image-Costanoa

It only took 20 years, but we finally made it to Cascade restaurant at the Costanoa resort. It was worth the wait … and the drive. 

Costanoa, located about half an hour south of downtown Half Moon Bay, was one of the original “glamping” destinations when it opened in 1999 as part of free-thinking hotelier Chip Conley’s Joie de Vivre chain. Accommodations on its sprawling acreage of coastal hills range from a cheap KOA campground to beautiful lodge suites costing in the hundreds of dollars. I’ve never stayed there, but I’ve heard the tent cabins are the ultimate in an inexpensive romantic weekend. 

In recent years, Coastanoa’s restaurant Cascade (and its chef, Mo L’Esperance) developed a reputation for delicious farm-fresh (after all it is in the middle of farmland) cuisine, as well as its gorgeous setting — what feels like an old barn with wrap-around porch. In warm weather, the porch dining, with its glimpse of the ocean in the distance, must be a treat; as it was, my party of four went on a cold November night and sat inside near the crackling fireplace. 

Prices are not cheap (though reasonable by San Francisco standards) and range from $8 to $16 for first courses, $27 to $40 for entrees. This is a place for special nights out, with the fine cuisine to go along with it. 

We sampled a number of dishes between the four of us; all but one or two earned raves. Cascade dishes are artistically prepared and not huge. The restaurant is also delightfully vegetarian-friendly. 

We only had one entrée and otherwise were very happy with small dishes/appetizers. We started with a bang with an addictive appetizer of crispy Brussels sprouts tossed with bits of goat cheese and balsamic. Even one of our guests, who has refused the vegetable for decades, said he was now a convert. 

We diverged a bit on the polenta primavera, a beautifully presented tower of crispy corn cake with summer vegetables and a drizzle of pesto. I thought it a bit bland, but others thought it was one of the best dishes of the night. 

We all agreed on the deliciousness of the corn risotto appetizer (also available as an entrée) which was served like a stew and thick with both rice and sweet, smoky corn. 

Another appetizer we shared was the “harvest soup,” which is made (usually vegetarian if not vegan) with the current crop of veggies from their organic garden. This one was sweet potato-based, with an intriguing spice mix (cumin? turmeric?) that made it the perfect aromatic mixture for a cold winter night. 

The one entrée we tried was the fish of the day, which on this night was a beautiful chunk of browned arctic char, atop a bed of sautéed chard and new potatoes. I thought its flavor balance was perfect, but my friend thought it lacked a spark. 

Being a crab cake fan, I had to try them at Cascade, and was so glad I did. Cooked up light and crispy on the outside and made with Santa Cruz rock crab, these “cakes” were served with piquillo pepper aioli and basil oil, and were a cut above (way above!) your average seafood fry. 

Because we believe in a full-service review, we forced ourselves to share two of their amazing desserts. (Insert wink here.) The hot apple pie was simply divine — just the thing you’d want when dining in a big barn — and would have been delicious even without the whipped cream and cinnamon topping. But with it, it was swoon-worthy. And my colleagues indulged in what they call the “campfire sundae,” which is heaps of vanilla ice cream topped with roasted marshmallows, graham crackers and a chocolate drizzle. 

Throughout the meal, the service was attentive without being intrusive, if a bit slow. (Then again, if you’re going to drive a distance for a great meal, why rush?) In keeping with the rustic nature of the place, be forewarned that bathrooms require exiting the warm dining room and heading around the building. Still, it’s an opportunity to see more of the beautiful property. 

We headed home reluctantly, though happy with our dining experience. I plan to return in the spring when the weather — and the vegetables — change.

Review restaurant articles are done by two local residents who enjoy sampling Coastside restaurants. They choose to remain anonymous so that they get the same treatment as you would get in these places. Use their insights to help guide you, but by all means check out these eateries yourself.

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