Zut! est Bien


We had hoped to pass through Berkeley at around noontime or so for a quick snack. Visions of a legendary dessert at Bette’s To Go—the chocolate espresso twinkie—played with my mind. This Hostess namesake, a dense chocolate cake filled with espresso cream and enrobed in chocolate icing, landed in the Sterns’ 500 Things to Eat Before It’s Too Late and was featured on NPR. As it turned out however, our arrival in Berkeley was closer to late afternoon. So we modified our plans. We’d have dinner at Bette’s Oceanview Diner (also greatly admired) next door and have the twinkie for dessert. I should’ve done my homework because the restaurant closes at 2:30 every weekday and BTG at 5pm. We barely got through BTG’s door before closing to order a twinkie to-go. What for dinner? The saleslady recommended Zut! across the street.

​Zut! (which literally means “Damn it!” in French) serves food inspired by the Mediterranean. We were too early for dinner which would have begun at 5:30pm, but the restaurant was still serving its afternoon (small plates) menu. Good enough. 

The Fried Brussels Sprouts (☆☆☆☆) were outstanding, clearly a signature dish, cooked to a perfect texture, nicely browned and accompanied with bacon bits and shredded Parm. A lemon half was thoughtfully wrapped in a mesh cloth jacket. The juice added the tartness that always seems to complement Brussels sprouts.

Zut!'s fried brussels sprouts

Zut!’s fried brussels sprouts

I’m usually tempted by hamburgers made with grass-fed beef. The Zut! Burger (☆☆☆) was a very good version with a slice of white cheddar cheese between a ciabatta roll. The fries were exceptionally good, almost upstaging the burger itself.

Zut! Burger

Zut! Burger

So, what about the twinkie? It (☆☆) has no resemblance to the Hostess dessert except for an oblong shape. Its chocolate and coffee flavorings are a virtual can’t-miss combination. Was it? Maybe if we had gotten this treat first thing in the morning, but the cake was dry, almost as if it were a day old. If that were indeed the case, then shame on Bette’s. We were not impressed.

Bette's chocolate espresso twinkie

Bette’s chocolate espresso twinkie

Spectacular Elk


The small town of Elk, CA, population of just over 200, can boast that it has one of the most spectacular collection of sea stacks offshore. To the north on California Highway 1, there is a turnout high above the ocean that offers as dramatic a coastal view as you’ll ever see anywhere. Some of the massive sea stacks can be seen much closer from Elk Cove, which can be reached by a short trail from a parking area in the middle of town. The tide was relatively low so we could approach and enter some of the sea caves in the headland at the cove’s southern end.

In the parking area, we talked to a group of about a half dozen bicyclists who were in the middle of an epic journey that started in Reno and will end up in San Francisco.

View from the top of the trail to Elk Cove

View from the top of the trail to Elk Cove

Sea stacks in Elk Cove

Sea stacks in Elk Cove

Sea caves can be entered at low tide

Sea caves can be entered at low tide

Pygmies among Giants


In the middle of the vast redwood empire where the tallest living things on Earth live, a small section of Van Damme State Park just south of Mendocino features a pygmy forest. The trees are so small that their trunks can be only 1/4″ in diameter yet be almost a hundred years old. The forest is protected by the state of California. With soils no more recent than half to one million years old overlaying them, they have been leached of nutrients by rains ever since, creating an almost inhospitably acidic and hardpan environment that stunts the growth of two species of pine and the Mendocino cypress, causing some to use bonsai forest as a moniker. Other plants, including acid-loving California Rose Bay rhododendrons, normally achieving great heights in the redwood forest understory nearby, are also dwarfed.

An interpretive trail of boardwalk loops through the forest that can be reached either from the campground by trail or from a parking lot on the eastern edge of Van Damme.

Dwarf Mendocino cypress is only 3 feet in height though many years old

Dwarf Mendocino cypress is only 3 feet in height though many years old