Every now and then life gives you surprise. Last night was one of those times. Some very close friends of ours love to go to interesting places. They have been after my wife and me to visit a restaurant that they have frequented for a number of years but is somewhat off the beaten path in a neighboring county. Although it is less than an hour away, it is one of those places in the hinterland that you can’t get to from here. My friend’s description always had an air of mystery. This past week he called my wife and said he made arrangements with the owner, an old friend of his, for the four of us to visit it on Friday night…so off we went.
My wife and I experienced some of the local color when we had to stop for directions in the village where it is located. It has four converging roads with about twenty different names and street designations. An interesting man with facial hair and piercing blue eyes relaxing in the rocking chair on his front porch gave us very detailed directions how to get to what he thought we were looking for, but in the end he determined that what he thought we were looking for wasn’t what we were really looking for. There was place across the ravine and the river…two left turns and out…try it! We did, and 30 seconds later we saw our friends flagging us down.
This is not your conventional restaurant. Don’t get me wrong…it is a charming place. The façade goes right up to the road. It is streetscaped with flowers and herbs and vines and the owner’s motorcycle. It has two parts. There is the in the restaurant part. Then there is the sort of outside/inside restaurant part into which you weave yourself through several small doors into a space that can be defined as nothing less than eclectically magical. My friend advised us we were eating in the tree-house. Yes…we ate in the tree-house.
Although the façade of the restaurant is street level, the indoor-outdoor space is built into the ravine down to the river at least three stories in a series of steps and small decks. There is a mammoth stained glass window going down most of the length. Tables were interspersed on different levels of the steps down as was a landscaped waterfall gently flowing down to the river. The top of this structure, where we ate, is enclosed…sort of…with spots opened up in the walls into which air flows freely. It is a work in progress. Our table was shoved up right next to the windows in the tree tops overlooking this stunning view of the ravine and the narrow river at the bottom.
There is no electricity where we ate. As it got dark lighting was provided by candles and kerosene lamps brought to the table by the owner. You could smell the newness of the wood. There is lots of stuff sitting around…and the owner’s rescue dog who is a sweetheart. The owner told us that the gas stove will be connected by the fall so the space could be used into the winter. I’m not so sure.
Here’s the thing. The owner is the kind of person they write movies about. He opens his restaurant when he feels like it. He is the only person working in the restaurant doing EVERYTHING himself. He only seats through reservations which you may or may not get. He told me he turns down over 60% of the requests. Maybe he might be open for lunch or not. Call and see. He may take only seven reservations a night, if that. If he doesn’t know you, you may be waiting several months.
He is a magnificent anachronism from the 1960’s and early 70’s; a partial Native American who practices spiritualism. A personable guy who jumped close to the top of my list of favorite people I have met, you will get a dose of philosophy and life and Native American culture after your dinner. Native American touches are all over the building. His motorcycle has a saddle for a seat and covered with Native American symbols and accoutrements. You will be in touch with your inner hippie by the end of the meal.
But mostly…he can cook. This is the single best dinner I have had out in years. No menus, he will describe to you what he has for the night and ask you what you want. But what you get is what he wants to serve you and it is wonderful. It will be either meat or fish or duck…more likely than not a combination thereof.
Last night our dinners started out with a wonderful greens and fruit salad and what appeared to be a raspberry vinaigrette dressing. It was topped with a piece of salmon that melted in your mouth. The fruit slices were huge as were the blueberries and blackberries. It was large enough to be my dinner…but then came the dinner.
OMG doesn’t describe it. For me, he put together a seafood platter with scampi and prawns and wonderful scallops and beef tips served on top of ravioli I am going to guess were made from pumpkin and butternut squash with a hint of heat…he wouldn’t tell us. The ravioli alone were worth the trip. There were mixed vegetables served scattered over the plate with a presentation that was as good as I have seen. Outstanding. My wife had ordered a perfect beef fillet. He offered it either aged or fresh (there is a difference. I am not an “aged” meat lover) served with outstanding mashed potatoes made from sour cream and mixed with freshly shucked corn and a vegetable accompaniment. Dessert was an assortment of homemade gelatos. I did praline pecan and my wife a rich velvety chocolate.
This wonderful place may not be for everybody. It is stepping into the owner’s head with all the attendant clutter and confusion. But what emerges is life and food as theater and art. It’s cool to see a man working on his vision and dream. It was obvious the other patrons…mostly middle aged plus…were more than willing to step into this very different world and enjoy some of the best food around.
No liquor license but you can bring your own wine. No credit cards but he will take checks and jokingly says ninety days same as cash. I am not sure he is joking. But you are going to have to find it first. My friends know that I blog about food. But this is more than food and dining out. Given the propensity of the owner to limit his customer base, I think I want to keep this one for myself.