I’ve been cooking mushrooms. Bacon-Wrapped Mushrooms. I put them on skewers and grilled them up. I served them with a relish of cucumber, dill pickle, and herbs. I made these Bacon-Wrapped mushrooms to serve as an announcement. It’s the beginning of wild mushroom season here in California, and I’m off to Mendocino for a mushroom adventure. I’ve been invited to Visit Mendocino next week. Just in time for my birthday!
I’ve decided to make it a road trip. There’s nothing quite so Californian as a drive along the coast. I make the trip whenever I can.
This year my plan is to travel the coast from San Francisco into Mendocino county with stops in Bodega Bay for a little movie lore (Hitchcock’s The Birds) and Tomales Bay for oysters. It will be a marvelous introduction to this rather remote area of California.
I’ve seen photos of Mendocino’s windswept cottages perched on jagged bluffs. The images strike me as rather dramatic. Especially since the mood is famously mellow on the Coast– as it’s known to locals.
I’m curious how they meld the dramatic with the mellow. Then again, maybe the dichotomy is just part of the allure. After all, the coast in Mendocino is wild and rugged. The waves beat relentlessly on the rocks. Just inland, however, quiet forests of giant redwoods have been keeping the area’s secrets for centuries.
It’s a great time to visit Mendocino too. The grape harvest is in, and autumn offers some of the best weather of the year. It’s California at its best. It’s also smack-dab in the middle of the Mendocino Beer, Wine & Mushroom Festival (November 7–16, 2014). It may be my birthday, but I have a feeling the Mushroom Festival is the more likely reason I’ve been invited to Visit Mendocino. Either way, I can’t think of anything I’d like better on my birthday, than freshly foraged mushrooms.
Despite its reputation for counterculture eccentricities, Mendocino is a real culinary destination and I’m excited to check that out too. Local produce, handcrafted foods (including beer and wine), and of course great restaurants. The kind of places that could only exist in a part of California that’s been going its own way for quite some time. Chef Patrick Meany (Stone & Embers) summed up this philosophy of fierce independence nicely when he said of his own restaurant’s menu, “Everything we need we can find in a neighbor’s backyard.” Which must include mushrooms. As part of the festivities, Stone & Embers restaurant has a special intimate Fall wine pairing dinner planned with Baxter Winery. See for yourself why both restaurant and winery were recommended in Travel + Leisure’s 2014 Food Issue. Only 12 tables are available for this intimate event, so please book in advance.
With that dichotomy in mind, we’ve opted to divide our time between both the rugged coast and the quiet wine country near Philo. We’ll be staying at The Little River Inn and The Madrones. I’m only going to tease you here with a couple of photos from the websites of these hotels. I haven’t been yet, and I’m trying to keep all that’s special about these places a mystery even to myself. I will say that the oceanfront Little River Inn is planning their Seventh Annual Mushroom & Beer Dinner (November 14 @ 6:30 pm — 9:30 pm). If you’re in the area you can expect a multi-course meal featuring loads of local mushrooms paired with Russian River Brewing Company and Anderson Valley Brewing beers.
As for The Madrones, they describe themselves as: “Not a B & B or a hotel” but rather “private Estate Guest Quarters” that are the extension of their home. There are four tasting rooms from four different wineries, right on the property. So, they’re right about that. I should feel right at home.
After all, Mendocino grows the largest variety of grapes in the United States. I’m sure there are tasting rooms everywhere. I’m particularly interested and the brand new digs at Lula Cellars.
But next week is next week. All this talk of mushrooms has made me hungry. This is appropriate because we started this conversation with a recipe for Grilled Bacon-Wrapped Mushrooms. You can use any dense, meaty mushroom you’d like for this recipe, including Mendocino’s famed Candy Cap. I chose chanterelles because I’d heard through the mushroom vine that the rain we had last week means chanterelles are starting their season. But I guess I’ll just have to go up there to find out. GREG
Mendocino forest and mushroom photos appear courtesy of my editorial partnership with Shutterstock.