Oceanfront Dining at Harbor House

Reopened California hotel shines spotlight on cuisine


t the Harbor House Inn in Elk, about 15 miles south of Mendocino, Calif., dinner begins with local sparkling cider on the redwood deck overlooking gardens and the gloriously rugged Pacific coast.

Starting outdoors “came from us being in these surroundings where a lot of your food and products come from. You get a true visual of, hey, you’re about to eat something, and you can actually see it growing,”
says chef Matthew Kammerer, the 29-year-old wunderkind who formerly served as executive sous chef at San Francisco’s famed Saison. Harbor House owners shut the property four years ago and brought on Kammerer and his partner, Amanda Nemec, last January to help complete an eight-year renovation. The duo manage the restaurant and inn, which reopened last May.

Moving inside, diners feast on small plates, such as morel mushrooms served with California kosho. “Zest and chili peppers are typical,” Kammerer says of kosho, “but we use [local] grapefruit and jalapeños” fermented for about two weeks. “It’s kind of salty, really aromatic.”

Next comes abalone with sea vegetables and wild cabbage. Asparagus arrives with a grapefruit-nori hollandaise sauce, brightened with house-made kelp salt. A potato with smoked onion accompanies roast chicken flavored with vinegar derived from an Anderson Valley amber ale.

Kammerer serves aged Muscovy duck for the grand finale, saying it’s about 50 percent leaner than Pekin duck. “I want the flavor of the duck. I don’t want to taste the fat. The meat’s flavor shines more. My food overall is pretty light, so it matches the cuisine.”

For dessert, a little square doughnut topped with lavender creme fraiche, eucalyptus, and sweet herb flowers precedes grilled rhubarb with almond oil and a grapefruit-ginger palate cleanser.

The menu changes often, so your fare will likely vary. Before wine and gratuity, dinner costs $150 per person. 800-720-7474; theharborhouseinn.com

About the Inn

Some of the nine rooms are in the 102-year-old main building; others in adjacent cottages. Although not palatial, the refined and comfortable accommodations come with fireplaces, local art, and in-window seats. A handsome lounge entices with a vaulted wooden ceiling, mahogany-toned walls, and chocolate-brown sofas. A trail winds past a garden and waterfall down to the beach, where you can explore the tide pools.



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