When I woke Wednesday morning, I discovered to my delight that the rain and wind and cold were not only still with me, but had even had the courtesy to intensify overnight. As I traipsed through the motel lobby on my way to the car, the television weather forecaster warned excitedly of tempestuous conditions for the day, including 65 mile per hour winds, spectacular surf and respectable wind chill. A perfect day to drive along the northern Pacific coast in my estimation!
However, before heading out on my day's adventures, I decided to take advantage of Newport's relative size to ferret out a gourmet breakfast. I ended up at a place called La Maison that was a bit of a challenge to find, but not long after I'd parked the car and dashed through the drenching rain, I found myself happily ensconced at a cozy table next to the window with a steaming mug of rich dark coffee in my hand. The tattoo of raindrops hammering on the glass at my elbow rang out as I looked over the menu...oh what would I choose?! In the end, I went with a classic - eggs Benedict - a dish I truly love when it's complicated formula is worked correctly. This version featured slabs of fancy-schmancy ham and was built on top of a house baked English muffin. I could tell the muffin was going to play a major role in the success of the dish after eyeing the mouthwatering pastries piled up on the glass shelves of the bakery case.
While anticipating my feast, I quietly sipped my wickedly good coffee and observed a steady stream of locals as they appeared at the door, besmirching the foul weather and then chatting amiably with the megafriendly owners, Cliff and Kate Brown. It was clear from watching that everyone loved the gregarious couple that ran the place and they'd cemented a good many friendships with their customers. One couple brought their toddler son with them, and in no time, Cliff had soon scooped the child up in his arms and stood sweetly dandling the boy stoveside, patiently sharing the secrets of making delicious soup while stirring a huge steaming pot. As I sat idly by, immensely enjoying the scene in my movie where I have breakfast in Newport, my waitress arrived with an amuse bouche (say: ah-mooz boosh - or free appetizer for the unfrench) that knocked my socks off: a small bowl of freshly sliced bananas topped with a generous slathering of thick cream, lightly sprinkled with brown sugar and topped with toasted hazelnuts. Incredible. And a delible symbol of what's so special about La Maison - how simple, how generous and yet how perfect and elegant. The eggs Benedict were exactly that, such that I mourned that I didn't have another two stomachs so I could eat every morsel. The carrot yellow color of yard eggs emerged as the perfectly poached eggs trickled rivulets of gold down the sides of the sumptuous dish. The muffin was even better than I had hoped for - toasted to perfection, crunchy on the outside, moist and buttery in the interior. Every detail was perfect and it just couldn't have been more delicious. Triumph!
I chatted with Cliff for a bit before selecting a brownie for later indulgence and settling up my bill. I made sure he knew how much he'd impressed this jaded old foodie, a foodie who's actually pretty good at judging what's culinarily extraordinary. I hope to find myself back in Newport one day so I can visit again.
For the second glorious day in a row, I found that I had no particular plan other than heading south on Highway 101 and stopping when it seemed worthwhile. The weather was brutal and I loved it. Every time the road carried me back to the sea, I could see the churning surf smashing in great showers of spray along the shoreline. The highway wove back and forth between the rim of seaside cliffs to interior avenues carved through coastal groves several miles inland. I began to pay special attention to the amazing bridges I was crossing as I entered some of the larger port towns, but more on that later. I soon happened upon a sign for a tourist attraction that's been around for over 75 years - the Sea Lion Caves - also purportedly the World's Largest Sea Cave! Strangely, I felt ambivalent about stopping but it gave me a rare and valuable opportunity to listen to my gut instead of my mind. My gut told me turn the hell around and go see what this Sea Cave was all about, and so I did.