If you’re looking for an alternative way to celebrate the coming of the New Year, something a little more on the sober side, you might want to check out some of the holiday “Mocktails” that a few restaurants have got on tap this season.
There are three participants in North Coastal Prevention Coalition’s 2nd annual Holly Jolly Mocktails helping to spread some sober, festive cheer this season.
1) “Holiday Peppermint Patty” – Casa De Bandini: A chocolate and peppermint concoction which makes me think of the Charlie Brown Christmas Special…
2) “Spiced Strawberry Apple Cider” – Searsucker Del Mar: A spicy blend of Evolution apple juice, Suja “Spark” Sour Cherry + Cayenne and a lemon wedge served in a bucket glass.
and 3) which is the one I sampled:
“Winter Warmer” – The Pony Room, Rancho Valencia: A spiced house made mulled cider served warm in a footed coffee mug to chase away the winter chill. The mug also was rimmed with cinnamon sugar for a little sweetness. The mulled cider was nice and warm, which was especially comforting that evening since it was very cold December night when I tried this! It was a nice warm cider that had a bit of a kick to it from the mulling spices in it. It was not very sweet so the cinnamon sugar rim helped to add a little more sweetness to the drink, but overall it was very yummy and delicious. A nice way to stay warm on our chilly evenings (despite these crazy warm days we’re having right now…). Stacey and I both really enjoyed the mocktail before sharing a few appetizers.
These are some bar snacks that are given to you once you sit down. On the left are some cheese straw type snacks. They were crisp, light and airy and had a cheddar cheese flavor with herbs mixed in. Sort of like extra fancy Cheezits. On the right were some seasoned nuts, a mixture of peanuts, pecans and cashews (maybe more) with a little herb seasoning on them.
[wild mushroom crostini with whipped ricotta, candied onion, fresh thyme / $9]
My eyes naturally go towards anything on the menu with the word “mushroom” in it. This was the first thing I definitely wanted to try and it did not disappoint. The creamy ricotta provided a sweet base for the mushrooms and candied onions. The wild mushrooms gave it that hefty-almost meaty like flavor while the sweet ricotta and onions balanced it all out. Delicious bites!
[hummus trio – house charred flatbread with roasted garlic cloves / $9]
[bacon wrapped dates with point reyes blue cheese stuffed dates, applewood smoked bacon, blood orange glaze / $9]
Bacon wrapped dates are an item that I simply adore and I have to say that the version served here at the Pony Room is just elevated a bit more than any other place I’ve had them…
The combination of the thick cut applewood smoked bacon, the perfect date, the touch of the creamy but-not-too-sharp blue cheese and that touch of blood orange glaze… oh man, it gave it that little bit of citrus flavor for a little extra flavor and OOMPH which made these some of the very best dates I’ve ever had. Just… YUM!
[buffalo popcorn chicken bites with blue cheese cabbage slaw and house made sweet and spicy chili glaze / $7]
This was perhaps the only fail of the evening.
Stacey tried it before I did and she made a little bit of a face after one bite, but didn’t say anything. I went to take a bite and then I made a face, too, and kind of stared at the dish. This was chicken, wasn’t it? For some reason… it tasted fishy. I have no idea why, all I know is that can’t possibly be a good thing. When our waitress (dressed in a polo outfit, you know, PONY ROOM and all) came by I told her and she immediately took the dish away, like it was offensive and needed to be immediately GONE FROM THIS WORLD. It was funky, I will admit that much. She apologized profusely and said the chef would send out two additional dishes for us instead to make up for the bad chicken. It seemed a bit dramatic, but I was appreciative of the prompt and swift service.
[snake river farms kobe sliders – tomato remoulade, crispy onion, béarnaise, and bacon / $12]
The last appetizer Stacey and I ordered were these totally cute little sliders. These were perfect little sliders. The beef was medium – not overcooked, juicy and very flavorful. It had the perfect amount of crispy onions and bacon and the little brioche bun was proportional to the whole slider.
[maine lobster salad sliders – preserved lemon, herb aïoli, butter lettuce on brioche buns / $18]
This is one of the items the chef sent out to us to try. Stacey doesn’t eat seafood, so I was left to try this one on my own. The sweet lobster was complimented well with the lemon and herb aioli and again – oh, those perfect little brioche buns! If you’re a lobster fan, this is a really nice dish to try but it might just leave you wanting more lobster or not wanting to share this plate with anyone else.
[nachos with housemade tortilla chips]
This is the other dish the chef sent out to us, which I can’t find on the Pony Room’s online menu. It came with housemade tortilla chips which were warm and delicious. The dip was sort of a layered dip, with melted cheeses and pork in the mix. Mind you, Stacey and I were already full at this point and we “suffered” through eating a bit of this… it was warm, cheesy, porky goodness which is really hard to resist, even when you’re already kind of on the full side… But no matter, leave it to Stacey and I to eat this and sample it for you, dear readers.
[chocolate and hazelnut pudding / $12]
Stacey kind of looked at me like I was crazy when I said I wanted to try dessert, too, but I reasoned with her that well.. it’s dessert. Our waitresses recommended this one to us and she did not steer us wrong. The sweet, creamy chocolate/hazelnut pudding was accentuated with crunchy bits throughout the pudding, giving it a bit of extra texture while working your way through the silky smooth pudding. It was divine and I did not regret it one bit. Lucky for me though, I was wearing comfortable pants.
The Pony Room is a gorgeous bar to hang out in, nestled into the Rancho Valencia Resort in Rancho Santa Fe.
The bar’s high backed chairs is another great place to sit and watch everyone else in the room.
The grounds are kept up very well and have a very inviting atmosphere.
They even use real hand towels in the bathroom. No paper towels or hand dryers in here. Nope, nope, nope.
It is kind of fancy pants here, I gotta tell you. Stacey and I felt a little out of place, which is really the reason why I bring her to these places. We both feel a bit of the same level of uncomfortable and that somehow makes it more comfortable. That probably doesn’t make sense, but oh well. That’s my reason.
The Pony Room has happy hour Sunday – Thursday from 4-6PM. During happy hour and you can get these items for half off: the Rancho Valencia Burger and Pizzas, Well Drinks, Select Craft Beers on Tap, and Rancho Valencia Chardonnay & Cabernet. Valet parking is complimentary and they offer live music on Fridays and Saturday as well as New Year’s Eve this year. If you’re looking for a New Year’s Eve hangout or just a nice place to kick back, relax, and stay sober then consider the Pony Room!
The Pony Room
at Rancho Valencia Resort
5921 Valencia Circle
Rancho Santa Fe, CA 92067
Disclaimer: I was invited to visit the Pony Room. Our drinks and meal were complimentary. I was not further compensated for this review and all opinions here are my own.