Tucked away in a redwood grove in the town of Guerneville, you will find Applewood Inn, Restaurant and Spa. Opened in 1985, Applewood Inn was originally the Belden Mansion, built in 1922 near the Russian River.
Applewood Inn is a bed and breakfast that is a bit off the beaten path yet still close to shopping, wine tasting, and entertainment as well as the Russian River, Armstrong Woods and the Sonoma Coast. This well-known and established property in Sonoma County opened its doors to guests over 30 years ago and is recognized for its gorgeous setting, classic Mission-Revival architecture and its fine dining.
Along with the redwood grove, the 6-acre property has a nearly 100-year-old apple orchard, a swimming pool and hot tub, a spa, and a garden the onsite restaurant, Pinoli Cucina Rustica, uses to source its fruits, vegetables and herbs.
The inn has gone through expansions and remodels which improved and updated the inn over the years but it still retains the charm and mystique of the original mansion. The property is eco-friendly, using solar panels, and grows the majority of the produce used in the restaurant.
Applewood Inn’s owner, Carlos Pippa, greeted us at check-in with a glass of wine, then showed us to our guestroom. We stayed in one of Applewood Inn’s Tuscan Suites.
Our room had a spacious bathroom with a giant whirlpool tub and shower. We slept peacefully in a comfy TEMPUR-Contour Select King bed which was across from a cozy gas fireplace. A private patio overlooking the courtyard had a gas fire pit table.
The property is peaceful and relaxing, as well as romantic. It would be a lovely place to celebrate an anniversary or just to get away from the hectic pace of everyday life. Book an in-room massage or hang out by the pool and relax among the tall redwoods with a good book. In fact, the inn’s mission is to: create a romantic and joyful enclave where guests escape the real world to reconnect with themselves and their partners. Mission accomplished!
Chef Christian Darcoli is from San Remo, on the northern Mediterranean coast of Italy. At the age of 16, Chef Darcoli began working in restaurants. First in London, then all over the world in high end establishments such as London’s Zafferano and New England’s White Barn Inn. Along with Pinoli Cucina Rustica here in Wine Country, he also owns and is the head chef of Pinoli Restaurante in Puerto Rico.
I read an article about Pinoli Cucina Rustica in our local newspaper a couple of months ago and was excited to experience not only the fare but the restaurant’s unique way of serving guests. With no traditional front-of-house staff, guests are greeted and seated by the chefs who create the food they serve. The chef also guides guests through food and wine selections. What a treat to be able to interact with the very person who created your meal!
With Chef Darcoli’s background, it’s no surprise to learn Pinoli serves Mediterranean dishes that are farm-to-table. His creations are inspired by both Darcoli’s childhood in San Remo and the aforementioned garden located on property at Applewood Inn.
The atmosphere is charming, rustic and romantic and the décor is true wine country. To be honest, I was focused more on the food than anything else. I was so excited to experience Pinoli! We decided, instead of choosing dishes off the menu, we would asked Chef Darcoli to choose our courses and our wine for us. He agreed! We are so glad we asked. Each time he came to the table, it was a new and tasty surprise.
On our first trip to Cinque Terre in 2010, I tried a farinata while waiting at a train station, on our way to Milan. I will never forget its unique favor and the texture – a delicious travel memory. Farinata is a savory pancake made with chickpea flour. They are found all along the Tuscan Coast, where Chef Darcoli grew up. He made and served us a thicker version, cut into bars. I didn’t mean to finish it all, as we were just getting started with our meal, but I couldn’t help myself. His farinata was too tempting!
Next, Chef Darcoli brought us an endive salad with lemon, orange, Taggiasca olives and Bottarga. Bottarga is cured fish roe and also known as “poor man’s caviar.” I enjoyed the mix of different flavors – bitter, sweet, tart and salty – working together to make a refreshing salad.
Next we had a seasonal treat: Zucca (zuchinni) flowers filled with buffalo mozzarella and anchovies. The flower was very lightly battered, then fried quickly which made it light and crisp on the outside with a rich, creamy filling.
I noticed the stuffed grape leaves appetizer on the menu and crossed my fingers that Chef Darcoli would bring us that dish to try. He did and it did not disappoint. This was one of my top favorites of the evening. The grape leaves are filled with Fontina cheese then cooked in wine. The dish was garnished with grilled grapes and drizzled with balsamic vinegar. These stuffed grape leave are not only incredibly delicious but beautifully presented too.
You would think we’d be nearing the end of our meal with all this food…but wait, there’s more! Oh, and we had a different glass of wine – selected by the chef – with each course. Heaven!
The homemade ravioli with red meat ragu (lamb, pork and veal) was topped off with a generous sprinkling of red wine. This, Chef Darcoli told us, is called “dropped wine.” The ravioli was made simply – no fancy sauces, no added herbs on top or vegetables. Just perfectly cooked toothy goodness with pockets of tender, flavorful meat. This dish was the showstopper for me. The texture of the pasta was as close to perfect as could be.
My beef -loving husband thoroughly enjoyed the tender and flavorful skirt steak with grilled asparagus and roasted purple potatoes. I also liked this dish and found the steak to be delicate and simply seasoned, just the way I prefer.
The finale of our meal was a selection of sweet treats: Tiramisu Pinoli, Chocolate and Caramel Semifreddo, and Frittole, which are Italian fritters. The light and airy fritters were served with dried fruits and Grappa. They were my favorite!
Thankfully we only had a few steps to go to get to our guest room because I was stuffed! What an incredibly delicious meal. I have always had wonderful, fresh food during my visits to the Tuscan Coast. The dishes Chef Darcoli prepared not only reflected the quality and taste of the food we experienced in Liguria, but exceeded it!
Breakfast at Pinoli
Breakfast is included in your stay at Applewood Inn and is served at Pinoli. We had yogurt with homemade granola, followed by scrambled eggs with lox and avocado, served with homemade toasted Italian bread. I also had Applewood Inn’s signature mimosa, served with apple cider rather than orange juice. Wonderful!
Pinoli Cucina Rustica will begin serving lunch in mid-August. Follow them on Instagram at @PinoliCucinaRustica and visit their website to stay in the know and see all their drool-inducing food photos.
Applewood Inn, Restaurant and Spa and Pinoli Cucina Rustica are located at 13555 Highway 116 in Guerneville. Call 800-555-8509 or email: [email protected]
Disclosure: My experiences at Applewood Inn and Pinoli Cucina Rustica were complimentary in exchange for my review. All opinions expressed here are my own, as always.