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Oak by the River Is Reviving in the Carmel Valley

November 01, 1987|SALLY CRAWFORD | Crawford is a Los Angeles free-lance writer.

CARMEL VALLEY, Calif. — At the top of the hill on Punta del Monte, just after Quien Sabe and before De Travesia, is Robles del Rio Lodge. Its name means oak by the river. It's been there since 1928, one of the first structures built in Carmel Valley. And it's having a revival.

New proprietors, the Ron Gurrieses, have owned the Tickle Pink Inn in Carmel Highlands for years. Ron and his wife, Yolanda, brought firewood over this Saturday morning from their ranch in Gilroy. Their son, Glen, and his wife, Adreena, are resident managers of Robles del Rio. A family operation.

Former owner Bill Wood, who lives across the road, joined us around the fireplace and reminisced about the early days when Arthur Murray would check in for a month or so. "Alistair Cooke visited after the war," Wood says. "The swimming pool was dug with a horse and plow. Couldn't get a tractor up the crooked narrow road," he says. "We had a golf course where the meadow is across the road."

Gurries plans to keep the tradition of the old barn-like theater with movies once a week. "And we hope to have horses here again," he says. Glen Gurries explained that they are making changes slowly and thoughtfully, like Wood, who made changes only after consulting his guests.

In addition to the main building, which includes the restaurant, four guest rooms, a terrace for dining overlooking the pool and a hot tub area (sauna is inside), a living room with endless views and a separate small bar, nine cabins each contain two or three guest rooms scattered over the eight-acre complex. Then there are a tennis court and a resident masseuse.

Out the Window

Our room had a Laura Ashley motif with dark print wallpaper and matching draperies. But the outstanding decor was the picture-post card vista out our giant window overlooking the village below and the opposite hills. The giant oak trees look like sprigs of parsley scattered over "pastures of heaven," as John Steinbeck aptly described the area.

The Ridge restaurant in the lodge is operated by Daniel Barduzzi, former executive chef at the Lodge in Pebble Beach and Highlands Inn. Intense training in classical French cuisine at the cooking school in Strasbourg, then on to Le Serre in Paris, has not hindered his artistic inspiration in pleasing the California palate.

Cream of avocado and crab soup, scallops sauteed in a rich basil and fresh tomato sauce followed by Isle Flottante in a brown-sugar sauce satisfied this visitor. Options were oysters Rockefeller, snails in baby red potato, roasted rack of lamb with mustard seed sauce, poussin stuffed with chestnut and pork, on and on. Our waiter, Jon, was superb.

Barduzzi greets guests if he isn't in the kitchen. If he misses you at the door he'll make the rounds of the tables. Patrons from Pebble Beach have found him in this secluded spot. "During the foggy months some stay for a few days to enjoy the sun as well," Gurries says.

Hand-Painted China

One notices the handsome hand-painted French china and learns that Barduzzi had it specially made in San Francisco. His great-grandfather went from Bologna, Italy, to Avignon, France, thus the Italian surname and French given name.

"The regional focus of our wine list is deliberate," says the wine book. Barduzzi notes that more grapes are grown in the Monterey region than in Napa now. It is warmer. We had an excellent Ventana Chardonnay. He has taken the staff to most of the regional vineyards and wineries.

In keeping with this theme, the master chef depends almost entirely on Monterey agriculture, noting that at least 60 varieties of vegetables are available at the market in Salinas. The Mushroom Store in Carmel Valley delivers ingredients daily.

A most comprehensive continental breakfast is included in the room rate. This morning Greg Rutherick was replenishing the apricot and blueberry and bran raisin muffins, zucchini and pumpkin breads, fresh orange juice, dried fruit and trail mix, walnut and cinnamon applesauce cakes and hot cinnamon oatmeal.

Glen Gurries was busy and about. His mother answered questions and showed off her antique acquisitions, a beautiful old country French sideboard and a harvest table, both used as breakfast servers.

An antique Apollo grand piano was bought recently at an auction near Gilroy.

Student Exchange

This trim, attractive, youthful woman has raised five children. Her daughter Sabrina is running the Tickle Pink Inn.

"This is Fritz," Adreena Gurries said as she introduced a busboy clearing the breakfast dishes. "He was an exchange student we had from Metz, France." Her children have been exchanging residences and jobs with students from Europe for years.

Down past Los Agrinemsors, a misspelled road trying to mean surveyor in Spanish, lives Colin Fletcher who wrote "The Man Who Walked Through Time." Back the other way lives Eve Tartar, artist extraordinaire.

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