Mendocino County’s Elk Cove Inn keeps historical touches, adds twist
Old is new again at one of the most storied and iconic properties along Highway 1 on the southern Mendocino County coast.
The property, the Elk Cove Inn, emerged from its COVID-19 pandemic shutdown with new co-owners who double as innkeepers with a renewed commitment to sustainability. Along the way, they have added a greenhouse and a small farm, built a wooden deck with views of Greenwood State Beach, renovated nearly all 16 rooms and launched one of the most talked-about restaurants in the area.
The couple behind this change: Victor Passalacqua and Melissa Boon, who rolled into town in May 2020 in a broke-down RV and essentially have never left.
This dynamic duo had been living a nomadic life before working out a deal with Elk Cove Inn owner Rakesh Taneja to become partners in the business. Now, as they have entered their third year of running the show, they say there’s no place they’d rather be.
“At this point, the place just feels like home,” said Boon. “I love that we get to share it with the world.”
Elk Cove Inn’s main white Craftsman-style house, made without nails, dates to the late 1800s, and some rooms still have original wallpaper. Five other guest-facing buildings on property hail from different eras, each of them emphasizes substance over style. Rooms are cozy, comfortable and intimate. Most have gas fireplaces and most have ocean views. The inn is pet-friendly, too.
The house was built in 1883 by the L.E. White Lumber Co. as the mill superintendent’s home. It became one of the first bed & breakfast inns on the Mendocino Coast in 1968, according to the Elk Cove Inn’s website.
What makes the inn stand out are its quirks. No two guest rooms are alike. Older rooms have window benches, newer rooms have wet bars.
Every room comes with a free tiny bottle of port and a welcome basket of local snacks. Pathways on the exterior are lined with upside-down empty wine and water bottles, creating a living record of history through upcycling. A one-room spa is adjacent to the inn’s kitchen.
There’s a tiny gazebo with seeping views of the Pacific — a perfect spot for sitting and reading a book — and a secluded trail winds down to the beach. Last year Passalacqua built a tiny amphitheater for weddings, an alcove called the “Elk-Cove.”
“We don’t want to be luxurious, we just want to be comfortable,” he said. “We have nice beds, but they’re nothing fancy. We have nice robes, but they’re not Giorgio Armani.”
Boon agreed, noting that she wants the inn to feel like a place she’d invite her friends to stay. She added that she loves it when guests visit and regale her with stories from the past, or stories about how they came to the inn on their honeymoon 30 years ago.
“We want people to come back again and again and again,” she said.
New approach to culinary
Technically, the inn is a bed-and-breakfast. Room rates ranging from $245 to $545 include breakfast every morning and breakfasts are delivered to guest rooms so visitors can have breakfast in bed.
The inn also has a restaurant named Sibo Restaurant that is open for dinner nightly.
Passalacqua, who is Peruvian, Spanish and Italian, is a one-man culinary program — a no-brainer since the 52-year-old has spent 30 years on the culinary side of the hospitality industry in places such as Miami, Montreal and elsewhere. He has worked alongside renowned chefs like Paul Bocuse, Edward Merard and Ferran Adrià, and he sat on the advisory board of the Miami Culinary Institute.
Originally, the inn was his retirement plan.
Then a traveling nun changed everything. It was shortly after Passalacqua and Boon arrived at the inn — the place wasn’t even open to guests. The nun had been on the road for days. She needed food and shelter, and the couple provided both.
Over the next days and weeks, more people came to eat and sleep. Suddenly, Passalacqua found himself cooking again, mostly because people needed him to. And he loved it.
“I do it for passion,” he said. “Nothing we do is pretentious. We do only what we can handle.”
Gradually, as the world opened up, Passalacqua realized he could run a restaurant again — so long as he made sure he did so on his own terms. That’s how he’s doing it today. The menu at Sibo Restaurant changes almost daily, and Passalacqua prepares dishes only the way they’re listed. He grows or sources organic proteins, uses herbs and vegetables he grows on property. The restaurant always offers vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free choices, too.
“The food is delicious and he’s doing it exactly how he wants to,” said Courtney DeGraff, executive director at the Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association. “It’s hard not to respect a restaurant that’s run that way.”