A couple of hours before dinner, Jan Wortman is sitting by a window in the lobby of the Historic Requa Inn, gesturing at the slim road between the hotel and the Klamath River. She recounts how for 50 years she'd drive past the inn on the way to her grandmother Geneva's house and dream of owning it.
From the porch overlooking the river, just shy of where it empties into the Pacific Ocean, and the surrounding redwood forest, it's not hard to see why. When the Wortman family bought the hotel in 2010, they became the first Yurok family to own it in 102 years despite its location on the Yurok Indian reservation.
Originally called the Klamath Inn, built in 1914 on the site of the burned 1880s-era Pioneer Inn, the place has changed hands a number of times. For a time it housed a post office (for which one of its 14 rooms is still named) and it even served briefly as a school after the devastating 1964 flood. (Though that history pales a little in comparison to the family's 600-year-old ancestral home, a snapshot of which is tucked under glass at the front desk.) History buffs can peruse vintage photos and articles in the scrapbooks in the lobby/living room and the photos of Yurok dancers and fishermen in the hallways.
But for the real dirt, grab a glass of wine and a warm chocolate chip cookie from the piled plate near the front desk and see if you can coax Jan into an armchair for some stories from her family and the town they've called home for millennia. She and her husband, Marty Wortman, their children Tom Wortman and Geneva Wiki and her husband Reweti each do their part in the business, which involves slow and steady renovation to restore each of the individually decorated rooms to the inn's original character. "We're updating to 1914," Jan says with a laugh.
The dining room has seen some changes, too. At first, the inn offered only soup and bread to feed hungry travelers who found few options in Klamath. Tom returned to Klamath from Portland to join Marty in the kitchen, eventually taking over as chef and expanding the menu into family-style fine dining, with guests sharing long tables and passing bowls and platters made by area potters. While Tom has no formal training, he's a lifelong cook and no amateur. The confident, unfussy dishes that come out of the kitchen — where the original brick and iron wood stove still stands — allow the flavors of the ingredients to shine, whether it's the eggs from Sea Breeze farm up the road or Chinook salmon Tom pulls up from the river that morning at the little dock right across the water.
On a recent visit, our meal began with a charcuterie board of salami, tiny stewed tomatoes, mushroom pâté and sweet, sharp house-pickled onions, all served on an acorn-shaped board made by Jan.
Our neighbors — a couple from Oklahoma — passed oven-steamy rosemary sourdough bread down the table along with a warm kale, carrot and faro salad in a creamy yogurt dressing. A wide bowl of braised lamb ragout followed, the shoulder meat falling apart in puree of stewed vegetables with thyme and fennel, all under a snowfall of microplaned Monterey jack cheese.
Dessert was a surprisingly light flourless chocolate cake with crushed candied walnuts, strawberries and whipped cream sweetened with fragrant Smith River honey. Sated and sleepy as you may be, don't rush up to your four-poster without stopping for a little glass of tawny port and a diamond of brown butter almond cake. Sweet dreams.