• Otter Views: The Beach House

    by Tom Stevens

    In an earlier, younger, married life, the vagaries of Vietnam-era military service sent my bride and me to Stockton. It was a more user-friendly town back then; smaller, prettier and quainter than the current troubled incarnation.

    That said, once summer wilted the elms and crisped the lawns to shredded wheat, Stockton was a good place to travel away from. So during “liberty” from the Navy, we’d gas up the station wagon, lay futons in the back, and drive off to explore the West Coast.

    As carefree travelers will, we found ways to pass any motoring time not spent sightseeing or getting lost. We sang folk songs, played 20 questions, watched for out-of-state plates. Once these diversions flagged, we’d move on to “imaginary restaurant.”

    This pastime worked best while we transited stretches of spectacular scenery, like the Canadian Rockies or the Oregon coast. We’d survey the passing countryside for ideal restaurant sites. Many miles could then pass amiably as details of design, construction, menu and décor were debated and refined.

    I don’t know where this cockamamie game came from, but Big Sur’s Nepenthe might have been one inspiration. An “au jus” sandwich place overlooking La Jolla Cove might have contributed as well. Whatever the game’s origins, by any road trip’s end, we had seeded the west’s scenic corridors with an impressive string of ersatz eateries.

    I still remember my favorite. It sat on a steep bluff in old growth redwoods. Far below, catching the afternoon light, the wild Smith River twisted through the forest like a silver eel. As this was 1970, my restaurant had a panoramic deck and a renaissance-style tower with bright banners, sconces and stained glass windows. From the tower, diners could watch brown bears and eagles snag salmon in the river.

    Because neither of us had any restaurant experience beyond busing tables, we never let the brutal realities of the food service business crush our gossamer fantasies. Where in this remote setting would the staff live? Who would deal with liquor and health inspectors? Could delivery trucks park without sliding off the cliff?

    No, we wisely left these vexing details to the West’s real restaurateurs and drove happily onward. We passed many fine eateries in our travels and even stopped at a few that rivaled our imaginary ones. I remember a cliff top cafe in Jenner that overlooked the mouth of the Russian River. It seemed as if every sea lion, osprey, pelican and petrel within 100 miles had swarmed to the estuary below the café. All the place lacked was a tower with stained glass windows.

    A Washington state seafood place called The Three Crabs had fresh berry pies, a stone beach and jaw-dropping views of supertankers plowing past on Puget Sound. In Oregon’s Cascade Mountains, one inn offered diners dizzying aerial views from a lofty cantilevered deck. Alfred Hitchcock would have liked that place.

    Older and more vertigo-prone now, I site my imaginary restaurants in more forgiving view planes. One recent inspiration is the newly reopened restaurant on Lover’s Point in PG. Formerly the Bath House, it has been rebranded as The Beach House, complete with whimsical beach ball logo.

    At Monday’s 4 p.m. “soft opening,” patrons enjoyed the same dramatic wrap-around coastal views that have drawn diners to Lover’s Point since the days of the Japanese Tea House. Handsome black and white historic photos of the PG shoreline attest to that provenance and link the Beach House to its culinary forebears.

    Seating 104 diners indoors and 21 others on its heated outdoor patio, the Beach House opens for dinner and cocktails at 4 p.m. daily. The restaurant’s main room can be booked for special events before that hour, and the glass-paneled patio is also available for private parties. An understated cocktail bar set into one corner may have the best views in the place.

    A quick spin through the restaurant Monday revealed a muted color scheme of beiges, tans and browns and a fast-moving but polite wait staff in darker hues. The lofty peaked ceiling creates chalet-type spaciousness, and several high windows admit ample daylight or starlight. Anybody who wants a sensational ocean view need only raise his or her head. There doesn’t seem to be a bad seat in the house.

    The dinner entrees range from $12 cheeseburgers to $44 steak and lobster galas, with various pork, lamb, salmon, chicken, rigatoni and meatloaf dishes represented as well. Side dishes like grilled asparagus, roasted mushrooms and garlic truffle fries vie for attention alongside big salads and “small plates.”

    The latter include fresh and roasted oysters, escargot, sesame crusted ahi, smoked wild salmon, mushroom fricassee, red pepper risotto, and one sure to be a big hit later this summer: “Feast of Lanterns Firecracker Shrimp.”

    Imagine that.

    posted to Cedar Street Times on June 28, 2013

    Topics: Otter Views

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