OAKHURST, Calif. -- Erna's Elderberry House feels like a secret hideaway for privileged gourmets. Far from civilization in a magical land of alpine wilderness, granite peaks and crashing waterfalls, it is a haven of utter tranquillity and exquisite cuisine. The setting is at once pastoral and palatial. The terraced oaks and pines and mature elderberry bushes, the shaded terrace and fountain are all reminiscent of a chateau in the south of France. Erna's has the added attraction of a stunning view of the Sierra mountains.
Built of native rock, whitewashed walls, red-tile roof and polished woods, the inn has four dining rooms, three of which are named after great French chefs (Paul Bocuse, Auguste Escoffier and Fernard Point). Each has its own unique decorative accents, including ornate brass chandeliers, Austrian carpets, French ceramic tiles and tapestry chairs. The fourth room, upstairs, is a library with a private balcony, where up to a dozen guests can enjoy their own intimate meal. Each place at the Elderberry House is set with damask linen, leaded crystal and crocheted doilies on the service plates. Every table is decorated with its own bouquet of fresh flowers and pewter candle holders.
About Thanksgiving time, Erna begins decking the inn's Christmas tree with all-edible ornaments, including gingerbread men, meringue rings and candies tied to the boughs with red ribbons. Each place at the tables is marked by a little figurine made entirely of dried fruit and nuts, their heads made of prunes, their faces fashioned out of sugar icing. The pewter service plates are ringed with pine wreaths.