Gardens galore are calling: come on out!
By Antoinette May Herndon
Hurray! Hurray! it’s the first of June, outdoor dining starts this noon. Well, almost. Two glorious days to wait for the June, moon, honeymoon daze to kick in. In the meantime, isn’t the weather gorgeous? I don’t understand those people who claim to like winter. They must be walk-ins from another planet.
Anyway those wonderful long days are here at last bringing with them sunflowers, pretty dresses, balmy nights, watermelon, sweet corn, heirloom tomatoes and, and . . .Obviously, I could go on and on and on. Summer time and the living really is easy, gracious and fun.
Among the chief fun spots to enjoy the season are the patios and outdoor dining areas that the warm weather has finally made available. One of my very favourites is the lovely, leafy outdoor garden at the Imperial Hotel in Amador City. It’s perfect for sunset watching, not to mention romance.
On a recent evening Charles chose the pre-fix menu, a specialty on Wednesdays. It included a salad, duck breast with raspberry chile port reduction, mashed potatoes and mixed veggies followed by a chocolate mousse bomb. ($27)
Charles can eat anything and gain nary a pound. I held back envisioning us as the Jack Sprat and Mrs. Fat of the foothills. Warm summer evenings seem so right for salads, don’t you think? That’s what I said when I ordered the beet salad. It sounded wonderful and was (roasted beets mixed with lettuce, Point Reyes Blue cheese, walnuts and tossed with honey mustard vinaigrette. ($7)
I was content until Charles’s mousse bomb appeared.
Desserts, incidentally, are a specialty at the Imperial. Each is a creation of Ingrid Fraser, a Culinary Institute star. Sunset Magazine features her desserts and she teaches pastry at the Amador County Learning Network.
It was just too much for me. Throwing caution, calories and cash to the winds, I ordered the espresso cheesecake. ($10) Some things are worth it.
Another hotel that has a delightful garden is
the National in Jamestown. The National has a ghost, I’m told. If you drink enough of their famous pom-tinis (Absolut vodka, triple sec, pomegranate juice with a splash of lime ($8), you may see one.
The hotel-restaurant has received Triple A’s coveted 3-Diamond Award for more than 30 years. You can expect to be wined, dined and delighted.
Menu selections are delicious, presentation perfect. My personal favourite is the National’s scampi etoufflee—prawn sautéed Cajun style with scallions, fresh tomatoes, mushrooms with white wine and herbs. ($20.95) The prawns and scallions are plump, tender and succulent, the sauce a perfect accompaniment, spicy enough to show character but not over powering.
OK, so maybe you think I only pick the pricey, hoity-toity bistros. Au contrair! Charles and I have a very special favourite that’s anything but elegant. We like Pizza Plus in Sutter Creek so well that we went there last year for his birthday. Maybe we’ll go again this year.
There are many delicious pizza selections to choose but Charles and I like to build our own. We chose sausage, anchovies, artichoke hearts, garlic, jalapenos and black olives for $15. It was more than enough for the two of us. We also opted for two “boy mugs” (24 ounces $4.50 each) of excellent draft beer. Dark and strong.
No doubt about it, Pizza Plus serves the best pizza that either of us have ever tasted. The building that houses the bisto dates from the Gold Rush. In winter time we enjoy eating in the basement—stone-lined, windows near the ceiling. It looks like a dungeon and must surely be haunted. Oh, the stories those old stones could tell.
The “dungeon” is fab, but sitting outside next to the babbling brook is one of those dreamy experiences you wait all year for. Guitar music, balmy breezes. What are you waiting for? Hurry on over.
And finally for my very favourite summer dining spot, there is the balcony of the Hotel Leger in Mokelumne Hill. After nine summers of eating there at least once a week, I can honestly say that I still get a thrill from the view.
Hills, valleys, historic homes, meandering roads, orange trees, palm trees. Someone should make a movie there.
So, OK, as Charles often reminds me, you can’t eat ambience. Happily, I can report that the food at the Leger has made a dramatic upturn. Tracy and Daryl Zellers are celebrating their first year of ownership this month.
After some trials and errors they have found the perfect chef, Chuck Swisher. Chuck is happy at the Leger and he’s there to stay. You can always count on exciting menu surprises. Chuck likes to experiment and does it so well, but I have my tried and true favourites: fish and chips ($9.95) and salmon salad ($15.95)
The fish is fresh, tender and hand-dipped. It comes wrapped in newspaper London style. (Once I unwrapped my own column. So much for deathless prose.)
I love salmon but am fussy about it. Suffice it to say, I’d give Chuck and the Leger an A plus.
I’m also partial to and particular about martinis. Mike Farrell and Shawn Pitner, the Leger bartenders, have a special knack for turning juniper berries into pure silk.
The Leger balcony will be a place to savour throughout the summer but it’s particularly special right now while the orange blossoms and jasmine are doing their thing. Go take a sniff. It’s on the house.
VITALS: Imperial Hotel, 14202 Old Highway 49, Amador City. Phone: 267-9172. National Hotel, 18183 Main St., Jamestown. Phone: 984-3446. Pizza Plus, 20 Eureka St., Sutter Creek. Phone: 267-1900.
Hotel Leger, 8304 Main St., Mokelumne Hill. Phone: 286-1401.
The Imperial Hotel in Amador City is as pretty outside as it is in.
The Patio at the National Hotel in Jamestown is ready and waiting for you.
A leafy creekside setting makes Pizza Plus in Sutter Creek memorable.
Outdoor music livens the scene at Pizza Plus in Sutter Creek.
Everything is coming up lilacs on the balcony of the Hotel Leger in Mokelumne Hill.
Check your calendar. The full moon s something special at the Hotel Leger.