Sometimes an evening is so perfect you wish it would never end.
If any destination in the rest of the planet, the galaxy, the universe was offered to you right then, there isn’t anywhere you would rather be and you fear that if you leave that place and that moment in which you have fallen in love with everything about it, you may never be able to recreate whatever it is that has cast you under this spell.
Such is the magic of the Mission Ranch, Carmel.
Set a gentle, downward rolling stroll away from Carmel’s main street of Ocean Avenue, the ranch sits at the bottom of Dolores Street among grounds sculpted into perfection by nature and overlooking fields & mountains with sand & sea in the distance.
One of the states’ first dairies, the 160 acre ranch has been under 17 different hands of ownership since the mid 1800’s although the current owner, Mr. Clint Eastwood, is possibly the only one you’ll have actually heard of. Purchasing the estate in 1986 before it was sold for development as condos, he had each separate part of the ranch rebuilt in its original style, with its original features.
A large indoor restaurant area offers views of the outdoors that are made all the more spectacular when you step out onto the deck and breathe in the fresh, clean, salt-scented air. A dapper man sits at the indoor piano and croons to both himself and the collection of all-ages-all-ethnicity ladies perched on stools around him like the most charming, elegant groupies imaginable. Tables are laid out intimately but with enough space so as not to feel that you’re dining with everyone else in the room.
The outdoor space is generous and made up of both large tables that easily seat 4+ and smaller tables for two that face outwards and away from the main buildings. Patio heaters are plentiful and no more than a light jacket was needed to sit comfortably outside on this late August evening.
The main menu lists both local and globally inspired dishes, all fairly priced and all designed to make my eyes widen and my stomach growl which they both obediently did. However, the customer friendly website lets you know that you can order from the bar menu and enjoy a lighter priced but no less delicious meal with the same wonderful views and experience afforded to those visitors with a deeper wallet.
This was one of the many things that I loved about Mission Ranch – it felt open to and welcoming of everyone and throughout the evening we saw guests from all backgrounds enjoying everything from 3 lavish courses to a single drink. All were treated with respect and more than that, the wait staff seemed to thoroughly enjoy their jobs, wanting to leave everyone with memories to savour.
Sat in the perfect location outside, we were greeted with enthusiasm and sincerity by Lourdes, a lady whose service was exemplary throughout the night. Whether offering genuine suggestions and thoughts on the menu or chatting easily to us about the place itself, she was an absolute delight and if you’re lucky enough to visit and lucky enough to have her wait on you, listen to her and believe her.
Yes, the local Pinot Noir is really that good and oh lord yes, the bread pudding with bourbon sauce is more than a little life changing.
Picking a selection off the bar menu allowed us to fill the table with an assortment of treats to pick at and share as the sun lowered in the sky and Clint’s flock of surprisingly comedic sheep settled down for the night in the nearby barn…
…a golden, soft, almond encrusted tangy goats cheese came alongside crisp, seeded flatbread, sun-dried tomatoes and greens…
…freshly-made-and-still-warm-from-the-kitchen tortilla chips had a beautiful snap and came wrapped in green linen…
…enormous, locally grown artichokes with soft, earthy toned hearts were served with a chipotle aioli…
…potato skins that were crispy not greasy and filling not bloating were accompanied by cool sour cream…
Given where we were, the fact that these ranged in price from only $6 – $14 and more than satisfied the two of us and our rumbling tummies, only served to add ‘amazing value’ to the ever growing list of things that make this place special.
These dishes were all washed down by a 2012 Hahn Pinot Noir that was flawless. It was smooth and incredibly easy to drink with a deep, garnet colour and a fragrance so inviting I could have swum in it. With an ‘is-this-rea’l price tag of $8.50 for a very large glass, this is a wine that slipped down easily, was enjoyed immensely and will forever be on my lookout-for list on future wine purchasing trips. Sadly, the view when I next drink it probably won’t be the same but if a mouthful transports me back to this evening just a little, it’ll be money well spent.
With the gentle, contented buzz of utter relaxation washing over us, Lourdes’ suggestion of the seeing the dessert menu was snapped up and her recommendation of a bread pudding with bourbon sauce immediately taken. Bourbon seems to have been one of the unintentionally recurring flavours of this trip and as we’d already had it on donuts where it sat alongside blueberry and basil, and ice-cream where it snuggled up with locally roasted coffee beans, it seemed only fair to go for the dessert hat-trick here.
I mentioned a little earlier that this pudding was a touch life changing and yes, you probably thought ‘oh there she goes again, waxing lyrically and raving rapturously about something else’ but I promise you that every words of praise here is deserved.
The pudding itself was soft with a heaviness that was comforting not stodgy and it more than held its own against the wine, and the sauce? If Clint ever decides to go a la Paul Newman and branch out with his own range of sauces and dressings, he probably only needs to do this one because I will a) be his biggest customer (both literally and financially) and b) praise it in a rapturously evangelical way around the globe.
It was the colour of sunlit butterscotch and had a warming heat that spread from the tip of your tongue to the back of your throat and beyond. It wasn’t sickly sweet but had a light richness to it that wrapped itself around each spoonful of bread pudding and finished each swallow with the gentlest of alcoholic kisses. It was literally something that I will remember eating for the rest of my life and if I ever win the lottery, I’m going to buy one of the guest houses at the ranch and live out my days drinking Pinot Noir and licking bourbon sauce from the plate and, most likely, my hands, face and table too.
By now, the sun had set and the lights of the restaurant had come on, casting a warm glow over the faces of happy, sated, relaxed and contented diners, some obvious locals, some obvious tourists.
There have been a few evenings on this trip that have become seared into my consciousness for how wonderful they made me feel and how much I will treasure them, re-visiting each as I need to when I’m back home in a city that is wonderful but a million miles away from the calm and serenity of this peaceful place.
Mission Ranch was on my road-trip list before there was even a road-trip and I’m beyond thankful that it lived up to my sky-high expectations. If you’re ever in this area, if you ever have the chance to spend the evening here, take it. You don’t need a long time in Carmel to enjoy and appreciate all that it is – twenty four hours was all we needed to know it’s a part of the world we will be returning too. After all, everyone needs to top up their magical memory bank now and then…