The Raven’s Restaurant is located on the grounds of the Stanford Inn in Mendocino, California – a hilly, rolling landscape dotted with tall, natural wood buildings set amongst pretty coastal gardens.
On past visits to Mendocino, my husband and I had been given The Ravens’ dinner menu by various hotel proprietors, and we were not impressed by the choice of entrees. As long-time vegans, we feel dubious about vegan cuisine being presented as something that requires fancy and exotic ingredients, and The Ravens’ dinner menu would lead one to think vegans live on pricey mushrooms and complicated sauces. Such dishes may be imaginative, but they aren’t the kind of plain, good cooking skilled vegan cooks develop as the basis of a whole foods diet.
However, our most recent visit to Mendocino wasn’t planned in advance. My husband and I made the trip on the spur of the moment and weren’t armed with our arsenal of coolers and grocery bags. We did a little bit of shopping at Corners of the Mouth on Ukiah Street ( a super place!), so we would have something to eat, but when we got up the next day, we found ourselves longing for a hot, hearty breakfast. We had a big day of hiking ahead of us and didn’t think almond butter sandwiches would give us the fuel this would require!
That’s how we ended up at The Ravens, despite our previous concerns that the food would be too fancy to be taken seriously.
I’m so glad we took a chance.
To begin with, the restaurant is beautiful. What a fine thing to sit at a clean, lovely little table at one of the many high casement windows overlooking Mendocino’s blue, blue sea. The Arts-and-Crafts architecture gives a warm, golden glow to the eating area, augmented by the comfort of a massive, crackling fire where guests are welcome to take a seat on commodious sofas. Classical music added a further touch of ease and pleasure to the setting. There was a charming, small bouquet of tea tree blossoms and other fresh cuttings on our table and my husband and I found ourselves looking at one another in pleased wonder over finding ourselves sitting in such an elegant environment.
Compared to our past dining experiences, and our normal mode of nourishing ourselves on vacation which tends to revolve around eating out of our cooler, this was quite a surprise!
The staff was friendly and polite, and our meal was served with admirable promptness.
The Ravens’ breakfast menu was far more pleasing to us than what we had seen of their dinner offerings. It is divided into two parts – one side for vegans and the other for ovo-lacto vegetarians. Many of the vegan items looked hearty and tempting and there were even such simple selections as hot cereal and homemade English muffins.
My husband chose their tofu scramble and potatoes. The tofu was fluffy and light, seasoned with something reminiscent of nutritional yeast and mild, appealing spices. It came on bed of mixed braised vegetables including zucchini, broccoli and mushrooms. The grilled potatoes were both russets and sweet potatoes, and though we are normally fans of fried potatoes for breakfast, these were extremely tasty and, again, delicately flavored.
I chose the waffle which was crisp and delicious and came with a warm pitcher of maple syrup and a small ramekin of apple compote. I savored every bite.
Our meal, including tip, came to about $35. This was certainly a great deal more than we would spend on breakfast cooked at home, but we viewed it as a very rare treat for ourselves. We would absolutely recommend The Ravens to any vegan or vegetarian friend, and will doubtless eat there again in future.
Suggestions for The Raven’s staff:
Imagination is a good thing in cooking, but a menu composed mainly of unusual ingredients may be off-putting to vegans who live by the simple, whole foods philosophy. We would suggest that The Ravens take a closer look at the more honest fare of Italian and Mexican cuisine in their dinner menu, rather than leaning so far toward the pate and caviar cuisine that marks out America’s most pretentious and least planet-friendly traditional restaurants. Few vegans I know find appeal in imitating the types of European and American cuisine that revolve around animal cruelty and wasteful eating habits. We prefer plainer, heartier foods.
Vegans feel nervous dining out. Just as Jewish individuals feel concern that restaurant meals may not be prepared kosher, Vegans worry that their fried potatoes may be cooked in a pan that was just used to fry eggs. We would suggest that The Ravens’ make their vegan guests feel truly at ease by including in the menu some specifics about your kitchen practices. For example, if you would see fit to stock a separate set of pans for vegan cooking, we are positive that you would have the undying gratitude and a loyalty of compassionate diners.
Praise for The Ravens:
For the majority of vegan converts in this part of the world, elegant dining out is a distant memory of the past. I have a warm memory of being taken to a beautiful Mendocino restaurant by my parents when I was a little girl. There were gorgeous windows, a fireplace on a drizzly morning, there was symphonic music lilting through the air. It was seen as a rare and luxurious treat. As a grown-up vegan, I have come to expect that nearly all restaurants attempting to serve vegan meals will have some peculiar additional policy of using no oil or salt, or the meals will be served by people with tattoos on their foreheads, or the dining room will be dirty or industrial-looking.
The Ravens made me think I’d gone back to being a little girl, thrilled by the luxury of being treated like a valued guest by an establishment that was making special efforts to see that I had a really happy breakfast. As veganism increasingly becomes the diet of choice for the Green movement, I hope that more restaurant owners will start catering to vegan diners with respect and care. We’re not there yet, but The Raven’s Restaurant deserves praise for being among the first to give Vegan diners a place at the table.