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One Big Night: Fresh Start: Hyatt plucked Chef Neil Dunn from the Highlands Inn to run the big, open stainless steel kitchen at TusCA.— Mark C. Anderson

FEELING LUCKY… As I write this, it’s Friday the 13th, SWEET THING’S favorite day, and I’m riding her coattails (watch yourself). I’m filing a day late so my editor is pissed at me—he’s been sending me nasty e-mails (actually only one mildly irritated note) and the self-loathing I’m feeling is starting to creep into my daily life. In fact, I had trouble concentrating last night during the three events I attended (four if you count the late lunch I had at Il Fornaio’s bar with THOMAS “MARATHON MAN” PEREZ).

Talk about a fun little impromptu happening. I was hanging with my man, KERRY “ALMOST A DADDY” LOUTAS at L’Escargot, talking about his new full liquor license. He’s stoked to now offer cocktails and after-dinner drinks to complement his fabulous cuisine (try the cassoulet) or as he put it, “Cognac after your Coq au Vin.” Of course I had a few suggestions. Kerry was kind enough to listen politely, then throw me out into the street.

There I ran into Thomas. It was late in the afternoon, he was hungry, so was I. We bopped over to Il Fornaio, there was the chef, ALESSIO GIANNUZZI, checking head shots with his publicist HELAINE TREGENZA. (Hey, chefs today need publicists, alright?) I said hi, shot the breeze a few minutes, then headed to the bar to meet Thomas. There behind the bar was local legend JEFF SHEIN.

Sometimes the gods line things up for you. On a beautiful Carmel afternoon, I run into one of my favorite people, who is thinking what I’m thinking—too nice a day to not enjoy a lovely lunch somewhere. Then we run into Alessio, who starts sending us out amazing Italian specialties from his hometown. Then Jeff is holding court…life is beautiful.

Jeff (who, by the way, contrary to the published report on his Michigan high school Web site, is not dead) regaled us with stories, we regaled each other, Giannuzzi regaled everybody (Martha, what the hell is regaling?)…I say right on.

Thomas is headed to NYC for some R&D on the hip wine-bar-and-casual-bistro scene. He’s been formulating his new concept for the soon-to-be re-openend Bouchée, and he wants to check the Apple to see if they are as smart as he is. He told me great stories about the last time he went there, before the Cantinetta Luca opening. Adventures in New York City with the Marathon Man—can’t tell them here, this is a family column (yeah right).

After lunch (it’s like 4:45pm), I’m on the way out to hit the grand opening party for the newly renovated Hyatt Regency lobby, bar and restaurant, but I stop at the host stand to chat with Il Fornaio manager LINDA BUTTERS, another local favorite: “Most people know me as the face of Il Fornaio,” she told me. “Older friends know me as the ‘flower lady,’ and my flowers are still well-placed around town. I get to meet all the faces of Carmel and other places, mostly wonderful people—and occasional grumpy ones. It’s an amazing juggling act, a dance of sorts, with new steps thrown in often enough to always keep it interesting…and I still have a smile on my face.” I for one am glad she does.

The Hyatt event was staggering, with cars lined up to get there like it was Oscar night. The only thing missing was a red carpet…although wait, I could swear I saw one under CHERYL WARNER. What a lovely redo, a whole new restaurant concept, called TusCA, kind of Italy meets California. Wonderful wines, delicious food, attentive and upbeat staff. DARYL BREWER, another local veteran, is running the restaurant operations and doing a great job steering the new ship.

I could only stay about 30 minutes, but I ran into PIERRE BAIN, MICHAEL BURKE, DAVE BINDEL, DOROTHY MARAS-ILDIZ, JESSICA LYONS, DAVID BERHAHL (there’s a surprise), ROB and MICHELA WEAKLEY, RENEE BRINCKS, DAN WARNER, GEORGE KASSAL and MARK ANDERSON (aka WEST and GOODRICH), MARK BUZAN and others.

Food and Beverage Director DEBBIE FRANZ was beaming, overseeing the whole show. Congrats to the Hyatt; upcoming total room renovations and spa additions will offer two more reasons this is a great focal point for Monterey.

From there, I was off to the Aquarium to hit Chef DORY FORD’s second Tour de Force dinner, where he gets various chefs to come in and prepare a course,  and matches them with great wines. With Grand Mistress NIKKI PAPPAS floating through the room, overjoyed foodies gobbled the goodies from the likes of Dory, TIM WOOD, RICK EDGE, JASON BALESTRERI and more. I could only stay for three courses because I had to get over to Fifi’s, where CALVIN “REKLEIN” WILKES was pouring 13 French wines for a select group.

Naturally, I thought he might need some assistance…at least in finishing all those wines. I enlisted the aid of fellow stalwart wine and food soldier TODD “ZU ZU” SHARP, whose legend as a foodie is only dwarfed by his stature as the premiere friendly car dealer around. His Cuqui’s Cars in Marina, 101 Motorsports in Prunedale and Market Motors in Salinas have helped more locals get into a car they love than I’ve helped get into restaurants (what?). What a night.

SHOTGUN FINISH… The Covey at Quail Lodge is doing 50 at 50. Three course menu at 50 bucks. Fifty percent off all Bordeaux and Burgundy. TOM FICHERA wants to show off the food of MATT BOLTON, sell some great imports and make room for an all West Coast wine list…don’t forget Sunday, April 29, for the benefit fundraiser for local SAL SARDENA. BERT CUTINO is running things, so call him to help, 649-2610…GARY “TOMATO MAN” IBSEN is proud to announce the addition of Nature Sweet as the main sponsor for the TomatoFest. Get on presale tickets before the end of April for a special discount, tomatofest.com…THE SANCHEZ GANG from Surf n Sand is doing it again. This time it’ll be “Tequila & Rum at La Playa” on Friday, April 27, 624-1805…man, I’m worn out. 

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