In concept, dining at a restaurant on an organic lavender farm sounds very much like something one would do while vacationing in the South of France. My vacation was not in Provence this year, but I spent part of it in Southern California. My mom, inspired by my lavender-mint chip ice cream, thought it would be fun to have dinner one night at the Grand Oak Steakhouse, which just happens to be situated on an organic farm in Cherry Valley, California. She was right. Every summer they host a lavender festival, and she had been blown away by the lavender crème brûlée the restaurant served for the occasion.
So my parents, Nick, and I found ourselves in the grand dining room at sunset. The view, looking out over blooming lavender fields with a spectacular salmon-colored sky, was delightful. I liked the décor inside, too. The mosaic of paintings, the high ceilings with exposed beams, and the old-timey farm gear artfully displayed combined to create a space that was comfortably luxurious. The menu changes seasonally, and features vegetables, herbs, and meats grown or raised right there on the farm.
The Grand Oak’s prix fixe special is a bargain at $25 for three courses. After toasting the evening with pre-dinner drinks (including a lovely local chardonnay and a subtle and sophisticated lavender margarita) we all went that route, and were able to compose four completely different dinners thanks to the variety of choices available. I started with a luscious corn soup, enriched with a kick of Jack Daniel’s. Mom had the farm salad, made with a gorgeous variety of greens, herbs, and shaved vegetables. Nick and Dad both had the very refreshing gazpacho, of which the pictures came out even worse than that of the salad above (I don’t like to make a big scene about photographing meals in restaurants – a few quick snaps and if they don’t come out, tant pis).
Moving on to dinner, and a juicy bottle of red wine from nearby Paso Robles, Nick thoroughly enjoyed his medium-rare burger and herby fries. Mom had been dreaming of lamb all day, and her flavorful chops served over couscous and green beans did not disappoint. Dad’s perfectly golden chicken was supported by a perfectly summery trio: basil, zucchini, and tomatoes. I chose the striped bass – for which the kitchen obligingly substituted summer squash in place of bell peppers – and the light, fresh flavors made me a very happy diner, indeed.
The reasonable portion sizes meant that we had just enough room for dessert. Dad got an adorable raspberry baked Alaska, Mom sated her crème brûlée craving with an apricot and rosemary-infused version, I enjoyed a peach tart (which I admit I ordered mainly because I wanted the crème fraîche ice cream), and Nick splashed out with the “dessert tapas” – an assortment of mini desserts including the aforementioned crème brûlée and a tangy bite of cheesecake, among others.
We had a great time – the service was enthusiastic and informed (if at times it felt like they were trying a bit too hard), the atmosphere was relaxed, the food was fresh and tasty, and of course the company was excellent. I wouldn’t mind one bit if we made this a vacation tradition, though I’d still like to see how Provence compares.
Originally published on Croque-Camille.