Dear Family, Friends, and Diary,
After our family weekend, we restarted our Fresno routine - mostly. The excessive heat had broken, so we could get out and about. Vern and I could return to porch discussion where we solve most world problems. Marianne could return to the art studio, when she wasn't getting tortured by physical therapists. I could clean a bit in the yard. There was a bit of house damage discovered on Monday, so I added another fix-it task to the list that never gets shorter, a fact of home ownership.
We did manage to work in a dinner out, one that we turned into a minor road trip. While scrolling her Google screen for dinner places, Marianne discovered very positive reviews for Rainbird in nearby Merced. It's only about an hour north on Highway 99, but adding an overnight would make it special. On the same search screen, she saw similarly positive reviews for the El Capitan Hotel and made Thursday night reservations. We were set for a mini-road trip.
The drive up was uneventful, the best one can ever hope for on truck-filled Highway 99. The California Tourist Board does not use this highway for advertising. No curves. No coastline. No mountains visible most days. At least the road reconstruction now has more completed sections than construction zones.
Merced is called "The Gateway to Yosemite" and the El Capitan has been hosting tourists since the 1880s. Back then, there was no Highway 99, just muddy or dusty roads and a rail line. Mountain visitors would stay over before taking the two-day rail and wagon trip into the famous forest.
Our version of the hotel is a recently remodeled one and it lived up to all the positive reviews. In fact, this may be one of the best boutique hotels we've ever stayed in! Sure, it's not Paris, but that's not the hotel's fault.
After check in, we walked around our downtown neighborhood. Like many Valley towns, Merced is dated and a bit worn, but trying to spruce up. As city of only about 85,000 people, it has less reconstruction work to do than much-larger Fresno, so it seems more promising. Twenty years ago, the University of California selected the city for their latest University, so that adds to the promise.
But our main activity was to be dining. The Rainbird restaurant, located on the ground floor of the El Capitan, also lived up to its positive reviews. The pre fixe "tasting menu" changes with the season, so our five courses reflected late summer/early autumn. From fish to nuts, it was wonderful. Not cheap, but among the best meals we have ever ordered.
Amuse-bouche of a tiny tart and a potato mousse, salmon and peach, bread
Duck, and our two desserts.
My brief description and pictures do not do justice to the complexity of each course. Each was unique and almost everything was perfect. (One duck breast had not been trimmed enough, but Marianne passed on the offer to replace it.)
Now it's Friday and we may consider some sort of activity on the way home. Stay Tuned.
John and Marianne