47200 Highway 1
Big Sur, CA 93920
I love road trips to no where. They give you an opportunity to see new places, and explore areas that you would otherwise just drive by. Some of my favorite memories come from impromptu trips and destinations unknown.
The California coast line has some of the best driving vistas in the world. The stretch of Highway 1 from San Francisco down to Morro Bay has a great diversity of scenery – oceans, cliffs, redwoods, beaches, dunes, winding canyons, big surf. It also has some fantastic food finds like Duarte’s Tavern in Pescadero. On an impromptu trip to Big Sur, I hoped to discover another find in the Redwood Grill.
Located in the Fernwood Resort, the Redwood Grill isnt exactly what I pictured. A restaurant inside a resort conjures images of white linen, stunning vistas, and well attired servers.
Driving through Big Sur, I almost missed it. What I thought would look like a resort actually looks like a motel with attached drinking hole. Pulling a quick u-turn, we slid into the parking lot.
The interior is actually an interesting combination of a really large table, order counter, and bar (with table seating). Apparently, the two establishments are run separately, the food run by a catering company that co-exists in the space, and the tavern which only has a license for alcohol, and not food. You order your food from the counter, go to the bar for drinks, and sit anywhere you like. Very creative arrangement.
What the Redwood Grill is best known for is BBQ. They were featured on a Bobby Flay show after all. But what drew me to the restaurant was the report that the surrounding Redwood’s yielded record crops of Chanterelles with perfect cool and moist weather, and that the Redwood Grill had several special dishes with Chanterelles.
Talking over the menu, we decide to order a variety of dishes to sample the variety that they offer. Unfortunately, no one feels up for the burger – it’s supposed to be pretty good.
The first dish out is the “Chanterelle Pizza” – Chanterelle paste, sprinkled generously with sliced Chanterelles, and parmigiano reggiano grated over top on top of focaccia. A bit different than what we were expecting, nonetheless, this dish was amazing. The bread formed a nice crisp foundation, the chanterelle paste was earthy and rich, the broiled chanterelles on top buttery and mild, and the Parmesan providing a nice balance to the dish. This was a definite winner.
Next up was the fish tacos, which came highly recommend by the chef/server. Made with the house smoked salmon, unfortunately, these were pretty disappointing. The “salad” that rested on top of limp flour tortillas drowned out any real taste of the tacos. It lacked balance, primarily in the form of acidity, and was overall, pretty mediocre considering the high quality of the ingredients.
The much hyped pulled pork was pretty much that – all hype. While the pork was reasonably tender, the meat lacked any real flavour – no smoke presence, no real pork note either. Taste was all delivered via the sauce, a slightly sweet that lacked any real depth. This was pretty disappointing.
I did have high hopes for the the full rack of ribs. If you look at their website, you’ll see this great smoking set up, with the smoker loaded with these great, charred, succulent looking ribs. After the pulled pork, I was a bit nervous, but i’ve been to many BBQ places where the pulled pork failed, but the ribs were great. So optimism was high!
What came out was interesting – a pretty nice looking rack slathered with some BBQ sauce as an after thought. A taste of the sauce confirms it’s the same thing as what was put on the pulled pork.
Tearing into the ribs, they are definitely tender. Maybe a touch dry (or mealy) from over smoking, but i don’t generally have too many complaints about that kind of texture.
The problem is, they completely lack flavour. Once again, no prominent smoke flavour, no pork taste, no undertone of a nice rub, nothing. All the flavour is delivered by the limp BBQ sauce, which was disappointing enough, slathered on this huge rack of flavourless ribs. This was no Central BBQ.
In a discussion with some of the staff, we discovered that their philosophy is to use high quality ingredients that are local, and not so local. They made mention that their profit margins were really slim, and they did it more for the love of good food than for money. While I can’t speak to their motivations, I have to say that overall this was a disappointing experience. While the service and the daily specials were definite positives, the BBQ and signature house dishes were very disappointing. A place featured for their BBQ should be able to turn out something that passes for good BBQ, not something that resembles a parboiled, oven grilled rack from Appleby’s. While the Redwood Grill failed to meet expectations, the drive through the Redwoods and along the coast was beautiful indeed. Let’s call it a draw.