Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Vibrant Veg Fare with an Ocean View

Who: VN Publisher Joseph Connelly + VN Associate Publisher Colleen Holland
When: April 19–22, 2009
Why: To celebrate spring

The Scoop: Now that the May+June issue of VegNews has been published, with a short window of respite time we hightailed it up to Mendocino to one of our favorite places in the galaxy, Stanford Inn by the Sea.

One bountiful ingredient of the Stanford Inn experience is dining in its award-winning, by-and-large organic, spacious and lovely vegetarian restaurant, The Ravens. Executive Chef Barry Horton is a maestro in the kitchen; his “conscientiously prepared organic cuisine” changes with the seasonal offerings of the property’s own Big River Nurseries certified-organic gardens, from where much of the food arrives freshly hand-picked and literally just a few short steps from the kitchen.

A few of the raised-bed gardens at Stanford Inn by the Sea's Big River Nurseries

It’s springtime, so both the ravens and The Ravens are in full bloom. Dozens of the restaurant’s namesake black birds buddy up to the rescue horses looking for dropped morsels, while our meal awaits us in the dining room. The Ravens is simply the crème de lá crème of veg restaurants north of the San Francisco Bay Area and south of the North Pole. Over the course of our stay we’ll indulge in three breakfasts and three dinners. That’s a lot of courses, of course, but we’re up for the challenge.

Breakfast at The Ravens is a healthy, hearty meal that allows you to skip lunch without missing a beat. A few standouts include the Stanford Inn Live Scramble: finely ground almonds and sunflower seeds mixed with onions, spices, tomato, and cilantro over a chiffonade of spinach. There’s also the Frittata, another new menu item, made from sun-dried tomatoes, spinach, and wild ’shrooms, plus baked tofu with grilled tomatoes, vegan sour cream, and hash browns. Yum. The Vegetable Garden Scramble allows you to pick between tempeh or tofu; I choose the ‘peh. Magnificent. There’s also The Ravens Florentine, which consists of a house-made English muffin under a bed of steamed spinach topped off with tofu and all smothered in a lemon-tahini sauce. There’s plenty more to choose from including traditional breakfast fare such as Pancakes, Waffles, and French Toast as well as additional savory dishes. A total of 12 vegan entrées plus five “breakfast combination plates” fill the morning menu, which begins with a flute of freshly squeezed organic juice (orange, apple, tomato, or carrot) plus your choice of fair-trade coffee or tea, all included with your stay. With this extensive a menu, you could move in for a week or more and never have the same thing twice, if you were so inclined.

The evening meal is just as special. As the dining room looks westward, you watch the sun set over the gardens into the Pacific, creating wonderful hues of pink and bright orange in the energetic evening sky, setting the stage for a trip around the all-vegan menu.

A trio of appetizers at The Ravens

Starting with soup, we sip Tortilla (ground tortillas in a deep, spicy broth) and savor the creamy Zucchini Cilantro with crème fraiche. Light eaters will relish the Roasted Beet Salad (red and yellow in a Meyer-lemon vinaigrette), the California Salad (garden lettuces with blood orange, grilled fennel, and hemp seeds), or the Harvest Garden (wilted spinach under a roasted Bosc paired with almond and pine nut “cheese”). For entrées it’s the Beggar’s Purse (cilantro-lime tempeh inside a phyllo crust over a bed of spinach accompanying a sweet potato batonnets) and the special of the day, Sid’s Twins, in honor of one of the chef’s who has just become a proud father again and again: two grilled stalks o’ asparagus “cigars” wrapped in phyllo atop a pair of tempeh and herb-filled baby artichokes, accompanied by sugar-snap pea and carrot slaw, then finished off with a French fingerling cream sauce. Hungry yet?

There’s plenty more, but I’m already over both my word and calorie count. Joan and Jeff Stanford and their staff have created a most perfect retreat. Next time you are looking for a weekend getaway, look no further than Mendocino’s Stanford Inn by the Sea.

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