This exceptionally entertaining and absorbing family biography is almost a time machine. It takes you back to the glory years of Nepenthe--the world-famous restaurant perched on the ocean cliffs off Highway 1 in California's rugged Big Sur region--and makes you feel as if you were actually there in the 50's, 60's, 70's, and all the decades up to the present day.
The restaurant, founded in 1949 and still operated by the amazing Fassett family, was an early center of coastal California Bohemian culture, visited by Henry Miller, Jack Kerouac, Richard Brautigan, Man Ray, Anais Nin, Dylan Thomas, Steve McQueen, Kim Novak, Clint Eastwood, and many other actors, authors, artists, and photographers. The book, presented as an annotated family scrapbook and recipe book, is copiously illustrated with photos of "ordinary" family life in Big Sur; of family weddings, fashion shows, art shows, and other events celebrated at Nepenthe; and of daily dining and dancing at the restaurant and its smaller cousin, Cafe Kevah.
One photo of Holly Fassett in a long Bill Gibb dress (on page 102) has been reprinted so often--in chronicles of the hippie culture, if memory serves me--that I was amazed to learn that the identity of the lovely young woman was actually known. The book also includes special sections devoted to the movie THE SANDPIPERS, which was filmed at Big Sur and Nepenthe.
There are many, many wonderful Nepenthe recipes included. They seem almost too simple to have come from such an expensive restaurant, but their very simplicity makes them practical and accessible to anyone who cooks. My favorite recipe is for a thick sandwich--one synonymous with California, in my mind--that is put together of black bread, a generous amount of cream cheese, raisins, and a layer of walnuts, with chopped dates tossed in if you happen to have some on hand. The food photos accompanying the recipes make your mouth water.
Knitters will enjoy this book because of the photos of adolescent Kaffe Fassett, who is the son of Nepenthe founders Bill and Lolly Fassett, and who grew up in Big Sur. Included are a few photos of Kaffe's knitting as displayed at Nepenthe; and there are scattered bits of inside family information on "Uncle Kaffe", as recalled by author/niece Romney Steele. The book reveals that it was Alice Russell, the manager of Nepenthe's Phoenix Shop, who actually taught Kaffe to knit on his historic train ride home from a Scottish woolen mill. Handknits from selected Kaffe Fassett designs are still sold at the Phoenix Shop today.
This is a sumptuous book, in every respect. It is beautiful to look at, and it succeeds in providing a truly intimate view of the Fassett family, Nepenthe, Big Sur, and the California coastal culture that existed in the second half of the last century.