Photography by Yuri Krasov
There were times when we haven’t even heard about it. We just lived our lives and once in a while turned back to weed out the bad memories and dwell on the good ones relaying them to our friends and family for the umpteenth time. Nowadays we’re much more sophisticated! We plan great experiences in advance and gift them to our loved ones and to ourselves instead of material goods that eventually lose their appeal anyway. Some of the greatest and most memorable experiences are found in Northern California – the best looking part of America – and yes, I’m biased!
Afternoon Tea at the Claremont, a Fairmont Hotel in Berkeley/Oakland
The 100-year-old historic hotel that looks like a white castle in the hills, the Claremont is known for its long and glorious culinary tradition. Executive Chef Chad Blunston, responsible for all meals to be had on the premises of this 276-room grandiose luxury hotel, admittedly favors the weekend Afternoon Tea at the Claremont Lobby Lounge & Bar, and for a good reason.
“We’re creating memories,” says the Chef who once witnessed a six-year-old girl turning to her mother with the words, “Mom, I like everything here so much, I’ll remember it all my life!” There’s a lot to remember about a spacious sunlit room with a great view of the San Francisco Bay visible through the manicured palm fronds, and the amazing treats offered at the Afternoon Tea.
So let’s start with a glass of exquisite Etoile rose champagne from the bar (Schramsburg, Blanc de Blanc, California, and Domain Carneros, Brut, Napa are on offer with the tea menu). It sparkles in the afternoon sun, and sets the mood for a very special date, be it a couple’s getaway, a family outing, or an elegantly dressed woman’s solo retreat.
There are so many teas on offer – black, green, white, and mélange – that the list is presented on an iPad, with photos of the leaves and an option to read extensive blurbs about their origins and characteristics. Then, upon your choosing of a particular kind, a cart with multiple glass jars filled with tea leaves will make an appearance, and your favorite tea will be brewed in a white porcelain teapot in front of you.
Then an amuse bouche will arrive – a goat cheese and walnut gougere in our case, followed by a three-tiered serving tray, filled with traditional finger sandwiches, scones, and pastries prepared with a contemporary twist.
On Tier 1 there are Blueberry Almond Whole Wheat Scuffins and Citrus Thyme Scones accompanied by the innovative Quince preserve and Crème Frâiche. Tier 2 offers the most unusual Peas and Carrots (Minted Pea Butter, Heirloom Carrots, Crunchy Peas); Santa Barbara Smoked Salmon (Pumpkin Seed Butter, Horseradish Curds, Crispy Croissant); Dungeness Crab Salad with watercress, wrapped in cucumber ribbon; Chino Ranch Egg Salad (Laurel Mayonnaise, Brioche fingers), and Vadouvan Chicken Salad on Hazelnut Turmeric Crostini. Tier 3 presents Eucalyptus Posset, Crunchy Coconut Profiteroles, Olive Oil Madeleines, and TCHO Chocolate Financiers.
If you can name a fancier array of tea treats, let me hear about it!
Overnight Stay at La Belle Epoque Bed and Breakfast in Napa
Among so many cute historical bed-and-breakfast inns in Napa Valley, La Belle Epoque stands out. It’s surrounded with flowering fragrant rose bushes planted along the sidewalks on both sides of the street corner; it’s freshly painted in whimsical colors, and through the wide first floor windows you can see lace curtains, period furnishings, and Tiffany lamps even before entering the charming Victorian house.
Inside, it’s a beautifully appointed estate still bearing the memories of the original owners, the Shwarz family, who lovingly built and maintained this Painted Lady house in 1893 – now on the National Register of Historic Homes.
There are six rooms in the main house, each adorned with the period stained glass windows, and antique furniture and art pieces, plus four suites in the recently added The Buckley House across the street – all with tasteful turn-of-the-century decor.
As is always the case, the best memories are created by people. The inn’s GM, as well as a hospitable greeter and a chef, Tracy Mahr, makes this place very special for everyone by taking care of all the guests’ requests, providing knowledgeable concierge services, and including a three-course gourmet breakfast and a light afternoon tea with her own wonderful baked creations.
Day Trip to Eureka and Humboldt County
California’s Redwood Highway actually starts immediately after San Francisco and Golden Gate Bridge with the Muir Woods National Monument. It’s an enchanting place, if you have the ability to ignore enormous crowds of tourists seeking solitude in the majestic redwood grove. But drive farther north, past Marin, Sonoma, and Mendocino (surely each one gorgeous in its own right) and you’ll find an unspoiled wilderness of giant redwoods in the many national and state parks of Humboldt County, like Redwood National Park, a World Heritage Site.
The world’s tallest trees can be seen here, as well as rare Roosevelt Elk, named after President Theodor Roosevelt, and found only in this area.
Eureka (founded 1850), the central city of Humboldt County and a historical seaport, in its heyday on par with San Francisco, boasts a beautifully restored Old Town of gorgeous Victorians, and a recently renovated waterfront boardwalk along Humboldt Bay. Here, in the oldest part of the town start Haunted History Ghost Tours (company owner Eric Vollmers) led by local historians and actors, like Dr. Alexandra Service. The tour includes extensive sightseeing, fun tantalizing ghost stories, and some seriously important facts about the area’s not so spotless history.
In Eureka’s open air museum of architecture, the Victorian Seaport, there’s the famous Carson’s Mansion, “the most photographed house in the world” faced by the poetic Pink Lady across the street.
More wonderfully restored Victorians, called Butterfat Palaces are found in the nearby Ferndale, formerly known as Cream City due to its abundant pastures and fast-developed dairy industry.
To the north of Eureka, there’s a tiny town of Trinidad, named after the Caribbean island, with dramatic cliffs, a red-roofed Memorial Lighthouse, and overgrown with cypresses and forget-me-nots walking trails with stunning views of the ocean, and then the breathtakingly beautiful rocky shore of Patrick’s Point State Park.
To the south, there’s the world-famous redwood preserve, Avenue of the Giants, with an especially memorable Rockefeller Forest, delivered to us intact by lumber industry thanks to a million dollar donation, shelled out by the millionaire touched by nature.
And if you really want to walk down the memory lane and get a good piece of authentic experience, head to the historic lumber camp restaurant, Samoa Cookhouse – the last surviving cookhouse in the West, where the tradition of communal tables covered in oilcloth and huge portions of fried chicken with all the trimmings at miniscule prices is alive and well. The Historic Logging Museum next door contains a comprehensive collection of period tools and household items, and historical photographs.
Dinner at Farallon Restaurant in San Francisco
One of the legendary San Francisco restaurants, Farallon on Union Square, founded in 1997 by the celebrity restaurateur Pat Kuleto and star chef Mark Franz, continues to wow its guests with the freshest seafood, an excellent international wine collection, and the magical atmosphere of underwater world conveyed by the art glass chandeliers inspired by octopi and jellies.
The recently hired new Executive Chef Jason Ryczek and Wine Director Luke Kenning create memorable pairings of skillfully prepared seafood and meat courses with rare wines.
Young and tender Cayucos farm-raised abalone with house-cultured brown butter and white balsamic seafoam finds its perfect match in 2013 Albarino, Alberto Nanclares, Rias Baixas, Spain.
Sonoma foie gras torchon is especially succulent with 2008 Royal Tokaji from Hungary.
A paella-style saffron rice served in a cast iron skillet with clams, Spanish octopus rings, and Devil’s Gulch rabbit shreds, is complimented by 2014 Gobelsburg Kampal Gruener Veltliner from Germany.
Oak-grilled Dixon lamb with fiddleheads, ramps, and morel yogurt goes nicely with 2013 Cabernet Frank, Long & Reed, North Coast, California.
Exquisite desserts include port-pouched rhubarb with shortbread, frangipane, caramel, and brown butter ice cream, paired with a 5-year-aged madeira, and lavender-lemon grass panna cotta with tapioca, huckleberries, and poppy seed tuile, paired with late harvest pinot gris from Carneros.