River’s End: Dining Room with a View
By John Grossmann
River’s End, in Jenner, California, disproves the unfortunate restaurant adage that the quality of the food is inversely proportional to the quality of the view. River’s End delivers on both counts. The food is fresh, local, well conceived and prepared, and beautifully presented. And the view?
Perched high above the Russian River estuary at the river’s mouth, dinner guests receive an extra course, the sun’s nightly slide into the Pacific, which proprietor Bert Rangel trumpets in the establishment’s very url: www.ilovesunsets.com. The sunsets are so spectacular that hardly a week goes by without at least one wedding proposal, either at a window-side table or out on the deck overlooking the sentinel haystack rocks studding the offshore ocean waters.
A short and stunning drive north of Bodega Bay on Highway 1, River’s End is not much more than an hour from the Golden Gate Bridge, making it a perfect stop for San Francisco day-trippers. “I like to tell people that one of the best ways to enjoy River’s End is to take a long lunch,” says Rangel. “Then you can take in everything that’s going on out there—the kayakers, the windsurfers, the kite surfers, the eagles flying by.”
If you’re a seafood lover, in summer you’ll want to order from the special wild king salmon menu. The night I ate with my family, locally caught kings were featured in two starters: an aromatic and hearty house chowder and a crudo garnished with jicama, radish, and cucumber with a lime wasabi sauce. Equally good was the Southwest Salmon entrée, served with forbidden black rice, fire-roasted corn, and watermelon salad.
Duck’s a great choice for carnivores. A majority of tables share at least one order of Chef Martin Recoder’s crispy duck confit wonton rolls. The locally sourced Petaluma duck reappears in the popular Duck Three Ways entrée–duck breast with raspberry sauce, duck leg confit, and duck mousse.
Sonoma County wines (no surprise) dominate the wine list. And should your reservation follow a visit to a local winery, you can bring your own bottle. The corkage fee is $20.
For owner Rangel, it was love at first sight at this spectacular locale. On a wine country getaway in the early 1990s with his wife-to-be Stephanie, both in their mid-twenties, Rangel was enchanted by a rundown, but exquisitely situated restaurant and four cabin establishment then called River’s End Resort. Built in 1927, and for years serving such basic fare as hot dogs and hamburgers to local loggers and fishermen, the place was then owned by a similarly smitten former New York chef named Wolfgang Gramatzki, who’d bought it for $55,000—and run it pretty much as is, while upgrading the menu.
“I think this is where I want to end up some day,” said Rangel, who grew up in southern California.
“What do you mean, the Bay Area?” asked Stephanie.
“No, between Cabin 1 and Cabin 2. This is where I want to end up some day.”
Flash forward to July 1998 and a planned return visit to wine country with two other couples. Rangel was flying in from work in Mexico City and scheming how he might cajole the other couples into stopping at River’s End. Opening the Wall Street Journal to its Distinctive Properties section, he saw his dream destination listed for sale. Five months later, in December, he was jingling the keys to the place.
“I really appreciated the simplicity of Jenner,” says Rangel. “We’re a town of 127 people.”
Eight more, when his cabins are booked. The wood paneled rooms ensure the away in getaway for guests willing and able to put their busy lives back home on hold. Rangel refers to his accommodations as Luxe Unplugged. The rooms have no Wi-Fi. No telephone. No flat screen TV or television of any kind. (And be forewarned: cell phone service in Jenner is as likely as snow.) “If,” says Rangel, “the sounds of barking seals and crashing waves concern you, then this probably isn’t the place for you.”
So, did Rangel indeed come to live between Cabin 1 and Cabin 2?
He and his family reside by Cabin 4.
River’s End, 11048 Highwy 1 Jenner, CA 95450 (707) 865-2484 ext. 111