Running a half-marathon has been on my bucket list for awhile, but beyond achieving this goal, I had one very big ulterior motive: a visit to the Big Sur Bakery and Restaurant. While I consider myself an athlete, I am first and foremost a culinary adventurer. So before setting out upon my journey, I emailed the restaurant my confession. The following is an excerpt:
Subject: Looking forward to seeing your cookbook come to life this weekend
Dear Big Sur Bakery & Restaurant,
I am writing in anticipation of fulfilling a dinner reservation at your restaurant this Sunday. For quite awhile now, I've admired what you all do from reading the pages of your cookbook. Many months ago, I registered to run the Big Sur Half Marathon and I confess that approximately 85% of my motivation had to do with the fact that it would give me the excuse to eat at your restaurant (the remaining percentage accounting for my enjoyment of running and my desire to discover the beauty of Big Sur!) I've been looking at your cookbook in anticipation of the trip and noticed that one of your goals was that the Big Sur Bakery & Restaurant be a destination restaurant-- not just a place where people pass through by happenstance. After reading this, I thought you might enjoy learning about the true motives behind my half-marathon commitment. Since registering for the race in April, I have been met with enthusiastic encouragement from friends. "Good for you," they say. "What a great goal." Little do they know that my motives are driven largely by culinary obsession.
Our race day preparations started at 5 am, but I suspect the day's baked goods were heating up in Big Sur Bakery's wood-fired oven long before that. My race day breakfast was a plain bagel with a packet of Justin's honey peanut butter. This simple meal fueled me through the race so I could experience the culinary reward of a perfect dinner in the restaurant's cozy 1930's house along Highway 1.
Around 7 am, we began to run the beautiful stretch of coast along Monterey Bay. After much anticipation and training, our half-marathon was finally here. Just 13.1 miles until that meal would be ours at Big Sur Bakery & Restaurant. (In reality, it turned out to be about 15.1 miles because we walked to our hotel after the race. But who's counting?) Our legs pounded the pavement and rainy weather sprinkled down on us. After crossing the finish line, I discovered that I ran a faster pace compared with my training runs. Coincidence, or speed driven by culinary inspiration? I'd like to think it was the latter. On the way to dinner, we took our time driving through Big Sur, stopping at just about every scenic turnout to take photos.
While I was a little weary from the race schedule, nothing keeps me going like the promise of an outstanding meal. In the end, Michelle Rizzolo (baker) and Phillip Wojtowicz (chef) not only delivered some very delicious food to our eager stomaches, but also graciously agreed to sign my cookbook.
We enjoyed a lovely, laid-back fireside dinner-- the perfect setting to wrap up an epic, adventurous day. I ate every last bite of my sea bass, which was married with roasted fennel, beets, carrots, and bok choy. I sipped on a Speakeasy Prohibition Ale and felt thankful I declined the free, non-craft beer at the race's finish line. Like visiting this beautiful stretch of the California coast, this beer, and this meal, were both worth waiting for.
During the dark drive home, the picturesque seaside views of the half-marathon were gone, but the night was not over yet. We left the bakery with two brown bags of bread and pastries from the morning's selection. Matt Glazer, the friendly General Manager, was very helpful in setting our desired pastries aside, making our pastry plot through the woods a great success.
Our bellies were full, but not too full to celebrate our run a bit more with a pumpkin strudel and a chocolate chip macadamia nut cookie from the bakery. The next day, we skipped our complimentary hotel breakfast in favor of our bounty from Highway 1. We would not be swayed by a hotel omelet bar, absolutely not! We would snag a few butter patties from the buffet bar and break fresh, crusty bread from the Big Sur Bakery up in our room, because it was the right thing to do. And no one would be the wiser.
A special thanks goes out to April for being a great friend willing to be in cahoots with me on yet another elaborate bakery hunting plan, thanks to April's mom Janice for treating us to a delicious dinner, and thanks to my lovely mom for placing our pastry order and treating us to our Highway 1 wood-fired bounty! And finally, thank you so much to the whole crew at the Big Sur Bakery and Restaurant for the many bites worth traveling for. We'll be back!