Dining out with the Harrises
Two Iconic Big Sur California Properties Are Again Open for Business
Photo by Scott Harris
The Carmel, California poet Robert Jeffers once stated, “The noblest thing I have ever seen is Big Sur.” Nature’s pulchritude is captured in every windswept cliff and towering redwood that hover above the mighty Pacific Ocean. And then it all disappeared…as fires and flooding brought about a forced exile for the habitants of this bohemian enclave. After the Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge had begun to fail due to heavy winter storms coupled with devastating wildfires a year prior, the re-opening on October 13, 2017 brought much needed business back to this postcard picture perfect area of the United States. Early in the day as the dimming fog burned away to the stunning blue sky, we were ready for our much anticipated visit to the newly renovated and reopened Ventana and the iconic Post Ranch Inn. We began our journey where only a very few drive up the hill through the redwoods high atop the cliffs of Big Sur, 1,200 feet above the Pacific Ocean where the breathtaking Post Ranch Inn continues as a sanctuary for the soul and your palate. Post Ranch is the ideal place for romance, relaxation, rejuvenation or just plain doing whatever you want without any interruption. These 39 rooms provide rustic elegance, comfort and privacy with unmatched 360-degree views of ocean and mountain views.
There is plenty of history here. The Post family was among Big Sur’s first pioneers. This world-renowned landscape has been intertwined with the Post family for generations. Under their stewardship the 100-acre Post Ranch has evolved from a homestead, a working ranch and now one of the most acclaimed luxury resorts in the world.
Post Ranch Inn is secluded and could not exist anywhere else. The coast-side rooms seem to be built into the mountain with houses curving around old-growth trees. Some are built on nine-foot stilts to protect the delicate root balls below. The materials are made of reclaimed wood, glass, steel and stone that show a sense of harmony with nature at this very special resort.
The architectural visionary was C.K. (Mickey) Muennig who studied and worked with Bruce Goff at the University of Oklahoma. It was there he was drawn to the principles of “organic architecture “and captivated by the wild beauty of Big Sur during a visit in 1971. He decided to stay and became the area’s leading architect. His vision for Post Ranch Inn embraced luxury, sustainability and the natural beauty of the site itself. He is known worldwide, being shown in museums in the U.S. and Europe, and featured in numerous international publications.
After enjoying the rooms, spa and architecture the fresh Pacific sea breeze awakened our palate and we found a perfect gem to satisfy it. Her name is Chef Elizabeth Murray. With over a decade of traveling the world we could not think of a better view than the Wine Spectator Grand-Award-Winning Sierra Mar restaurant offering fine dining with a menu that changes daily in a spectacular setting with endless ocean views. Taking our seats high on the cliffs we kept a lookout for whales below as our first course arrived. Chef’s daily salad of heirloom lettuce mix, daily garden harvest and micro greens showcased her artistry of color using fresh sustainable ingredients. A gift from the sea was next as she combined local Fennel Grilled Prawns with quinoa, avocado, roasted bell pepper, red onion and herbs all supporting her local purveyors. We finished her main tasting menu with Eggplant Cannelloni with white beans, Alfonzo olives, garden cultivated mushrooms and fresh basil. After the big FINI we retired to our cottage in Big Sur, even though picturesque Monterey and Carmel are a short drive away, we had yet one more experience along Highway One.
Just across the street is another Big Sur classic, the Ventana Inn. Shut away by the long forced isolation, many of the workers were reassigned to their sister property Carmel Valley Ranch, yet many choose to hike across a 2 mile foot path to keep the operations running. Today the Ventana Big Sur is re-imagined and has taken its rightful place as THE place for locals and guests to enjoy the finer things in life. Our first stop was the brand new large outdoor deck with the ocean and canyon in the distance. On our visit we enjoyed cocktails as the sun set over the Pacific Ocean and the moon rose above the mountains. The cocktails prepared our palates and we moved into The Sur House restaurant where we met up with Executive Chef Paul Corsentino. Before embarking west to Big Sur, Chef Corsentino was Executive Chef of The National at The Benjamin Hotel in New York City where celebrated chef and restaurateur Geoffrey Zakarian mentored him in the philosophies and techniques behind his signature style of timeless, upscale cuisine. He assisted Zakarian in winning the fourth season of Food Network’s The Next Iron Chef: Super Chefs in 2011 and made multiple appearances alongside Zakarian on Iron Chef America. In other words, this chef can cook! “After bringing more than a decade of cosmopolitan city experience to the serene landscape of Ventana Big Sur, I take pride in working closely with Big Sur’s local fisherman, foragers and farms to craft coastal American cuisine that showcases the vibrant, seasonal bounty of California’s Central Coast,” he said.
After choosing a vibrant Pinot Noir from the Santa Lucia Highlands we settled in to watch Chef’s culinary artistry. We started off with a tuna crudo with crushed smoked pineapple, yuzu and ginger sesame vinaigrette. To our delight, a perfectly prepared foie gras and chicken liver mousse accompanied by concord grapes, croissant, endive and grape confit had our palates dancing with gastronomic pleasure. Arriving next to our fireside table was Chef’s Squid Ink Fettuccine. This extraordinary red wine-braised octopus with arugula and puttanesca sauce was executed with precision to our enjoyment. Ora King Salmon is a must try as well with roasted salsify, spätzle, yellow pepper sauce and red cabbage puree providing tasty layers of flavors that had to be a favorite of the evening. For the FINI, Lemon Tart topped with huckleberry sauce, featuring yogurt cake, meringues and a rich streusel cream concluded our day of culinary bliss. Our suite allowed us to recline on a spacious king-size bed and get cozy in front of the wood-burning fireplace offering an immaculate blend of comforting features with plenty of space to relax and enjoy the stunning views.
Awaking to the spectacular view we heard about a very special camping experience you can enjoy at the resort, so we just had to take time out and explore. Ventana Big Sur offers an elegant twist on one of the least-enjoyable aspects of outdoor living, their brand-new glamping Bath House. It offers teak-enclosed showers, heated floors, full hotel amenities, marble vanities and even gleaming restroom facilities. This isn’t camping, it’s glamping. Guests can’t help but sleep well on a custom-designed glamping mattress and premium linens in a safari-style canvas tent. Enjoy the views of a 20-acre canyon, light up the fire pit, make s’mores and tell stories, or just let the landscape do all the talking. It’s a luxury camping experience, a more refined way to connect with the outdoors. You’ll experience the full splendor of Big Sur, while still relishing all the amenities and services of this world-class resort. Glamping or staying in the luxe resort, there is something for everyone at Ventana.
We made our way back north via Highway One, winding our way along the edge of the continent, where the sky, sea, mountains and the redwoods all converge in one of the iconic places in the world, a place of unmatched beauty and tranquility. Mother Nature’s dualistic disposition will not stop those who choose to endeavor into this wildly beautiful place, untamed and rugged, yet she offers a space of solitude and a reminder that our planet is precious and we should treat it likewise. For those who maintain this special part of the universe, we extend our thanks, and going forward we hope others will find a renewed sense of reverence and respect for the venerable Big Sur. As Jack Kerouac author of the novel Big Sur states, “Something good will come out of all things—and it will be golden and eternal just like that. There’s no need to say another word.”