Better Late… I just got home. The clock in the downtown right-hand side of the screen says 2:50am. That’s absurd. You can’t go out around here and get home at 2:50am.
The night – actually, the afternoon – no, the late morning, started innocuously enough. My Sweet Thing was going to accompany me for the day. We’d do a few work-related things and then see where the day took us.
Things got off to a wonderful start with lunch at a brand new cute little restaurant in Marina called Frutti De Mar. The menu, like the name, incorporates Italian-style dishes with a Latin-American flare, all stylishly combined by Chef-owner Tito Perez. He and his wife, Sonia, longtime local restaurant folks, are living the dream of owning their own place and have a bevy of relatives and friends helping.
Tito is the cousin of Thomas Perez, the gifted wine director for David Fink’s restaurant group, Bouchée, L’Auberge Carmel and Cantinetta Luca. Tito, who was chef at Pasta Mia very soon after Maureen Signorella opened it and for the subsequent 10 years, has been out of the kitchen for a few years and is excited about being back. His touch was apparent with each thing we tried – bruschetta, crab cakes and a delicate salad topped with sole (done with a zippy spice rub), as well as one topped with the sweetest and most delectably seasoned prawns I’ve had in a long time. They indicated a truly caring cook with that ability to make his food taste delicate and delicious.
Sonia, who spent a couple of decades at the great Fishwife in Pacific Grove, comes with that generosity of spirit and graciousness all of Marie and Julio Ramirez’s employees and former employees possess. The service is family friendly, unpretentious and just right. This is a welcoming and comfortable spot to come regularly for lunch or dinner, get to know this lovely couple and their family and enjoy honest, delicious food at moderate prices. I know my man Todd “Where We Going Next” Sharp, owner of Cuqui’s Cars on Reservation Road, will be eating there regularly.
Thomas is helping them assemble an interesting wine list to complement the menu. I am really happy for the Perez family, really happy for Marina, which has another nice spot to bring folks, and really happy for me, who travels past here a lot and can add a place to call my home base along with my pals Andre and Gudrun Vadas’ Dishes Bistro. So get yourself up to the Del Monte exit at Marina and just ahead on the right at 3056 Del Monte Blvd. is Frutti De Mar Grill, 384-8525… you’ll be glad you did.
Gaining Speed… So we leave Frutti feeling frutti tutti. It’s a beautiful sunny day, brisk and autumnal, life is just joyous. On to Salinas to see if Wild Bill and Vince Vaughn at Zeph’s are alive after last night’s amazing sparkling wine tasting. They’re doing way better than they should be, so over the grade we go to check on Mark “Henry Higgins” Jensen, who is lost in a mountain range of boxes deep in the bowels of Marinus Restaurant’s wine cellar. All I can hear is some faint murmuring about 1.5 percent dosage or something so I figure he’s OK and head up the valley and down the coast to Sierra Mar.
Dominique “A Niq A Niq” DaCruz, wine director and all around smoothie, wasn’t there, but Beccy “Big Bagel” Briese helped me with a white Bordeaux problem I’m trying to solve. Back up the coast we cruise, hitting civilization right around happy hour (I’m the luckiest man in the world). Call Todd “GQ” Sharp, he’s about ready. Try to make rezzies for later on at Bistro Moulin – as usual, Mademoiselle Colleen rejects me, they don’t have any openings (I’ve got to start calling earlier). Over to Stokes we go, start it up with Mario Molto, Dino (stop grinning), Kirk “The Captain”, Crazy Brandon and the gang – always a sure thing. There’s Mistress Dorothea, sitting regally at a table in the lounge, enjoying a post-game martini. Then she made the dangerous play of inviting us to the table.
A couple of hours, six courses, a number of wines and many multi-tiered life stories later, we are stuck on what to drink with this amazing dessert we were having. It was some type of gingery cake with a pumpkin pie flavor mousse that had spiciness and all types of jazzy flavors working. We were striking out with matching wine choices like a near-sighted fastball hitter facing a knuckleballer. I call Thomas “Nose Knows” Perez, who is working at L’Auberge and tell him our dilemma. He immediately recommends a low-alcohol, Auslese-level German Riesling. Then he suggests we come to L’Auberge with the dessert and he’ll show us the wines. How could we refuse?
Parting Shots… Off to Carmel, gingery dessert in hand. Sure enough, four different German beauties took our wonderful dessert and elevated it to that magical synergy that only occurs when a wine and food truly match.
Of course, we closed that place and as a gesture of friendship and appreciation, escorted Thomas down to Brophy’s Tavern, where we helped fortify the far corner of the bar until Joe, Joe and Company were forced by law and common decency to send us all home. Nice day, nice night, a little tough this morning – hey, it’s the holidays.
Final Exam… Meanwhile, back at the ranch… Promised Tom “Tom” Hlasny at Spanish Bay I’d write about the amazing dinner coming up on Jan. 19 at Peppoli with a chef coming from Italy to join with Arturo Moscoso, great wines from Castello della Salla, I’ll fill in details next week. For now, call 647-7490 for details. I’ll also list the folks there who just passed their sommelier course – Pebble Beach is doing a nice job wine training… Gotta run, gotta shop, gotta eat, gotta have fun… Happy New Year.