California: The Inn at Ramekins
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Address450 W Spain St 33139 Sonoma, CA U.S. 707/933-0450 ramekins.com
A visit to Inn co-owner Darius Anderson's Jack London collection. The largest singly-held collection of rare manuscripts, first editions, and all things London, it's an intimate examination of a man, and of Sonoma itself.
A meal on the newly refurbished outdoor patio at the Inn—more of that wisteria, the burble of a fountain, and the sense that you're very far from the everyday, even though you're close to the heart of town.
The cigar menu. Darius is a serious collector, and this hidden corner of the menu reflects his passion and knack for pairing tobacco with food and wine—a new way to experience the wider offerings of the Sonoma Valley.
- Digital cable
- iPod docking stations
- Guests receive a wine tasting discount card to over 35 area wineries, and discounts on cooking classes
Those delights begin right off the bat with comfortable, elegantly unfussy rooms at the Inn, featuring textiles and furniture from co-owner Sarah Anderson's French antiques shop Chateau Sonomain a relaxing palette of grays, yellows, muted blues, sage, and white. My room had its own small balcony. Wisteria was in blossom. I had more pillows than Martha Stewart. The bathroom was appointed with a waterfall showerhead and clever towel hooks fashioned from repurposed ladles. I wondered if I could manage to take it all home with me, somehow. (Should you, too, feel that urge, be sure to visit Sarah's shop, where you can, in fact, pick up your own spa robe, the locally-made olive oil-infused soap, and deliciously soft oversized throw pillows in a variety of fabrics, amongst other thoughtfully-chosen goods.)
Breakfast, as provided by hotels or even by run-of-the-mill B&B's, is usually a skip-able affair, but you don't want to miss breakfast at Ramekins. You will be greeted by homemade yogurt in little glass jars, a flaky asparagus and Gruyere tart, fresh fruit, juices, coffee, their own granola, and morning buns liberally graced by hidden molten pockets of bittersweet chocolate. — Sarah Kanabay
In the Area
- Epicurean Retreats: Ramekins offers scheduled five-day, all-inclusive Epicurean Retreats (the next one starts October 14), with cooking classes, and visits to area farms, wineries, and meals with wine pairings, around Sonoma—including a private dinner at the French Laundry. (Shorter, customized culinary itineraries are also available at other times of year, by request.) Below are my favorite moments from that experience, and beyond. You can, if you like, also explore all of these places on your own.
- Ramekins Cooking Classes with Resident Basque Chef, Pierre Lagourgue: Sourcing for the class includes a visit to Fifth Street Farm, the property that supplies the Inn and the cooking school with fresh produce. (Be sure to say hello to the two miniature ponies in residence there, Bubbles and Party Girl, and the two tortoises who also call the farm home). Lagourgue is entertaining, incredibly knowledgeable, and manages to charm even as he's chastising you for your anemic whisking.
- Scribe Winery: Sit at the large outdoor wooden table on a hill that overlooks the vines, and the hacienda that brothers Andrew and Adam Mariani, who co-founded the winery, are lovingly restoring bit by bit. The vineyard and winery strive to integrate the farm's ecosystem with nature, and the landscape, and wines here—Rieslings and pinot noirs made with wild yeasts—are extraordinary. 2300 Napa Road, Sonoma, California 95476; 707/939-1858; scribewinery.com
- Lunch at The Marshall Store on Tomales Bay: A 136-year-old local institution perched by the water, locals swear by it, and you will too, after you've had the pleasure of eating a platter of grilled oysters in a house-made barbecue sauce. 19225 State Route 1, Marshall, California 94940; tel: 415/663-1339; themarshallstore.com
- Brunch at the Boon Fly Café at the Carneros Inn: A destination for creative takes on brunch classics (get anything with the jalapeño hollandaise—or be sure to order it as a side sauce. Trust me). I particularly recommend the doughnuts, which come piping hot and in a tiny tin pail, and the Boon Fly Benedict—thick slabs of salty ham on pain levain, with poached eggs blanketed in the aforementioned jalapeño hollandaise. 4048 Sonoma Highway Napa, California 94559; tel: 707/299-4870; thecarnerosinn.com