We had barely stepped through the front door at Timber Cove when a hostess handed us glasses of ginger ale spiked with fresh ginger and a touch of cayenne. The crisp, spicy drink couldn’t have been more welcome after our long drive up California Highway 1 to the middle of nowhere.
Getting to this landmark property is a spectacular jaunt, breathtaking with views of the Pacific Ocean. But it also can be stomach unsettling, thanks to hairpin turns in skinny lanes edging the cliffs past Jenner. The joy ride is part of the reason that, for 53 years now, this redwood and stone resort has been a beacon for guests in search of solitude, and a bit of adventure.
The sense of arrival is all the more exciting now, following an extensive remodeling that also welcomed a new restaurant. Coast Kitchen has replaced the faded Alexander’s, and now we have ample reason to make the trek even if we’re not staying over in one of the 46 newly redone, elegant rooms.
That complimentary sparkling beverage is the first sign that details have been thought through. New chef Phillip Kaufman (San Francisco’s One Market, and Laguna Beach’s Hush) impresses with an inventive menu that artfully balances expected California dishes with novel twists, and showcases coastal flavors dressed in dramatic accents.
An oceanfront restaurant would have to offer local King salmon, for example, but here the silky fish is brightened by smart accompaniments of balsamic roasted red onions, lentils, tangy sorrel salad, pickled shallots and a bit of lemon oil ($25). Those vinegar and acid notes play marvelously against the fatty fish.
At first glance, the dining room doesn’t suggest an upscale experience. The 54-seat space is set downstairs from the sumptuous, soaring A-frame ceiling lobby rich with spectacular wood rafters, an enormous stone fireplace, a huge bleached antler chandelier, eclectic retro and tree trunk furniture, and a long, sleek wood full bar.
It’s a let down, really, to see bare wood tables and chairs set with blue plaid tie-on cushions — the look is casual bistro-style. A piled rock wall brings sharp edges, while the wood ceiling with heavy wood rafters, a wood accent wall and wood floor create a crate-like feel. The best décor comes from the ocean views, captured via a wall of floor-to-ceiling windows and French doors.
Yet focus on the food, plus the smooth, attentive service, and you’ll enjoy a sophisticated dinner experience. Pause, too, to appreciate the good, complimentary bread and savory salsas that start the meal, in this day and age of often being charged for the nibble.
I wouldn’t normally order a Little Gem and chicory salad for a review — lettuce is lettuce — but this mix beckoned with tempting additions of endive, firm fig quarters, crumbles of local goat cheese, walnut chunks and bits of stone fruit in champagne vinaigrette ($8). It was the add-ins that attracted me to the PEI mussels ($12), as well. I didn’t discern any of the promised salt roasting for the shiny black bivalves, but dots of guanciale and blistered tomatoes added interest to the dish, the thin broth sopped up with a wand of parsley pesto smeared crostini.
Part of the fun of eating quail is nibbling on the Lilliputian pieces, and these two appetizer bites of buttermilk battered, fried bird proved that point ($14). Flavor was excellent, too, full fleshed and juicy with crunchy crust, atop a dark bed of caramelized onions and golden shimmers of sweet chili vinaigrette finished with scallion.
Where: 21780 Highway 1, Jenner
When: Breakfast 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. daily; lunch noon to 4 p.m. daily; dinner 5 to 9 p.m. Mon.-Thurs. and 5 to 10 p.m. Fri.-Sun.
Contact: 707-847-3231, coastkitchensonoma.com
Price: Expensive, entrées $19-$38
Stars: ** ½
Summary: The lavishly renovated 1963 resort now boasts an impressive new Cal-cuisine restaurant, bringing even more reason to make the scenic coastal drive. Fried quail and King salmon with tangy sorrel salad shine.