Or… “You can take the girl out of wine country, but you can’t take wine country out of the girl.”
It all started when I was introduced to Ellen Landis, who – at the time – was the sommelier at Half Moon Bay’s Ritz Carlton. After my initial introduction, I then learned that Ellen, a certified Sommelier, is also the wine director and Sommelier at Landis Shores Oceanfront Inn, which she co-owns with chef husband and Ken Landis. It’s also interesting to note that Ellen and Ken serve as judges at various wine competitions: California State Fair, San Francisco Chronicle, Amador County, Sonoma Harvest Fair, Wine & Spirits panels, Wine World Market International, and Affairs of the Vine competitions.
Every now and then, I get to construct a panel of experts to talk about Petite Sirah. A PS panel was put together for the 2004 Blue Tooth Tour that my Diaz Communications associates and I planned. I asked Ellen to be the food and wine pairing expert, along with my PS guys: Lou Foppiano, Jim Concannon, Kent Rosenblum, John Monnich, Miro Tcholakov, Dave Pramuk, and Al Perry It was a great success, and so began our relationship.
I knew that Ellen lived and worked in Half Moon Bay, and Landis Shores Inn kept popping up as something else she did; but in my whirling life, I just never traveled down the Miramar Beach path… even though I’ve spent a lot of time in Half Moon Bay. We were always going in different directions, while always being very respectful of each other.
Recently, Ellen said, “We’ve got to get you down to the Inn.” “Hum, down to the Inn,” I thought. That sounds pretty good. I love Half Moon Bay, and make a monthly trip to gather knitting supplies and sea shells for the sea shell mobiles I make… It’s my therapy town, and there was Ellen, offering the hospitality of both she and her husband Ken.
So… We’ve established a lot about the relationship, but what about the Inn?
I’m in love… with the genuine warmth and friendliness of Ellen and Ken as innkeepers, with their very beautiful inn and all their “attention to details.” Landis Shores has a wine country theme, and I adore the luxury of each room. By telling you so much about Ellen, I set the stage for knowing that “You can take the girl out of wine country, but you can’t take wine country out of the girl.” Having a great grandfather from Croatia, who made wine for the family, like so many before him as something that’s done perfunctorily, Ellen grew up on wine as one of her main tapestry threads, and that’s been carried from her heart into her home… Yes, there is a part of the inn that’s used as personal quarters for the Landis couple.
Above each door at Landis Shores is the name of a wine region: San Francisco Bay, Napa Valley, Carneros, Bordeaux, Russian River Valley, Champagne, and Porto. Jose and I stayed in “Porto.” I learned that each room has a private deck, a fireplace, whirlpool tub, Euro-style glass shower, natural stone floors… the list just goes on.
The aspects are so “attention to detail” that I was astounded when I awoke in the morning. After having left the door open all night to listen and absorb the energy of the crashing waves, when I put my feet down on the floor, the stone floor radiated the heat back to my feet. When Ellen checked me in, she told me that the heating unit was in the floor (radiant heat). I didn’t know what she meant, until I awakened… Such thoughtful opulence!
There is a long and flowing sand beach in front of the inn, where I found myself wandering and searching for beach treasures. Hang gliders were riding the wind, kites filled the air, kids and dogs were running down the beach… It was active and joyful.
A trumpeter played his heart out, music drifting through the air, filling it with joy. The sound of crashing waves was audience applause. He was unaware of anything around him. It was just concentrated effort of blowing and fingering his tunes…
It was scat…
He was in tune with his own being…
Anyone passing by was invited, without an invite in hand.
[There are going to be some images that follow with verbiage that isn’t symbiotic, presented as visual art found in the Landis’ neighborhood. I want to demonstrate how easy it is for any artist, photographer, poet, musician, athlete, lover of life, et al… to be easily drawn into their very soulful neighborhood.]
Returning back to my room in late afternoon, I used the binoculars (every room has binoculars) to explore what was going on, on the surface of the ocean. To my surprise, what from up close looked like an empty horizon, up-close-and-personal became a myriad of sea birds, landing on the surface of the water, tucking themselves in for the rest of the day. It was amazing to watch!
Ellen and Ken took my stay to a whole new level, because I was their invited guest for dinner. Wouldn’t it make sense that one of them would be an accomplished chef? It’s Ken. When Ellen and Ken reinvented themselves from Silicon Valley, Ken considered the Culinary Institute’s full time courses, but settled on individual classes. It wasn’t a compromise; it was a polishing of that facet of his life, so he and Ellen could also establish the other facets, to create an interesting whole to their future diamond existence. For Ken it was food; for Ellen it was wine. For both of them, it was living seaside on property that held magic. When they found the land, they found their future, and built their dream from the ground up. They didn’t buy an inn. They created their inn… and it’s an inn with an extensive wine cellar. Ken and Ellen reinvented a life that would combine all of their pleasures, satisfying all of their needs, all at the same time. I – and many others before me – have now benefited from that turning point decision in their lives.
Dinner was scrumptious. Ken cared for my every idiosyncratic food need. I think I’m worse than Sally, in “When Harry Met Sally.” Food allergies have made me every chef’s worst nightmare, I’m sorry to say.
That said, Ken rose to the challenge and prepared a delicious lemon chicken with capers dish, Yukon roasted potatoes, and green beans done to perfection. Ellen prepared her signature salad, dressed with a light, slightly sweet vinegar dressing. Wine through dinner flowed, although I had to be mindful, because I had to go over to SFO to pick up Jose flying in from Atlanta. Because Jose couldn’t join us, they put a dinner plate together for Jose, and then showed me where I could go in their kitchen to reheat for him once he joined me. During Jose’s meal, he thanked me three times for dinner. Three times I said to him, “I didn’t do anything but reheat your dinner. Ken was the chef and Ellen was the salad creator.” He’d continue to eat, and thanked me again… It was that good… It really was.
Not only did the Landises make sure that Jose had a beautiful dinner when he arrived, but they also pulled a bottle of 1998 Chateau De Reignac, Bordeaux Superieur from their wine cellar, waiting in our room. Jose enjoyed it with his meal; I enjoyed it on the deck. The Landises thought of everything. This weekend adventure turned a professional relationship into a friendship.
For wine connoisseurs, this award-winning wine list is definitely worth looking at:
In the morning, I could tell that their other guests felt the same deep connection, too. It has to do with Ellen and Ken’s attention to detail, really. It’s everywhere and in everything they ardently do.
Landis Shores Inn has become a place in my heart that has more than I need, when I feel the urge to head for the sea. If you’re traveling to or in-and-around California, this a home-away-from-home, with more luxury than you could ever ask for.
And to have the Pacific Ocean as your view, the Miramar Beach Restaurant next door, an art gallery just doors away from Landis Shores Inn, and surrounded by cozy beach houses, the Miramar Beach, and Half Moon Bay’s coastal community just “down the road a-piece,” Landis Shores Oceanfront Inn far surpassed my wildest expectations, as it will for you, too, I’m betting.
Oh, yes… what’s a bed & breakfast without the breakfast? Ken presented Jose with an omelet that quickly disappeared. I had French toast made from fresh banana bread, smothered in pure maple syrup (you can’t fool a Maine-ah, who only uses the “real” stuff)… and both of us had fresh cantaloupe. With the luxurious bed behind us, or tummies full, we headed back to Sonoma County, thinking about our next trip out of wine country, and into our favorite seaside Half Moon Bay and Landis Shores Oceanfront Inn.