Over the last four years, Timber Cove Inn just north of Fort Ross has been given a much-needed makeover. New owners have turned the once funky hostelry into a clean and pleasant spot, and the restaurant, called Alexander's, into a place worth a visit for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
It can also serve as a place to calm your shaky nerves after the harrowing drive on Route 1 from Jenner to Fort Ross, as the road hugs sheer cliffs hundreds of feet above the ocean, sometimes without protective guardrails.
The Sonoma County coast is justifiably renowned for its powerful, elemental beauty, and at Alexander's, you are right in the middle of it. Floor to ceiling windows in the dining room look out over the immensity of the Pacific Ocean. Walls of native boulders and timbered rafters give the feeling of a coastal cave. Lucky diners during the gray-whale migrations in January and early spring may get to see these magnificent mammals not far offshore.
Chef Benjamin St. Claire's cuisine is California-American eclectic, but the wine list is decidedly Sonoma Coast and Russian River. A glass of David Hirsch's Pinot Noir, bottled expressly for the Timber Cove Inn, is $12 a glass. For a well-made big red, check out the Thumbprint "Dry Creek Valley" Zinfandel at $13 a glass. And if you're in a splurgy mood, the always excellent Flowers "Sonoma Coast" Chardonnay is $18 a glass. There's a by-the-bottle list, too, including the best of the region, like the 2007 Hirsch "San Andreas" Pinot Noir for $94 and the 2006 Failla "Hirsch Vineyard" Pinot Noir for $110. The big prices for Hirsch wines reflect the exceptional quality of his fruit and the subsequent strong demand for wines made from it. Corkage is $20.
Pinot would be a good choice for chef St. Claire's style of cooking. His Ahi Coco Beche ($11 **?) finds some chunks of raw ahi perched on a bed of peeled cucumber slices. The fish is given a flavor boost from pickled ginger and it's sprinkled with black and white sesame seeds and dried bits of coconut, which add very little to the experience. Each bite is really all about the ahi and ginger.
Fish Tacos ($10 ***) are assembled classically, but with flour tortillas. Sauteed flaky whitefish is loaded in, then topped with green and purple cabbage and green avocado cr?e, plus a wedge of lime. Fresh salsa and a small pot of hot sauce are served on the side. You get two tacos per order.
The puffy, crispy Onion Rings ($6 *?) are served with samurai sauce. This is a spicy mayonnaise from Belgium by way of the Netherlands by way of Indonesia, where Dutch traders of yore learned to add sambal oelek (fiery chili peppers) to mayonnaise. If these rings weren't so oily, they'd be great.
Which brings us to Beef Poutine ($9 *). Here's a dish that tries hard to be cool, but ends up being just nasty. Poutine itself is a French Canadian fast food and consists of French fries covered with melted cheese and brown gravy. Chef has added chopped beef bits to the gravy, which only makes the dish even less appealing.