California’s Best Kept Secret

2 Feb

On a chilly winter evening, I embarked on a journey to a place which seemed unreal. I had read about it, but the concept: a general store that magically transforms into a hopping dinner spot for locals that serves top-notch foods, was hard to belief. It has been covered in San Francisco Magazine (briefly) and Edible, and has a Yelp page and  blog, but it still remains very hidden and unknown. No one just stumbles upon the Cachagua General Store while looking for a place to get dinner on a Monday night, one must actively seek it out, and make a reservation too.

The chefs have a catering company, A Moveable Feast, which is why it’s not a full-time restaurant. They just put on a Sunday brunch and a Monday dinner for the locals, and any tourists or visitors willing to make the hour-long drive from cozy Carmel. The General Store isn’t that many miles back, but if you’re not used to the road, the curves can really slow you down. It seemed like forever that we were driving through nothingness, passing a ranch every now and then, and not much else. But then there was a park and a little cluster of houses, and then there it was: Cachagua General Store. It looked pretty basic and unassuming from the outside, but once through the door, a whole other world unfolded.

When I stepped inside, my senses were flooded with stimuli: warmth, lights, music, cheery chatter, the clanging of a crowded kitchen, and the wonderful smells of the highest quality meats being grilled. The decor didn’t match the skill or fine ingredients put into each dish, but it ranks high on charm: green and white gingham table clothes with mismatched chairs, christmas lights in the rafters, and a randomly curated collection of landscapes, road signs, and sports banners. Oh, and my favorite, the drawn shades. I’m not sure if the pun was intended, but they are both drawn (pen on poster board) and drawn (pulled back).

The menu was quite impressive for a place only open one night a week, with both sides covered in salads, soups, pizzas, meat, and game prepared in a myriad of ways. There was a whole separate dessert menu too. It took a while to read through everything and admire the local sourcing of ingredients and combinations of flavors, but I think I picked a pretty darn good meal. I started with a pear salad with Search Ranch lettuces, parsnip chips, and a Point Reyes Blue Cheese, O Olive Oil, and Yuzu honey dressing. It was excellent. I loved the crisp lettuce with the slightly creamy dressing, and the inventive chips. The size was pretty decent too, and I was surprised at the elegant and modern white rectangular plate it was served on, which was totally out of place with the setting, but right on par with the food. The dish could have easily be served at a top restaurant in any of the world’s major cities at double the price, (it was only $8) for a smaller portion.

For my entree, I knew I wanted steak because they’re kind of known for it there, and some of the best meat is raised close by. I was going back and forth between the smaller skirt steak ($20) which I was told melts in the mouth, and the larger piece of rib eye ($28). I like my steak medium-well, but the chef only prepares the skirt steak more rare, so I had to go with the rib eye, but I’m very happy I did. The iron grilled  Beeman Ranch Wagyu was incredibly tender, moist, and fresh, visibly oozing with bloody juice. The bigger sized piece also allowed me to have enough to save for my four-legged friend who was out shivering in the car. ( She said it was worth waiting in the cold for). I was expecting the meat to be a little chewy and take a while to eat, but this thing was like butter. It was the easiest-to-eat steak I’ve ever had, and the porcini cream it was served with provided just enough flavor without being overpoweringly rich. Also part of the dish was a baked then grilled potato, some red rice, and crispy little green beans topped with a bit of sautéed onions and herbs that tasted just like thanksgiving.

Any dessert would have made me too full to look back so longingly at this meal, although on an emptier stomach the Death by Chocolate Cake would have been, well, to die for.

The food was fantastic, but it’s only one part of the General Store experience. The kitschy decor, dim lighting and casual setting all add to the ambiance, but what really makes it is the live music from Sky Ranch Jalapeño, a band of older men playing the drums, guitar, and harmonica, and singing to tunes by Buffalo Springfield and Grateful Dead. When the band took a break, I could really sense a difference in the vibe of the place. The music created an aspect  of tranquility which made for a truly unique dinner.

For the menu and sources of the ingredients at the Cachagua General Store, check out realtimefarms.com

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