Passport to Pleasure: Two Idyllic Nights in the Yakima Valley

by on November 3, 2011

Photo courtesy of Flickr's Cave Canem

I reported previously about travel to the Yakima Valley, which is a fun escape from Seattle, albeit a bit restaurant-challenged.

If you’re searching for something special, something romantic, you’ll need to go beyond Yakima and get into the countryside. Oh, there are decent places to stay in the city. Yakima’s Fairfield Inn has suites that are spacious and clean, and the Hilton Garden Inn is right downtown, in walking distance of shopping, restaurants, and winery showrooms. But both are more conventional hotels, well-suited to those who come to Yakima for, let’s say, a convention.

Romance can come with reconnecting with someone in a more natural setting. So it’s on to Prosser and Zillah (and, indeed, the general Yakima Valley area) as places where we stamp this week’s Passport to Pleasure—a hedonistic quest for great food and good times for two, from nibbles to naughtiness.

A DELIGHTFUL STAY AT DESERT WIND WINERY

Drive along Route 12 through Prosser and you might notice a Santa Fe-like estate on a bluff on the south side of the road. This is Desert Wind Winery. Exit, as it’s here that you’ll spend your first night.

There are just four rooms at this property, and they’re fabulous. All are well-appointed in Southwestern style. Tonight you’re in the Charbonneau room, which has a comfortable seating area where you can watch television, listen to music on the Bose sound system, read, or simply converse and relax in front of the kiva-style gas fireplace. There’s a huge, tiled shower (just begging for a second showerhead for a shared experience!), which would combine well with a spa treatment that’s available in an adjacent room—if arranged in advance.

Photo by Lynn Howlett courtesy of Desert Wind Winery

Each room has its own private balcony with wide views overlooking the Yakima River, especially compelling as the sun sets over the mountains.

Photo by Lynn Howlett courtesy of Desert Wind Winery

Photo by John McAnulty courtesy of Desert Wind Winery

By staying at Desert Wind, you can do wine tasting without worry about driving. There’s a full line of wines (the 2006 Syrah is a favorite), with a generous round of sampling for $5, which is refunded with a wine purchase. (You can also upgrade to a VIP platter with cheese, charcuterie, chocolates, and more.) You get a complimentary bottle of wine in your room with your stay, but during the tasting you can find what you’d like to pair with your dinner, which is on-site at Mojave at Desert Wind.

Photo by Lynn Howlett courtesy of Desert Wind Winery

Mojave offers counter seats overlooking the grill and fryer if you’d like to be close to the cooking action. Like the property, the menu is Southwest-inspired, offering small plates such as empanada brie with jalapeno jello and entrees such as mole-rubbed ribeye. And how about a fiery chocolate crème brulee for dessert?

Don’t worry about getting out for your morning meal, as it’s breakfast in bed when you get your basket of food arrives at your door. Wake up to granola, fruit, cheese, and breads (perhaps a Mexican pastry) along with juice and coffee or tea. For a refreshing start to the day, take breakfast on the balcony in the crisp morning air. Be sure to browse the gift shop before departing for treats to bring home, such as flavored vinegars and specialty chocolates.

TAKE CHARGE OF YOUR HORSE AT CHERRY WOOD BED BREAKFAST AND BARN

The “Barn” part of the name should tip you off that this is not a typical bed and breakfast.

Located in Zillah, the rooms at Cherry Wood Bed Breakfast and Barn are actually teepees on a horse ranch and farm. How romantic is that?

Owner Pepper Fewel calls it “glamping,” as you won’t actually be roughing it in these teepees. Inside are solid floors and comfortable beds, with electric running to the teepees affording light and—perhaps more important—dual-control electric blankets for cool nights. While there are no telephones or televisions, you can surf the Internet using the somewhat sporadic wifi signal.

Staying in a teepee is a special experience, enhanced by any wind or the rare rain that falls in the area. You get a private toilet (alas, a honey bucket) just outside your teepee, with a lighted path guiding the way. There are shared showers just a short walk away, providing a wonderful (and private) opportunity to “skinnydip” in the open air. If the night is cool, you might just want to stay under the warm water instead of trotting back to your teepee. No fear, though, as outside your firepit is a barbeque grill if you want to cook, and a firepit for smore-making and to warm up while under the stars.

You’ll take breakfast inside Fewel’s home. She’s a convivial host, so expect a hearty, home-cooked that might include fruit, an exotic pastry, and a baked egg dish, for example. The food’s better than anything you’ll find in the area, and the atmosphere is warm and friendly.

And since you’re on a horse farm (Fewel takes care of rescue horses), why not make the most of what’s available by going riding? Especially when it’s a winery tour on horseback. Your guided trip will take you through vineyards and orchards to two or more local wineries, including a stop for a leisurely lunch. The ride is a spectacular way to take in the terrain. You’ll go along trails and down country roads, each turn revealing new views of the hilly countryside, all from the vantage point of being high up on a horse. This is a unique experience you’ll never forget.

THE MIRACLE OF A POST-RIDE MASSAGE

After horse-riding, which is rather gentle, take care of any aches and pains, and just freshen up, with a visit to Ummelina Day Spa & Retreat. Ummelina started in Seattle, but the Yakima facility is new and more spacious. The shop has shea butters, bath salts, aromatherapy mists, teas, and other natural products; you can explore as you await your treatment time.

The facility is less “hippie” than Portland’s Dragontree Holistic Day Spa, while being warmer (though less elegant and polished) than Vancouver’s Chi and Willow Stream spas, for example. In this way, Ummelina like a comfortable chair, warm and inviting.

There’s a full slate of treatments on the spa menu, some packages lasting for a full day, but what’s fun is that even a shorter session like a simple massage comes with variety and a chance to unwind. After changing into a robe and capri pants (an interesting twist from conventional spa-ware, and a nod to modesty and comfort in common areas) and having your stuff stored in a garment bag that gets locked away, you’ll start with an aromatic foot soak and a cup of tea of your choosing in the Sanctuary lounge area. Next you head to the Monsoon, a shower with multiple jets from the sides and above that relaxes and replenishes. From there, it’s time for a Celebration massage to relieve stress, tension, and muscle soreness. Afterward it’s back to the Sanctuary to rest for as long as you’d like, completing the journey.

And that’s just a basic treatment. Future visits to Ummelina can include facials, Thai massage, a seaweed pedicure, time in the hydrotherapy underwater massage tub, and much more.

A FEW EATING OPTIONS

Despite the vast amount of quality produce, it remains difficult to find good restaurants in this area, so you’ll need to lower your expectations.

Second Street Grill is an option if you’re in downtown Yakima. It’s a good place to catch the ballgame on the screens while eating pretty standard American fare and some Pacific Rim specialties. Pictured is an ahi tuna burger with wasabi mayonnaise.

El Porton is a little chain (in Zillah, Union Gap, and Yakima) of family-style Mexican restaurants with typical plates featuring large portions. Pictured is “carne en su jugo,” which is flank steak cooked in its own juices, then minced and mixed with whole beans and crispy bacon.

Antojitos Mexicanos is another family-style restaurant, located in Yakima. Many people get chips and choices from a big tray of salsas. Pictured is a pambazo, which is sliced Mexican bread that’s dipped in mild red sauce and filled with bean spread, cabbage, chopped salsa, sour cream, Mexican cheese, and a choice of meat.

Close to Antojitos, while not a restaurant, is a real food find: Johnson Orchards. The orchards were established in 1904, and the current warehouse has been the business site for nearly one hundred years.

Fourth generation farmer Eric Johnson and his wife Jill now run the orchards, primarily growing cherries, apricots, peaches, nectarines, pears, plums, pluots, and apples. You can come to the warehouse (it’s really a friendly farmstand) to buy fruit by the piece, pound, or box—or to do u-pick in season. Don’t hesitate to ask any of the family members or other workers for advice, samples, etc., as they are eager to help and have pride in their products.

With so much product around, the Johnsons decided to open a bake shop on-site to showcase their fruit in the form of cookies, muffins, fresh-baked pies, and more. Hours are limited, so call ahead for availability (or for special orders). Copper pot caramel apple pies are a popular item, and if you’re there during peach season, be sure to grab a peach pie. The natural flavor of the peach shines through, as the pie is refreshingly not too sweet, but simply kissed with a delightful touch of cinnamon. Two of you will find it hard to resist devouring a small pie immediately in your car.

On a personal note, my favorite bite during my recent trip to the Yakima Valley was something the housekeeper brought me at Desert Wind. She learned of my love of menudo, and feeling bad that she couldn’t bring me her home-cooked version (next time!), she drove to the nearby Mexican meat/grocery store Carniceria Los Toreros to get me some, delivering it with fresh tortillas she made minutes before in the kitchen. Delicious! Pictured is that menudo, along with a look at the tripe as sold in that carniceria.

LOOKING FORWARD IN THE YAKIMA VALLEY

Fall is a fabulous time in the Yakima Valley, with many holiday celebrations in the final months of the year. Check the Yakima Valley Visitors & Convention Bureau’s calendar for special events ahead.

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