I imagined the healthy and organic produce we will be eating while in Big Sur when I was planning our trip there a week before I started my new job. I knew it was against the ocean and very far from Berkeley, but I didn’t predict a shortage of fresh vegetables and good home cooking. I’m still not sure of what I was imagining Big Sur food to be like, but I really thought it would lean towards the hippie and the more natural. In fact, we had a difficult time finding anything agreeable to eat during our two-night stay in Big Sur.
We drove 45 minutes away from our lodging and we must have stopped at all the restaurants up north short of Carmel. We walked in a few of them and checked out the menus but nothing was worth spending more than $20, much less sitting for more than an hour when we had to drive back on a dark winding road along the coast.
We had driven by Deetjen’s on our way up and I reminded the Dr. of it before we gave up our search for a nice dinner. It was nestled among tall redwoods and looked as charming and cozy as it probably did back in the 1930s. We walked in squinting to adjust our vision because low lights barely illuminated the wooden space. The maitre d’ tsktsked at us when we told him we didn’t have reservations, but he quickly seated us in the Bar Room anyway.
Our waitress told us that the soup special of the night was made of chanterelle mushrooms. I excitedly ordered a bowl of it thinking we had finally found organic Big Sur home-cooking. Unfortunately, I only tasted a mild shiitake flavor in the soup. A few minutes later, when the same waitress recited the specials to the next guests, we overheard her say shiitake soup, not chanterelles. She probably couldn’t correct herself after she saw our reaction to the mere mention of chanterelles, but I wouldn’t have ordered a $10 bowl if she had.
The frisée salad with poached egg fared much better and so did the cumin-crusted lamb chops and the seafood paella. Those three dishes made me less sour; a bottle of 2005 Fiddlehead Pinot Noir also helped put me in a better mood. I realized later that getting produce to that part of the coast was difficult and that alone added to the price of the food, but there’s no reason to break a girl’s heart by mistaking chanterelles from shiitake.
Helmuth Deetjen (pronounced dÄtâ€²yÄ•n), a Norwegian who settled in Big Sur before it became the hot spot of Old Hollywood trysts for its seclusion and privacy, bought several acres of land in Castro Canyon with his wife Helen in the 1930s. The couple welcomed intrepid travelers to their barn and built more rooms as the years passed. After their deaths, the Inn was added on the National Register of Historic Places by the U.S. Department of the Interior, and today is operated on a non-profit basis by the Deetjens Big Sur Inn Preservation Foundation.
Deetjens Big Sur Inn is located on the Big Sur Coast of California, between San Luis Obispo and Monterey, off of Highway 1 and just 30 miles south of Carmel. It’s 300 miles north of Los Angeles and 150 miles south of San Francisco. The sign in front of Deetjens reads Big Sur Inn.