One of our favorite destinations in California is the town of Jenner, a spot known as the “River’s End” where the Russian River meets the Pacific Ocean. There is something majestic about two bodies of water coming together and this particular location is no exception. On top of a bluff overlooking this amazing spot sits a fantastic restaurant called …River’s End. We wonder if they considered “Ocean’s Beginning? That would have been more optimistic, we think; more of a “glass half full” way of describing the meeting point of river and ocean. But we have to admit that “River’s End” does have a poetic ring to it.
We have been to River’s End (both the restaurant and the location) several times in the past and chose it as the place to culminate a special 80th birthday weekend for the father (and father-in-law) of the authors of this blog. We had family coming from across the country for the occasion and wanted to share one of our favorite spots with them. There were seven of us in total and we made the hour-and-a-half drive from our home in Napa Valley to the Sonoma Coast. For the birthday boy, the drive ended up being half of the fun, as the trip started in Carneros and cut through the heart of Sonoma wine country, past dairy farms and horse ranges, and, for the final stretch, through Bodega Bay and up the coast along Highway 1.
When we finally arrived at the restaurant, it was about 3:30 in the afternoon and the heat and sun of Napa seemed far away. The temperature on the coast was 20-25 degrees lower than when we started and there was a fair amount of fog shrouding the last part of the river and the entrance to the Pacific Ocean.
After finally getting everyone out of the caravan of cars and into the restaurant, we were very pleased to see that the restaurant staff set us up with a long table against the window with amazing views of the river and ocean. Every visit to River’s End restaurant should be structured with ample time to hang out on the deck and just take in the sights. For 2016, Open Table named River’s End one of the 100 Most Scenic Restaurants in America.
We would be remiss if we failed to mention the patience and flexibility of the staff and the kitchen. Although we anticipated arriving by 2:30, because of traffic and other delays, we did not arrive until 3:30 – the exact time the kitchen closes to allow the chef and cooks to transition to the evening service. Despite our tardiness, the staff helped us get our orders in and were very attentive and friendly throughout our meal.
Often, restaurants with great views have, well, great views and nothing else to recommend them. River’s End is not one of those restaurants. They have an excellent menu, a superb chef in Martin Recoder, and sources its dishes locally from Sonoma farms and the Russian River itself. We were lucky enough to be visiting during salmon season, when the King Salmon run along the Pacific coast and spawn in the rivers. Several of us did order the Wild Pacific King Salmon entrée along a couple of salmon-inspired appetizers. One of the best things about River’s End is that they change the menu frequently based on seasonal availability of vegetables and seafood. The Wild Pacific King Salmon menu is available through October. Everyone in our party had some type of salmon dish, all of them beautifully prepared and artistically presented.
As you can see, the food at River’s End is fit for foodies. In addition to these culinary gems, we also recommend the Petaluma Duck Confit rolls, the tomato and watermelon soup, and the petrale sole. Everything was delicious and felt appropriately unique and special for a birthday as important as #80. For those that enjoy quality wine with your meal, River’s End offers a comprehensive wine list with a strong representation of local wines from Sonoma County and Napa Valley.
Almost every time we go to River’s End, we plan a beach trip either before or after we eat. Goat Rock Beach is across the river from the restaurant and is normally a must-visit. Given the size of our caravan, and the advanced ages of some of the crew, we opted against a trek down to the beach. Because we were not ready to go home, though, we stopped off at our other favorite Jenner spot, Cafe Aquatica, which is just down the hill from River’s End.
Like the restaurant, Cafe Aquatica is right on the water – the Russian River. However, unlike River’s End, which is on a bluff, Aquatica is at river level. As a result, you can get your coffee, sit on the bank of the Russian River and enjoy the serenity and natural beauty. If you fancy a bite, Cafe Aquatica serves organic sandwiches and salads that are also sourced from local ingredients. A perfect day for us would be lunch at Cafe Aquatica, followed by a trip to Goat Rock Beach, and finished off with dinner at River’s End. Next time!
John & Irene Ingersoll
August 26, 2016