Harbor House Restaurant has been on this site a number of times but this was our first winter visit. We were lucky to find an opening to stay at their lovely main house for 2 nights and also open reservations for dinners those evenings. This is when you know you should have bought a lottery ticket cause your stars are aligned. There are only 20 seats at this ocean-view dining room on the Pacific coast. Matthew Kammerer is the chef of this 2 Michelin-starred restaurant, and other well-deserved honors like Food and Wine‘s Best New Chef of 2019. However, as I’ve said before, a chef alone can not make a restaurant this great, it takes a wonderfully talented staff too. It’s one of those amazing places where you can ask your server pretty technical questions about the food and they know the answers, without having to run to the kitchen. Sommelier John Miller continues to add to the wine selections, especially those from this region. At this point, the whole staff knows me but everyone who goes gets the same caring attention that makes this a magical place to dine. I heartily recommend it, especially now that their ranch is up and running and supplying some fabulous produce that you can enjoy along with the marvelously fresh seafood, also obtained locally. They do stress sustainability and thus will highlight some less common items.
As we talked with John Miller about wine selections the staff start you with a moist towel to freshen your hands. They’ve also upped their game and now have purse stools and/or hangers to attach to the table.
Cured rockfish from Ft. Bragg was with tamarillo, kelp, oxalis and battera kombu. The tamarillo was the foundation of the broth. It is an unusual fruit that takes 3 years to mature but they are lucky enough to have it grow in the mountains nearby. The fish was cured so lightly it could have passed for raw and it was delicious with the flavorful broth.
Sea urchin from Ft. Bragg was combined with dulse (a type of seaweed and chopped chawanmushi. The dulse addded a bit of salt with almost bacon essence to the red sea urchin. Highlighted with a bit of chives, dill, and some radish flowers, it was yummy. The luxurious custard was perfect with the urchin. This had a flavor more like Japanese urchin, more sweet and less earthy. I loved it. It had a wonderful feeling in your mouth and on the tastebuds was pure silk. The great texture with the incredible flavor put this one over the top and we requested to have it the next night too.
Sourdough bread and cultured butter are both seasoned with sea lettuce. This bread has been on the menu for a while and you can taste why. The thick slice had a perfect crisp crust with a doughy interior that is fine on its own or with the butter.
Abalone poached in sake was with a sauce of abalone offal. The red abalone was from Monterrey Bay and was plated with various brassicas. The side sauce was made from the poaching broth with the stomach, liver, “foot” and abductor muscle of the abalone. It sounds awful but trust me it’s lovely and rich enough to dip your bread into rather than the butter. The thinly sliced abalone was slightly crisp with a mild, wonderful flavor. The bits of totally fresh vegetables made this a winning combination.
Fried maitake mushroom was alongside infused, lace lichen with sesame. The maitake, called Hen of the Woods in other parts of the country, was bound together with Espelette pepper, Bay seasoning, and trumpet mushrooms in the light crisp batter. In another dish was a slice of Bearss lime, a Persian lime, to accent the mushrooms. The last cup contained a broth seasoned with more mushroom, cow parsnip oil, and seeds. The lace lichen was topped with sesame seeds in a nori broth. A heavenly mushroom followed by mushroom broth was divine. We had to have this the next night too. I think this has become a signature dish for Chef Kammerer.
Skate was served with leeks and romanesco. The tender fish was mated with thin slices of romanesco and leek shreds in a broth of leeks. It was mildly flavored yet wonderful. The textures were the star here punctuated with the pure taste of the fish and broth.
Black cod smoked over bay laurel was served on calhikari rice with a side of pickled vegetables from the ranch. The cod was local, from Ft. Bragg, and brought out in a box that when opened releases the heavenly aroma of bay laurel. The rice was glazed with some onion sauce and a bit of ginger. The silky smooth texture of the fish was exquisite with the slightly sweet rice. Cross that with the ultra-fresh pickled bits and you have a winner. The vegetables were wound into a colorful swirl that came apart as you ate it but was ever so perfect with this fine fish.
Tetsukabuto (squash) was mixed with black butter miso, hemp, and sesame in a bowl of fall colors. The squash was steamed and then grilled and finally accented with some chestnuts. The sweet squash was cooked to a perfect softness yet retained texture. The other ingredients added great seasonings and more textures to this marvelous dish. I love all the new squash varieties that we discover in our travels.
Pork shoulder and loin were plated with chanterelles and kalettes (hybrid plant of kale sprouts). The pork had been aged 8 weeks and was cooked to a nice medium rare. It was tender but a lot less exciting than the fun vegetables. They were a bit like Brussels and a little like kale. Very fun.
Layers of marigold, passionfruit and pineapple sage moved us from savory to sweet courses. This was yummy. A wonderful composition of smoothness with bits of texture and crunch, all with delicious flavors. The aftertaste was magnificent too. This was comfort food on steroids.
Kombu ice cream with spent coffee grounds was topped with rosemary flowers and was on honeycomb candy. Some coffee oil was the dot in the center of the ice cream ball. The coffee oil is what remains after the coffee service in the morning – so nothing is wasted. A terrific idea that worked into something wonderful.
The last dessert includes a number of items. An infusion of Douglas fir is served with sweet herbs over grilled honey, You drag the herbs and flowers through the honey and work them into your drink. I like eating the honey and drinking the infusion plain but they mix well too.
A plate of treats contains an Umeboshi caramel (best one – fantastic), Buddha’s hand (triangle shaped crispy outside with slightly citrus inside), embered quince (lovely sweet fruit, grilled and sugared), rye cookie with baynut (crisp cookie sandwich filled with sweet fun), and mugwort (the longer shaped candy that is sugary with a touch of earthiness).
A half of fresh pineapple guava was soft on the inside and you scoop it out with a spoon. The pineapple essence is strong and lovely.