Anyone who knows me well will tell you that the only thing I abhor more than early morning activities is waiting in line to indulge in early morning activities. So when I tell you that, at my suggestion, we purposefully awoke at the crack of dawn on Day 20 in Jenner, CA just so that we could make a detour en route to Carmel for a spot of breakfast at Oakland’s Brown Sugar Kitchen, I am already tacitly bestowing a ringing endorsement upon the establishment.
Several months back, my first experience with Brown Sugar Kitchen, Chef Tanya Holland’s new soul food cuisine outpost located on Oakland’s formerly derelict Mandela Parkway, resulted in a case of love at first bite. So much so, that I clearly could not resist the urge for a return visit when I was practically in the neighborhood again. In fact, like Nettie in The Color Purple, “Nothing but death could keep from it” — even if it meant waiting in an hour-long queue on a chilly Sunday morning, which is precisely what occurred.
Once inside the seemingly always packed restaurant, I renewed my love affair with Chef Holland’s signature savory and sweet combo of organic buttermilk fried chicken and light as air cornmeal wafﬂes served with a dollop of brown sugar butter and a soupcon of apple cider syrup. While other eateries claim to do chicken and waffles, rarely have I seen the pairing prepared with such finesse, hence the urgency of my return. On this visit I also got acquainted with the day’s special, a smoked pork hash highlighting the smokey product of another of Chef Holland’s nearby restaurants, B-Side BBQ with which I could easily begin an adulterous liaison as well. If ever you’re in the vicinity of Brown Sugar Kitchen (and by vicinity I mean within a 100 miles), I highly recommend a visit. And even if you’re not near or plan to be in Oakland, you can sample the experience via Chef Holland’s gorgeous new cookbook Brown Sugar Kitchen: New-Style Down-Home Recipes from Sweet West Oakland.
Sated with down-home goodness, the hour and half drive to Carmel post breakfast seemed to breeze by. Before I knew it, we were pulling up to elegant Cypress Inn nestled among the boutiques that dot the streets and alleys of downtown Carmel-by-the-Sea. I had read much about the Cypress Inn but, like so many of the other properties on my itinerary for this trip, I had never experienced it theretofore. However, I can now say that the regal hotel meets its high recommendations with dead on accuracy.
Famously co-owned by screen legend and songstress, Doris Day, Cypress Inn is imbued with an easy grandeur augmented by rooms filled with an array of tempting amenities including fresh floral arrangements, complimentary cream sherry, carafes of filtered or sparkling water on demand, and fresh fruit and snacks. We were booked into the King Suite Deluxe which boasts an intimate sitting area, a private entrance from the street and a second entrance that opens onto the splendid garden courtyard and into the old world luxe of the 44-room boutique hotel’s bar, dining room and lobby. Despite its thoroughly California location in seaside Carmel, to its credit, the rambling Mediterranean-themed property very much put me in the mind of a beloved hôtel de charme in Brittany.
With the beach, just a short walk away, we headed down to scope out more breathtaking views of the stunning coastline before popping over to take a peek at Clint Eastwood’s Mission Ranch Hotel, where we mingled with the locals over Martinis. Intimate and clubby, the restaurant and piano bar at the Mission Ranch is a hub of local social life in Carmel and one that Mr. Eastwood is known to frequent, though there have never been any sightings of the man himself on my watch.
Later that evening we dined just around the corner from the Cypress Inn at the Cantinetta Luca, another local institution, where more Martinis were poured as we sampled everything from classic Panzanella and Arancini to crispy pizza topped with Mozzarella, Fontina, prosciutto, Rucola and Shaved Parmesan and Spaghetti Alla Romana prepared with housemade pancetta, shallots, chili, and white wine. Classically Italian, with superlative service Cantinetta Luca is both memorable and delectable, making it a must for any Carmel itinerary.
Since we arrived a little too late to properly partake in the Carmel Wine Walk by-the-Sea as planned, after dinner we opted to do a little window shopping on a late night stroll (flashlight in hand) through the village to make the most of the less than 24 hours we had to enjoy this seaside slice of paradise. On a crisp cool night, it was the perfect way to wind down at the end of gloriously picture perfect day, that was only further abetted by an oh-so-very civilized nip of that wonderful sherry that awaited back at the Inn.
Tomorrow it’s off to San Francisco and the last 48 hours of the LivingWellsCalifornia adventure but for now here’s a look back at Day 20 in pictures:
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(Additional photography by Rob Musick)