On our way home from Sea Ranch on Sunday we stopped in for lunch at Eloise in Sebastopol. It’s become our go-to spot when heading up to the coast, which we do with some frequency. This was perhaps our fourth or fifth visit in scarcely a year, our first being a celebratory dinner during an ersatz honeymoon last October.
Shuna turned us on to the place, and in the months since we’d come to be very fond of it. We loved the charming and aromatic garden, full of lavender and herbs, that flanked the front. We loved the homey simplicity of the interior, the way the light played off the walls and filled the airy space. The service always was casual but not too casual, friendly without being inappropriately chummy. And the food — simple, well-prepared food — was a refreshing tonic to high-concept wine country fare.
When we arrived this time, we had just come off two hours of winding Route 1 curves. I am not prone to motion sickness; the only time I have ever been afflicted was on a deep-sea fishing expedition on choppy waters for eight hours. Still, upon arriving I was feeling the kind of disorientation you do from a carnival ride or, say, a ritual hazing.
I was still shaking off the woozies when we were seated. We were six, at the tail end of the lunch service, and they seated us at the far end. As my senses came back to me, I became increasingly aware all was not right.
Our waiter, while proficient enough, was at best terse and at worst checked out. I couldn’t tell if he wasn’t happy to see us, or just not happy. Flies buzzed around us, causing us to swat at them like picnickers plagued by wasps. No effort was made to deal with the flies, nor even to move us from them, despite the fact that we were shortly the only table seated in the place. The waiter did apologize that there were flies, though.
He was apologetic for a lot. They were out of half of the appetizers and about as many of the mains. There was but one dessert option left: Panna cotta. When one of us asked for tea at the end, he apologized for being out of all but two varieties. Of tea. Which does not spoil. And they had yet to get through dinner service.
Sometimes you can feel the pall of death on a place. We came away from the meal concerned that Eloise was not faring well.
And a terrible shame it was, for the food was still good. I had a starter of lightly spicy-pickled sardines with avocado salad, a smartly arranged dish with components that complemented and contrasted each other perfectly. My spaghettini with cheese and plenty of black pepper, akin to the Roman cacio e pepe, was exactly the kind of simple, clean preparation we had come to enjoy from them.
Yesterday the chef-owners announced that they would be closing Eloise, with their final dinner service next Sunday, November 29. We will forever cast a wistful eye as we pass the building on our way up to our next coastal excursion.