I stupidly made our reservation for 7:15pm, not even considering the fact that we might have wanted to see the magnificent Big Sur sunset from our perch at Nepenthe. (Sunset is currently at 7:27pm). I know, I know, kind of a cliché Big Sur “thing to do” but it was my husband’s very first trip to the magical little coastal town of Big Sur and we were celebrating his 1-year anniversary of moving to the United States.
Upon recommendation from one of his basketball buddies, I had booked a table at the Big Sur Bakery and Restaurant, a little gem that apparently has been around for awhile, but which I’d never noticed or even heard of (even though I’ve been to Big Sur countless times.
It was an unseasonably warm evening and when we arrived the light was dusky and purple across the mountains behind us. The restaurant, even though it has quite a few windows, is cozy and dark and would make an excellent refuge from the typically foggy chilly weather I associate with that part of the coast.
It wasn’t terribly busy, but it did take quite some time for the waitstaff/owner/host to work out where we’d be seated. Don’t get me wrong, everyone was exceedingly friendly the entire evening, but it was a bit of foreshadowing to a night of slightly confused service. (Just to explain before I go on, there were a few instances of forgetfulness, and a general lack of confidence by the waitstaff; the restaurant could benefit from clarifying everyone’s roles and responsibilities.)
Big Sur Bakery and Restaurant has a wood-fire oven which takes center stage on the menu. They base much of their seasonal, organic menu on dishes that can be baked, roasted, or braised in the oven. They also have a wood-fired grill.
The menu–which seems to change monthly–offers a handful of interesting salads and starters, five different pizzas (which looked amazing and which we vowed to try upon our return, and yes we will certainly be returning), a whole smattering of vegetable dishes (vegetarians take note: this place is an excellent choice for anyone who doesn’t eat meat), and a well-thought-out selection of mains. In addition, there were two additional starters and mains on offer.
We started with one of the salad specials, a mound of microgreens grown and harvested just behind the restaurant, tender spring fava beans, baby asparagus, and fresh peas all lightly dressed with carrot-ginger vinaigrette. It was incredibly fresh, springtime on a plate. We also had a gorgeous salad of butter lettuce, microgreens, shaved fennel, pecorino, tarragon and lemon vinaigrette, which was perfectly balanced with fresh, tangy, sweet, and salty flavors.
The star of the evening had to be our main-dish special though: rabbit in the wood-fire oven, cooked two ways: roasted saddle of rabbit wrapped in Serrano ham and braised whole leg in au jus; served with French white beans, pancetta, carrots, and braised greens. It was so good in fact that we couldn’t help but tell the tables next to us that they must order it. We also shared a grilled flatiron steak with red wine gravy and smashed Yukon gold potatoes, carrots, and braised fennel. The steak was tender and deeply flavored, but was a bit on the rare side (we had ordered medium-rare). The potatoes were a good choice, but neither of us loved the fennel and thought that could have been left out of the mix.
The wine list leans toward offerings from the central coast, with additional French and Italian wines. There are a decent number of wines available for under $40, but the prices go up rather quickly from there. We chose a gorgeous medium-bodied earthy Sicilian nero d’avola. Granted it was a abnormally warm evening, but the wine was served slightly on the warm side, a big peeve of mine. But the staff gladly chilled the wine for a minute and then it was perfect.
We finished with a brown butter rhubarb tart with brown butter ice cream and a tangy lemon pudding cake with lemon sorbet and huckleberries, both of which were perfect marriages of winter flavors (brown butter and citrus) meet early springtime fruits (rhubarb and huckleberries). We ordered a light moscato to pair alongside the dessert, but even though we reminded the waiter when the dishes arrived, the wine never did. Well, it did but only after we were long finished.
If you can get past the service not being spot on, which in my opinion you should, and accept some less polished occasional missteps (but always with a smile and an apology!), then Big Sur Bakery and Restaurant has a lot to offer. Romantic, tucked away, local and seasonal, and most of all superbly delicious.