CLOSED – Bella Vista, Woodside, California

UPDATEOn August 10, 2013, the Bella Vista closed.

In my last post I profiled a classic Continental restaurant in San Diego, The Imperial House. Let’s continue the Continental cuisine focus by visiting the historic Bella Vista restaurant, in the fog-shrouded redwood forest south of San Francisco, just north of the quaint little town of Woodside. Several years ago I was on a weekend excursion with my girlfriend along Skyline Boulevard when we happened upon the Bella Vista. We were fascinated but it was closed so we returned later for the full fine dining experience. I don’t know why but I didn’t return for many years until a couple of years ago I dined there with friends and it exceeded my expectations for food and service, all with incredible views of the South Bay Area. I just went back with a friend last week and we had a marvelous meal, though the view was just of the fog.

 

image by G3Miller on Panoramio.com

The restaurant started life as roadhouse in 1927, though details of it’s original name could not be found by your intrepid researcher. However, I did find out that it was called the Bella Vista Sky Lounge in the 1940s and 1950s, after what is now the main dining room was added to the original restaurant (which became the cocktail lounge and adjacent banquet room). A review in the San Mateo Times’ Bright Lights column by Lloyd Johnson in 1959 had this to say:

After our last Wednesday evening
Bella Vista Sky Lounge “12′
courser” with owners Nick and
Yvonne Sanisel, we can see why
“Stu” Adams of Bardelli’s and
the Giants’ Horace Stoneham make
the trip up the mountain
to 13451 Skyline boulevard.

Besides being almost at the
top of the world, the club’s food
is clear out of it. Frog legs saute
Bella Vista prepared with wine
was our selection. Add assorted
hors d’ouevres, tossed green salad
and turtle soup to the above,
plus dessert and coffee, and this
“buck” was well spent. Yep,
there’s a cocktail lounge and
banquet space, plus a panoramic
view that’s second to none.

 

In 1965 the restaurant was renamed simply Bella Vista and owned by Bob and Jetty Hogan, who sold it the present owners, the Ward family, in 1977.

 

Bella Vista cocktail lounge, image by Bella Vista’s Facebook page

 

You enter the restaurant through the cozy cocktail lounge with a fireplace (which wasn’t lit on my recent visit on a Tuesday night), past the bar and into the dining room set among the redwoods with incredible views. When you make a reservation ask for a view table if possible, or at least the main dining room because there is another back dining room which may not have the same views.

Bella Vista dining room, image by http://bvrestaurant.com

 

 

The menu is traditional Continental, with emphasis on French classics, some Italian dishes, and American classics like Oysters Rockefeller and Steak Diane, which is prepared and flambéed at a station in the dining room (not tableside, but the steaks are displayed at the table before preparation). Other flambé options are a Steak au Poivre Flambé (Pepper Steak) and Cherries Jubilee. The dessert menu also offers four varieties of souffle, which are the same souffle with different sauces.

Waiter preparing Steak Diane

Waiter preparing Steak Diane

 

Steak Diane

Steak Diane

 

Our meals came with very tasty side vegetables: a potato dish, some pureed carrots, and excellent green beans that tasted like they came out of a local garden. I had the huge lamb shank, which had ultra-tender meat that fell off the bone, served with a delicious rich red wine sauce. I didn’t even need a knife. My friend had the steak Diane, which he said was very tender and cooked to perfection (medium rare).

Lamb Shank

Lamb Shank

 

Service was excellent. The waiters wear tuxedo jackets and bow ties, and know the menu. The presentation was classic and classy, with white linens, a single fresh rose in a vase at each table, and the restaurant’s custom plates.

SAMSUNG

 

Going to this restaurant is not only like stepping back in time, but it also makes you feel like you are on a vacation to the redwood forest, yet it’s only about a 40 minute drive from San Francisco and a 50 minute drive from Oakland via the San Mateo bridge. The food is great, yet pretty expensive but the views and atmosphere of the restaurant make it worth a splurge.

 

Video tour with an interesting historic photo:

 

An excellent recent review in the San Jose newspaper.

 

Bella Vista

13451 Skyline Blvd, Woodside, CA 94062
(650) 851-1229
Open Tues-Sat 5:00pm-11:30pm, closed Sunday and Monday

 

Postcard Panorama

The
The Tin Angel – Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, a photo by The Pie Shops Collection on Flickr.

Still open, but sadly the furniture does not look like this anymore.

http://www.tinangelpittsburgh.com/

Via Flickr:
The Tin Angel
1204 Grandview Ave.
Pittsburgh, Pa. 15211
Lose yourself in the magnificent environment of Pittsburgh’s renowned restaurant. The superbly comfortable and distinctive surrounding, the exhilarating view provides true elegance for private, social, or business use. The incomparable cuisine is a haven for jaded appetites and tired thirsts. Enjoy the ultimate in gourmet dining and personalized service.

Nepenthe, Big Sur, California

On the spectacular central California coastline of Big Sur lies a mid-century landmark restaurant that boasts arguably the best views of any restaurant in the world, Nepenthe (a Greek word for an antidepressant; the word was used in Homer’s Odyssey for an ‘anti-sorrow drug’). In 1947 Bill and Lolly Fassett bought a log cabin on the site, which was built by the Coastland Trails Club in 1925. They purchased it from Orson Welles, who bought it in 1944 and planned to live in it with Rita Hayworth (but never did). Henry Miller (the author) and Lynda Sargent rented the cabin until the Fassetts bought it. The Fassetts hired Frank Lloyd Wright-trained architect Rowan Maiden (1913-1957) to design a modern restaurant adjacent to the old cabin in the Organic architectural style. Nepenthe opened in 1949, and quickly attracted the attention of many bohemian writers, artists, and celebrities who lived in or visited Big Sur, including Henry Miller, who became a regular customer. Here is the oldest photo I could find online, c. 1950:

Photograph by Morley Baer, ©2009 by the Morley Baer Photography Trust, Santa Fe

Nepenthe is still thriving, an accessible oasis in an area that unfortunately has been somewhat invaded by over-priced lodging and exclusive spas. Big Sur is still a wonderful  place to visit, but my recommendation is to avoid it during the Summer, book a historic cabin at Deetjen’s Big Sur Inn or a campsite in the Fall (Andrew Molera State Park walk-ins are a favorite), or stay nearby in Monterey/Carmel. With the money you save eat at Nepenthe.

NepentheMenu002.jpg

please click on image for legible version

The prices are a bit higher than on this vintage menu reproduction! In fact they are pretty high, but not too expensive considering the setting.

NepentheMenu001.jpg

please click on image for legible version

The ‘Ambrosia’ hamburgers are good – a ground beef patty, fresh ground daily by Carmel Meats, cooked over a brazier, on a soft toasted steak roll with Ambrosia sauce (salsa, tomato sauce, and mayo), served with salad and great shoestring fries ($16.50). And after your meal you must try their specialty ‘C & C’ (Chartreuse and Cognac, which isn’t on the menu anymore so you may have to explain it to the waiter). Takes the chill off the night air!

Ambrosia Burger

The restaurant is popular, so be ready to wait. Not really a big deal with a beer, glass of wine (the local wines are excellent), or cocktail in your hand as you soak in the view. They have tables both inside the building and outside, which probably have the best views but you don’t get to experience the mid-century architecture as much.

Here’s a home movie that shows Nepenthe in 1956, as well as Deetjen’s, which also still exists.

There is a scene in The Sandpiper (1965) filmed at Nepenthe, which you can see in this video at 4:30. Dig the sixties hippie vibe!

Nepenthe
48510 Highway #1, Big Sur, California 93920
(831) 667-2345
Open for lunch daily 11:30a-4:30p, dinner 5pm-10pm everyday except Thanksgiving and Christmas