A while back I got a voicemail. Like the two that came right after it, it was anonymous. Like those two, it was over-stuffed with sharp opinions. And like the other two, it maxed out the length allowed by the Weekly messaging system.
In seven years previous I’ve gotten thousands of calls through that system. And only one maxed out the space.
The woman ID’d herself as a Silicon Valley game-changer – “I turned Stanford from red to black” – who moved to Carmel, where she grew up, about a decade ago. I found out later family tragedy, habit and taste have led her to dine alone at the area’s nicest places, with an appetite as relentless as her critical eye. “The old guard [here],” she said, “were better people raised to be more intelligent, more mannered, more culturally astute, more epicurean – I could go on – more humble… unfortunately they died, retired or moved.”
She ripped into some treasured local spots for discriminating against a single woman dining solo, for hiring mostly men and for announcing an openness to feedback that’s actually nonexistant.
“I think I was a cat [in a past life],” she’s told me since. “I think loudly.”
Yes, this cookie is tougher than Teflon. In a universe of self-defined foodies, she’s a few decades into the “trend.” So it means something when someone so sensitive, observant and outspoken alights upon places she likes. Last month I happened to sit next to her at one of them for a Terroir series dinner at Carmel’s Aubergine (624-8578).
The handiwork from Zagat-seducing exec chef Justin Cogley and pastry wiz Ron Mendoza was nothing short of head-shaking. They interpreted this installment’s “grasslands” theme into six courses where creativity and flavor raced one another upward: Think delicate turnips stuffed with foie gras and bedded in a cradle of wheatgrass and kissably tender North Dakota bison with smoked eggplant and a buckwheat crumble crunch with clairvoyantly paired wines from France and Napa.
But my interlocutor on this evening (her name’s Wendy Thorpe) seems to prize service above all – even the celestial, liquid-center “cereal milk truffle” that closed the meal. And in delivering attention that might surpass the tastes – and certainly elevates them – these Aubergine peeps set the standard locally. Guys like sommelier Marin Nadalin don’t just remember your name, but your tastes and tendencies, all in a way that’s genuine and disarming rather than pretentious or off-putting. Like Thorpe said, “There is some synchronicity in this.”
The next Terroir: March 20 ($75++), when the team tackles “tropical rain forest” with Wagyu beef, hearts of palm and acai (after that: “Kyoto,” “Streams,” “Africa,” “Texas” and five more).
Another Thorpe favorite: Jacques Melac. As manager at Pacific’s Edge (622-5445), he and Wine Director Paul Fried are conducting their own standout series matching remarkable regional wineries with Chef Matt Bolton’s cliff-hanging cuisine. Its next episode ($95++) arrives Thursday, March 15, with Hall and Roessler, when Kathryn Hall talks sublime vines while Bolton rolls out five courses like escolar sashimi, Monterey Bay spot prawn bisque with chanterelles, “sweetbreads and porcini” and Kurobuta pork trio to pair with single-vineyard Roesslers and Hall’s Napa Cab.
The first foray was quite promising: In February, a foodie flock filled the high-ceilinged space that is the Edge’s wine cellar/special dinner sanctuary to hear Adam Siduri uncork stories while prime Pinots flowed. From the start (Hawaiian kampachi with lotus root and watermelon radish) to the close (new Pastry Chef Gina Scalla’s honey and créme fraiche parfait) the food and drink harmonized heavenly, though it was the incredible abalone – escorted by sunchoke pureed, pickled and roasted – that nearly made me call myself and leave a message.
• Welcome to Earth, where we now have cupcake vending machines, skiers riding through urban backyards and a man eating neighborhood cats. Hit the blog to make sense of it all, including local beer, Alice Waters’ fresh angle and flavored vodka.
• Give life, get ice cream: Monday, March 12, through Friday, March 16, donors get a pint-for-a-pint at Community Hospital’s Blood Center. 625-4814, www.chomp.org.
• At Aubergine and Pacific’s Edge, they’re up to more than the winner dinner series thing (see story, left). Aubergine also has a Food for Thought sequence diving deep into ingredients with daring and wine pairing ($75++). Next few: asparagus (April 3), peas (May 1) and berries (June 5). There are also cooking classes like Culinary Adventure – Thailand with Justin Cogley (March 20) and Savory Breads with Ron Mendoza (March 21) for $100. P.E. is doing cocktail calisthenics with a Shake, Rattle and Roll Cocktail Class Series at the Sunset Lounges – snacks, recipes and “R&D” on the featured drinks – starting Wednesday, March 14, with the art, science and purpose of shaken drinks ($45).
• Double flavorful fun coming up at Zeph’s One Stop (757-3947): a “Best Of Bordeaux” tasting 5:30pm Thursday, March 15 ($20 bargain in advance), and a little luck 4-5pm Saturday, March 17, with Holman Ranch Pinots, a Brandon Miller cooking demo and small bites from his recipes starring green-tinted Holman olive oils (free; RSVP).
• The overachievers at Happy Girl Kitchen (373-4475) have another stud visiting for more pop-up fun ($55) with John Madriaga from San Francisco’s Spruce and produce from Mariquita Farm Friday-Saturday, March 16-17. These meals are as fun as they are fresh (and they’re damn fresh).
• Cafe Fina (372-5200) and Domenico’s (372-3655) on the Wharf have declared March King Crab Month. With six specials like king crab fettuccine, fire-roasted, scampi and cioppino, that’s their prerogative.
• “Service to others,” Muhammed Ali said, “is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.”