The founder of Nepenthe obviously knows how to please a crowd. Since 1949 this iconoclastic dining facility perched on a breathtaking vantage point with some of Big Sur’s best views, has continued to lure legions of travelers, bohemians, celebrities and vagabonds and enthrall them with not only prime vistas but also delicious, home-style food and devil-may-care, self-induced entertainment. Like dancing under the stars beside a roaring fire. How primal! How perfectly suited to Big Sur.
In Greek, Nepenthe means "isle of no care," a place to find escape from sorrows. Our only sorrow that morning was having missed breakfast early in our journey. Considering we had encountered no signs of sustenance suited to humans since we hit the long, twisted stretch of highway after leaving Carmel city limits, Café Kevah, Nepenthe’s more casual option, looked mighty decent to us come 10 a.m.
Climbing the wooden staircase that lead to Kevah, and few stories further up the mountain, Nepenthe, it becomes obvious the proprietors operate 99% on the right side of the brain. Natural materials, whimsical sculptures, rough-hewn carvings and fountains are scattered about the property. On the deck of Nepenthe, brightly colored albeit weathered cushions are directly toward the view, serving as the bar. A massive, round, open-hearth fireplace provides the centerpiece for indoor dining. A weather-vane - interpreted as angel, goddess, sorceress or virgin, depending on your viewpoint - oversees activities below.
Café Kevah is open-air deck dining with a walk-up window where orders are taken. The scent of jasmine, honeysuckle and herbs fills the air and birds of prey circle the skies above the canyon. It was a heady experience waiting for our bacon, spinach and goat cheese omelet, staring into the fog over the ocean that dared not creep in to spoil our views on this glorious morning. The stillness was intoxicating.
Someone called our name and we both realized we’d sunken into a reverie that forgets about food. Recalling suddenly the purpose of our visit here, we gathered our tray, stopped by the condiment table where home-style jams are offered in little jars (as opposed to those insipid single-serving plastic containers), and in spite of hunger, had a hard time breaking our gaze from the valley. We nibbled at great slabs of homemade rye toast nuzzled next to tender cubes of fried potatoes and picked at an omelet infused with the mellow flavor of authentic hand-crafted goat cheese and thicker, meatier bacon than found in supermarkets.
Typically hearty eaters, we found that one serving was plenty to share in spite of the average-sized portion. Oh, the food wasn‘t to blame, it was delicious. But love tends to diminish the physical appetite temporarily.
Clearly, Big Sur was aleady working its major mojo on us and Nepenthe's ambiance had put us into romanctic overdrive.
Results 1-7of 7 Reviews
by River Queen
July 3, 2008
San Diego, California
June 4, 2006
From journal If you're going to San Francisco...
by smmmarti guide
October 17, 2003
From journal Harmonic Conversion in Big Sur
January 12, 2003
From journal Big Sur Special Spots
by Gwilym Owen
November 27, 2002
Why not stay a while, relax and unwind with a fine glass of wine and an elegant meal in these wonderfully salubrious surroundings. Dine here in the evening and gasp with awe at the majesty of a Big Sur sunset as it sinks below the waters of the ocean!
Ever budget conscious, we were aiming for Café Kevah in a lower part of the same building, but this was unfortunately closed. Hungry and in need of sustenance, we resolved to eat at the more expensive but highly recommended Nepenthe.
Even in early spring, Nepenthe was so popular that we had to kick our heels for about half an hour in the tasteful tourist shop below. When it was our turn, we were seated at a table in the open dining room with stunning vistas of the ocean below near the open fireplace which, due to the chill in the March air, was sending much needed warmth our way as we eagerly plunged into our menus.
Since even the salads in the US are gargantuan I opted for the smoked salmon salad at $16 knowing that this would more than fill me. My partner plumped for Nepenthe’s own ‘Famous Ambrosiaburger’ at $12. These were served by friendly and professional staff who added to our contentment by looking after us perfectly. We both washed our meals down with a glass of crisp Californian White wine each (the sacrifices of driving!) whilst a gorgeous made to order sunset kept us company before finally saying farewell under the western horizon!
Both meals were excellent and well worth the money, the setting however was worth a million dollars - luckily we weren't billed for that!
* For further menu details follow the link to Nepenthe's website above.
From journal Big Sur: The Sublime Driving Holiday
April 9, 2002
As someone who was leaving there when we arrived told us, "they could serve terrible food and it'd still be worth it". The view is terrific. We watched whales spouting in the distance while the fog rolled out to sea. Birds are famous for helping themselves to your french fries. We sat at the self-serve benches, right at the edge of the deck. Their gift shop is chocked full of imaginative and unique items and jewelry. To find out more, click here. A MUST SEE!
From journal Too Much Fun - Monterey to Big Sur
by Judy Andreson
August 7, 2000
From journal A Wondrous Journey to Big Sur Coast