Thursday, July 9, 1998
Just when you thought your chances for finding New York steak au poivre flambed tableside had been extinguished by the backdraft of mesquite, Carmel brings to you The Gem. Open now for several months, they have hit their stride, and bring to the scene a welcome dose of drama as they douse, toss, carve and flame away for your front-of-the-house entertainment and pleasure.
Which just goes to show you that that's how classical cuisine earned the name. "We wanted to appeal to people who know how enjoyable classic dishes like these can be," explains partner and host Albert Steele, going on to point out the steak Diane and tournedos Rossini, two preparations that are a textbook case in point. The steak, butterflied and served with a sauce of shallots, Dijon mustard demi-glace and brandy swirled around and brought to a flaming tableside finish, and the Rossini, twin filet medallions garnished with house-made pt and served with Madeira sauce--it just doesn't get much more classical than that.
Learning that Steele's partner, Chef Mario Perez, did much of his training in France doesn't come as a big surprise. Traditional favorites from the Mediterranean are also well-represented. Examples? The long and lovingly tended cassoulet, and the oven-simmered melange of lamb, sausage and duck with white beans. (Perez' version is distilled from no fewer than 20 kinds he sampled while working in Lyon.) Scampi Provencale is also popular as well as Coquilles St. Jacques and frog legs, selling better than the partners would ever have guessed.
But the menu isn't just for Francophiles. It skips around to Alsace for choucroute, the hearty ham hock, pork chop, sausage and sauerkraut dish which generally requires a stalwart appetite, and then over to Milan for osso bucco. With a nod to this particular geography, however, Steele says, "About 60 percent of the entres we sell are from our fresh fish specials, that we hand-select ourselves at the Wharf."
Tucked back in the corner of a plaza that was the former site of Crme Carmel, it's not only the menu that's interesting at The Gem. Steele's first career was practicing law in his native Britain. Bored with that, he went to work for the US Embassy there and made a lasting connection with the Shriver and Kennedy families, taking them up on the offer to come to the States, where he served as their butler for almost seven years. The opportunities that followed in the restaurant business turned out to be too good to pass up.
Venturing to booming Las Vegas, Steele met Perez and formed a partnership that would acquire three restaurants and a catering business. After 18 years around the increasing sprawl of Sin City, the Central Coast began to elicit a strong appeal. With both partners having family members in the area, the search for the right place was on. A third partner, Kathryn Bryant, joined the team in a brand new venture that suits everyone, in a place that they're happy to be calling home.
Though the scope of the menu is broad, the team has taken care to keep prices pared down and friendly. They've also cultivated a wine list with an interesting selection of California wines, all of which are available by the glass. Perez makes all of the desserts, which also lean toward the classical persuasion. Which means that if you're of the mind, everything from your Caesar salad on through to the bananas Foster can be brought to fruition in front of you, right before your very eyes. cw