Here and There: Garden Dining at the Carter House

Garden to Table at the Carter House

| August/September 2003

  • A monk birdbath sits under a grape-covered arbor in the Carter House garden, Eureka, California.
    Rick Wetherbee
  • A Carter House chef harvests herbs and flowers.
    Rick Wetherbee

Tucked in the Victorian seaport of Eureka, California, the Carter House has grown into an enclave of intimate accommodations, including a hotel along with several houses and cottages. The hotel’s full-service Restaurant 301, opened in 1987, has brought a gourmet feast to California’s redwood kingdom. And, while a passion for using only the highest quality organic food and fresh herbs is one secret behind the success of this award-winning restaurant, the sizeable garden — which continues to serve as a valuable resource for Carter cuisine — is another. “Back then we were harvesting things like lemon verbena, arugula, edible flowers and other exotic finds that you just couldn’t get anywhere else,” Mark says.

Today, that patch of herbs has evolved into an extensive kitchen garden of more than 300 varieties of herbs, greens, vegetables, fruits and edible flowers. And, thanks to the mild Northern California climate, the flourishing garden supplies the restaurant’s talented chefs with an impressive variety of fresh herbs and produce nearly year-round. Tender herbs like lemon verbena, scented geraniums and specialty sages grow as perennial favorites. Lavender, rosemary, thyme and fennel also thrive in abundance along with an assortment of edible flowers and culinary newcomers like borage and tuberous geraniums. “So few herbs really dry and taste well,” says head chef Matthew Szymanski, who uses fresh herbs whenever possible.

Though the region’s bounty of seasonal foods — from organic produce to fresh seafood, chanterelle mushrooms picked from the nearby ancient redwood forest and local artisan cheeses — are also featured on the menu, the Carter House garden has become a defining element in much of the restaurant’s skillfully rendered cuisine. Assistant chefs go out to the garden each afternoon with scissors and basket in hand, carefully selecting the finest herbs, greens and vegetables for a distinctive freshness and flavor that receives plenty of appreciative notice from dinner guests.

Even with an established foundation of perennial herbs and fruits, the garden is in a continual state of change as annual vegetables and herbs are planted and harvested, according to season. The menu reflects this garden-to-table approach from lamb ravioli with lavender and rosemary butter or honey-cured salmon with garden-fresh fennel cucumber salad to a simply sumptuous nasturtium-garnished squash soup or a lemon-scented geranium sorbet.

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