The Sierra Mar restaurant at Big Sur’s Post Ranch Inn occupies one corner of paradise; an expanse of hewn wood and plate glass expertly cantilevered over the crystalline azure Pacific Ocean.


It’s the kind of place where you might run into Jon Hamm at dinner or Lucinda Williams and Lucy Wainwright at lunch, as we did, or have afternoon cocktails with the owners of Springfield’s best tattoo and piercing parlor, as we also did. Where you enjoy your meal at a table overlooking whales spouting in in the sea below. That kind of restaurant calls for a special dining experience for the unique pilgrimage of diners winding their way down Highway 1 to see what the fuss is about. Some blend of casual and elegant, of whimsical and comfortable. I imagine it would be not be an easy challenge, but quite fun, for any chef to come up with a meal that can tell a story along with that accompanying expanse of sea and comfort.

Chef John Cox managed to accomplish just such a thing, proferring the day’s lunch offerings on a stamped on a sheet of redwood bark, each item more delicious than the last. How cool is this menu?


A lunchtime amuse bouche while we considered: pickled cauliflower, guajillo chili, red onion, and avocado puree. Pickled cauliflower is wonderful, by the way.


And can you imagine a kumamoto served to you an oyster like this? Cool as a cucumber, adorned with alyssum and topped with – no, that’s not roe – it’s tangy basil-balsamic beads. Unbelievably awesome.


Here is the house-cured goose prosciutto, which is smaller, slightly fattier, and not as salty as a porcine prosciutto, served with  a salad of Marcona almonds, goat cheese, rose petals, and spicy baby lettuces:


To finish, a bowl of soup that wraps all the flavors of the season around your mouth – cipollini onion and apple with a hint of licorice and toasted brioche – completely elegant and rustic at the same time.

Not at all a bad way to finish up 2012.

If you don’t have the chance to have lunch in paradise soon, you can still have Paradise and Lunch right now with this oldie-but-goodie Ry Cooder album. The blues and Americana are a good soundtrack to a lunch like this one was. Check it out; my favorite track is “Ditty Wah Ditty,” a duet with Earl “Fatha” Hines.

Paradise and Lunch - Ry Cooder