Monday, December 14, 2009


For someone who grew up in the San Francisco Bay area, it's shocking that I've never spent time in Big Sur, that breathtaking region of the central California coast with dramatic views of the Pacific. Since the late 1940s, Big Sur has attracted an artistic crowd of writers (Henry Miller, Richard Brautigan, Jack Kerouac) and other creative people. The wild beauty of this rugged coastline also attracted film stars. Orson Welles bought a cabin for his then wife, Rita Hayworth, which they intended to use as a getaway home from the pressures of Hollywood. They never actually moved in. And in 1947, Bill and Lolly Fassett, a young California couple purchased the cabin and surrounding grounds from Hayworth and built a restaurant on the sight of the original cabin. Nepthene was primarily Lolly Fasset's vision--a gathering place and focal point for bohemian America. Over the next sixty years, Nepenthe, attracted large and loyal family as Big Sur evolved into one of California's most idealized tourist destinations. Celebrated for it's spectacular views, its delicious and unpretentious food, and convivial atmosphere, Nepenthe came of age in the counter-culture of the 60s. Stars such as Kim Novak and Steve McQueen could be seen in its dining room alongside beat artists, poets, painters and other colorful personalities of the era. The restaurant was often the site of folk dancing, fashion shows, poetry readings, concerts and other activities. Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton filmed a scene from The Sand Piper at Nepenthe, which only added to its cache. Romney Steele, is a food writer, cook and food stylist. She is also the granddaughter of Lolly and Bill Fassett. She witnessed the flowering of Nepenthe's success first-hand, growing up there. She later launched Café Kevah, on Nepenthe's grounds. She has created MY NEPENTHE: Bohemian Tales of Food, Family, and Big Sur (Andrews McMeel). Part memoir, part cookbook, this visually appealing book is loaded with vintage black and white photos and many color shots that evokes the special history of the California coast and the many events hosted by an extraordinary couple who created a popular destination restaurant that has endured for more than six decades.

Imagine creating a rustic retreat perched on the edge of the California coastline with jaw-dropping views, sipping a cocktail on its broad terrace or digging into one of Nepenthe's popular menu offeringss such as the Ambrosia Burger with Golden Plumes (French fries) or Lolly's Roast Chicken with Sage Stuffing, or Nepenthe's Triple-Berry Pie. The spectacular setting features the architecture of Rowan Maiden, a former student of Frank Lloyd Wright. Steele recounts the colorful history of the restaurants, it's patrons and friends. The spirit of her grandmother presides over the restaurant's evolution. This generous spirited woman raised her family, manning the stove and day-today operations of Nepenthe with her husband. At the same time, Lolly Fassett kept guests, family and staff fed and provided many of the restaurant's personnel with staff members with housing, and acted as hostess to the artistic events hosted there. All of their stories and recipes are here.

Of the 85 enticing recipes, I chose Peanut Butter Cookies, which are a childhood favorite I hadn’t made in years, and Café Benedict, a superior version of Eggs Benedict, which adds sliced avocado to the classic preparation and substitutes multi-grain English muffins for the standard muffins. The cookies are not too sweet and have a deep peanut flavor and a tender crumb. The egg preparation is sumptuous with the addition of ripe avocado and the chewy, flavorsome wheat in the muffins nicely offsets this popular brunch entrée’s richness.

MY NEPENTHE makes me want to get to Big Sur as soon as possible, but in the meantime, this lovely book makes me almost feel like I’ve been there before.


  1. I love this place. When visiting the area a few years ago, friends and I hung out there. I must get this book.

  2. I finally got this thing to work!