot-deep swimming pool and clover-shaped hot tub. Grab a lounge chair by the pool with a view of the mountains and watch colorful beach balls drift across the water’s surface as big, white, puffy clouds drift across the bright blue skies.

Courtyard pool at the Skylark Hotel
The hotel was originally built in 1955 and had fallen into disrepair before it was restored and re-opened in 2013. The 29-room hotel features spacious rooms with modern appeal: Danish teak furniture, crisp white linens, and framed black-and-white photographs of lush forests that serve as a counterpoint to the arid, palm-fringed landscapes outside. All of the rooms have refrigerators, coffeemakers, and 40” televisions. Some rooms also offer wet bars, microwaves, and pull-out couches.

Double Queen room at the Skylark Hotel
In addition to the large courtyard pool and hot tub, the hotel features a grand piano in the lobby, a large tiled sauna tucked into a back corner of the courtyard, and a lounge where a complimentary continental breakfast is served each morning. The lounge also a good spot to enjoy take-out and play an old-school board game.

The hotel straddles Palm Springs’ two main streets just north of the uptown design district and affords easy access to downtown.

Skylark Hotel
1466 N Palm Canyon Drive
Palm Springs, CA 92262-4412

Interior of the suite at Las Fuentes Inn & Gardens


Las Fuentes Inn & Gardens

Exterior of Las Fuentes Inn & Gardens
Southwest of downtown Palm Springs, the Araby Cove neighborhood is a quiet enclave of residential homes nestled against a backdrop of scenic mountains. Though it’s less than a 10-minute drive from downtown, it feels as though it’s a world away. It also affords easy access to several golf courses and the beautiful oasis hiking trails of Indian Canyons inside the Agua Caliente Indian Reservation. For a taste of the good life in Araby Cove, consider a stay at Las Fuentes Inn & Gardens.

Private patio outside the suite
The inn is a single-suite bed and breakfast housed inside a private home at the end of a cul-de-sac with a private entrance and a long list of amenities. Outside, you’ll find a heated, 60-foot saltwater lap pool surrounded by desert gardens, trickling water fountains, spectacular night lighting, a badminton court, and a shaded patio for lounging. The garden blooms around the pool and the private patio outside the suite’s entrance attract a number of hummingbirds.

Lap pool at Las Fuentes Inn & Gardens
Inside, the suite is furnished in a contemporary Southwest style with modern Native American art. The artwork includes owner Don Karvelis’ collections of black pottery from the San Ildefonso and Santa Clara pueblos in New Mexico, Oaxacan pottery, Navajo baskets, a painted gourd by Robert Rivera, and an original watercolor, “Sunset over Santa Fe” by Evelyne Boren. The suite also features vaulted ceilings, recessed, dimmer-controlled lighting, a gas fireplace, an etched-glass enclosed steam shower with a bench and both rain and hand-held showerheads, a tiled soaking tub, a separate spa tub, an extensive library of books and DVDs, a harpsichord, and more.

Each morning, Don prepares a fresh breakfast served in two courses with choices of fruit or yogurt, breads, scones, or muffins, a hot entrée, and beverages. Breakfast can be delivered to the privacy of your suite or enjoyed poolside under the shade of the patio.

Las Fuentes Inn & Gardens
2990 Araby Circle
Palm Springs, CA 92264-4850