Monday Smiles – 7/16/2012
Yesterday was Muri’s Birthday. If you’ve been coming around here for more than a year, you may remember that we went to Maui for her birthday last year … and I spent the week torturing my readers with pictures of her birthday vacation. Finances are tighter this year … and we’ve committed to going to the Grand Canyon with our Grand Kids (and their parents) next week. So this year’s birthday outing was a little less grand. Lake Arrowhead is nestled in the San Bernardino Mountains approximately one mile above the L.A. Basin and a little over an hour from Anaheim Hills. It is a beautiful lake surrounded by pines and mountain residences, from A-frame cabins to multi-million dollar mini-mansions. The lake hosts over 4 million visitors a year. There are 400 guestrooms in hotels, motels and bed and breakfasts as well as 500 cabins and condos, and also provides large facilities for conferences and retreats. The de facto center of town is Lake Arrowhead Village, a small outdoor retail area featuring outlets, galleries, restaurants and, of course, tchotchke shops. The temperature is typically 5-10 degrees cooler than it is at home and nearby Bluejay is home to one of our favorite restaurants.
We arrived Sunday at the village at three in the afternoon. One of the Village restaurants was featuring live music on the patio, which gave the afternoon a appropriately festive feel. The temperature was high seventies and the blue sky was cloudless. Past experience has taught us that if we take our time, we can walk through every store, from the Coach Outlet to the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory, in about two hours. However, a number of storefronts were empty … the recession has not been good to small resort businesses … so we were done with the Village in an hour and a half. Still, Muri bought two pairs of shoes and I bought three shirts at prices too low to miss. Neither of us bought mountain tchotchkes.
We arrived early for our reservations at Casual Elegance, which we’d made for six. The goal was to be done with dinner and off the mountain … and the mountain roads … before dark. My night vision isn’t as good as it used to be and too many young bucks think the trip down is a race. Casual Elegance is a fine dining gem in the middle of mountain resort mediocrity. Until 1991, the building was a small mountain home and the interior still has the ambiance of a mountain cabin. We found Casual Elegance while it was operated by the original owner, Janice Morrison, and immediately fell in love with the place. Sixteen years later, Morrison sold it to Kathleen Kirk, the current owner and chef who had worked in Morrison’s kitchen. The quality of the food and service continued without missing a beat. The food at Casual Elegance is simple and unusual. Meats and seafood are finished with unusual sauces or glazes and accompanied by specialties like Sweet Potato Brulee or Sauteed Romaine. All meals arrive with soup, salad and a sorbet between courses. The service is restrained … no one bounds to your table and says, Hi, I’m Tyler and I’m your waiter for tonight, as if he’s your main reason for coming … and leisurely. A meal here takes an hour and a half to two hours, even for eat-and-run people like Muri and I. Very nice. Us? I had Coho salmon with a horseradish yogurt sauce garnished with a variety of fresh herbs (including lavender blossoms) and Muri had halibut with a light tomato garnish. The squash and Parmesan soup was to die for.
It wasn’t Maui. But it was Muri’s birthday, together in a beautiful place. That makes it my Monday Smiles.