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Monterrey Magic

For sheer beauty and peace, look no further than Monterey, California
Thomas Matthews
From the Print Edition:
Kevin Bacon, May/Jun 00

(continued from page 1)

For an elegant dinner with outstanding cuisine, try the ambitious new Bernardus Lodge or the aristocratic Stonepine Estate, both in Carmel Valley; Club XIX in the Lodge at Pebble Beach; and Anton & Michel in downtown Carmel. More casual alternatives include Tarpy's Roadhouse, in the striking 1917 Ryan Ranch homestead in Monterey; the adventurous cuisine of Bradley Jones in Carmel; and the stunning ocean views of the Rocky Point Restaurant on the way to Big Sur.  

Despite the temptations beckoning you to leave the Highlands Inn, however, the most luxurious and self-indulgent pleasure may be simply relaxing at the resort. Linger over coffee on the balcony, birdwatching with the supplied binoculars. Explore the spectacular gardens, where flowers bloom all year against a backdrop of Monterey pines and cypresses, and craggy coast oaks. Dip in the pool, or sip a drink on the terrace of the California Market, the inn's casual restaurant. The inn often features guest appearances by musicians such as award-winning bassist Dennis Murphy and others who have stopped in on their way between San Francisco and Los Angeles.  

Save room for dinner. While many restaurants can boast a spectacular setting or outstanding food and wine, Pacific's Edge delivers the best of both worlds. The Highlands Inn eatery, a culinary standout since the 1980s, earned its Grand Award in 1991 from Wine Spectator and recently was named one of that magazine's top 20 U.S. restaurants.  

Hyatt has put a new team in place, and the progress continues. Wine director Peter Hiers maintains the 1,300-selection list. Backed by a cellar of nearly 30,000 bottles, the restaurant's broad international selection specializes in Burgundy, especially the classic whites of Domaine Ramonet, and California, with a comprehensive selection of local bottlings. Philip Baker, the young chef de cuisine, came from The French Laundry in Napa, and has worked with Jean-Georges Vongerichten and David Bouley in New York. His dishes emphasize the natural flavors of local ingredients, with a light but assured approach to sauces and seasonings.  

As for cigar smoking--well, this is California. Nonetheless, general manager Ulrich Samietz plans to turn a patio off the main dining room into a smoker's retreat, and the inn stocks a humidor. "After all," Samietz maintains, "a good cigar is part of a great meal."  

After you savor a cigar or a digestif on the terrace, watching the stars and the waves, it's only a short walk through the fragrant, discreetly lit gardens back to your room. It's no wonder that the Highlands Inn celebrates 350 weddings a year, and countless anniversaries. If romance runs like a vein through the earth, this must be the mother lode.  

I never did meet my moonstruck neighbors. But I like to think of them leaving Pacific's Edge after a fine meal, letting go of one pleasure to embrace another, impatient, yet savoring the brief delay as they made their way through the gardens. Because it's not the restaurant or the rooms, fine as they are, that make the Highlands Inn such a special place: it's the magic of those in-between moments, which can't be bought or kept but only caught and released. They cast a spell that will keep you coming back for more.     T

Thomas Matthews is the executive editor of Wine Spectator, Cigar Aficionado's sister publication.    

MASTERS OF FOOD AND WINE  

Food and wine connoisseurs can crisscross the United States to search for the best from American chefs and top international winemakers. Or they can simply relax and let the feast come to them, at the Masters of Food and Wine, held annually at the Highlands Inn in Carmel, California.  


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