On weeks when there’s something a little out of the ordinary for us to test drive, we try to find an outing that will suit its characteristics.
The sporty 2011 Scion tC we had in the garage a few weeks ago seemed to demand exciting roads and a pleasant destination. We decided that a celebration dinner with friends at the Mountain House Restaurant on Skyline Drive in Woodside was the perfect evening out for the tC.
You probably know by now that we love Skyline (Highway 35) for its unmatched combination of sweeping driving curves and beautiful scenery, which is always intensified at the tail end of the rainy season. With the sun hanging low over the ocean in the early evening, the light is perfect and illuminates the incredible greenness of the meadows against the blue-grey of the Bay and ocean.
Our favorite ascent takes us from Alpine Road west of Interstate 280 and right on Portola Road until it makes a tight uphill hairpin onto La Honda Road (Highway 84). Normally this drive ends with our feasting on Kobe Beef burgers at Alice’s Restaurant, but this evening we drove north another 6.8 miles along Skyline to the Mountain House Restaurant (www.themountainhouse.com).
Our drive “up the hill” was exactly the experience we had expected after a few days of driving the Scion tC. Restyled this year, the tC has a slightly tuned version of the engine from its more-prosaic Toyota Camry cousin, a taut sport suspension and a crisp six-speed manual transmission. This adds up to a car way too much fun to be targeted exclusively to the “20-somethings” (due to its under-$20,000 price tag). These two 60-somethings had a blast driving this car.
The Mountain House Restaurant has been in operation since the 1930s, and we’d recently heard excellent reports about it and decided it was high time to give it a try. On entering, we were pleasantly surprised to discover – behind the unassuming façade – a classic, welcoming, traditional barroom. Local history and sports mementos adorn the walls to enjoy if you have to wait for a table, and the experienced bartender knew the recipes for cocktails that her grandmother might have enjoyed.
Behind the barroom, the restaurant opens into a generous dining room, with comfortable space between the tables, in a setting of traditional pine paneling. Brick fireplaces add warmth and cheer to the pleasant room. We were led to a table by the window overlooking the redwood forest that forms a beautiful backdrop to the restaurant.
Over drinks, we agreed that the room is as suitable for a romantic get-away evening as it is for a family occasion. In a nice nod to the comfort of patrons in the dining room looking for that special-evening feeling, there is a separate glassed-in solarium with an overhead canopy of trees for larger groups. That evening there was a large celebratory crowd enjoying a traditional birthday party without disturbing us at all.
Like us, our friends are car enthusiasts. The conversation over dinner turned to the Scion, and someone noted it was like the Mountain House Restaurant – bigger on the inside than it appears from the outside.
When we first looked at the tC, we thought it was just a typical two-person hatchback sports coupe, not unlike our 2006 MINI. We discovered that through some neat styling sleight of hand, the spacious interior of the Scion belies its sporty exterior. There is actually enough space for two adults in the rear seats, and there’s still space for luggage behind the rear seats. Fold the rear seats forward and you’ve got nearly 35 cubic feet of cargo space – enough to transport that big-screen TV from the discount store.
The tC is perfect for the young person who has space and budget for only one vehicle. It satisfies the desire for fun driving and date-night transportation, while also able to haul large items and young families.
Our only negative comment: A little sound deadener in the panels would go a long way to making the car seem more Lexus-like.
Now, back to dinner. Once our meals arrived, we settled in to enjoy traditional entrees – rack of lamb, venison, grilled filet and gorgonzola pasta – that seemed in keeping with the rustic feel of the restaurant. Sampling one another’s fare, we agreed that the food and service compared well with excellent restaurants in San Francisco, but that the view of the early evening sunlight slanting through the evergreens would be difficult to match around Union Square.
Once again, we were reminded why the Bay Area is the best place to live. Where else can one find such a combination of scenery, weather, driving roads and good restaurants as we enjoyed that evening in our affordable little hatchback?
Longtime Los Altos residents Gary and Genie Anderson are co-owners of Enthusiast Publications LLC, which edits several car club magazines and contributes articles and columns to automotive magazines and online services.