Salsa queen simmers, local wine cellars are stellar.
Thursday, September 23, 1999
Although Window Seat generally avoids sucking up space by doling out recipes, this is different. This is salsa. Salsa has its own special section in my refrigerator, right under the light bulb, and it''s a very bad sign when its harsh glare reveals an empty void, the red ring a sarcastic reminder of where the full jar sat on better days. Salsa is a friend, the soulmate of Cool Ranch Doritos, and together they are the only sure refuge when the world has simply become too much.
But, before the recipe, a word about Esther Heintz. This was her first year entering Gary Ibsen''s eighth annual TomatoFest salsa contest, held at Quail Lodge a couple of weeks ago, and she did it "for laughs." Esther works as a respite nurse, and takes care of children who are, in most cases, seriously ill. "One of my kid''s parents knows I love to cook, and told me about the contest. I thought, ''OK, I''ll do it for fun.'' I used the toybox cherry tomatoes, the smallest I could get, with all the varied colors. I cut them in half once, or twice if they were bigger--you want them to be small enough to stay on a chip." One other thing: since Esther''s originally from Boston, her salsa is only made from to-mah-toes.
Esther Heintz 1st PrizeTo-mah-toFest Salsa
2 cups cherry tomatoes, assorted colors, diced dipping-size
1 medium red tomato, diced
1 medium yellow or sun-gold tomato, diced
3 scallions, whole, chopped small
2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and minced (or serrano, for more heat)
1/3 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
1/4 cup fresh lime juice (or to taste)
Kosher salt, to taste
Combine all ingredients. Best enjoyed the same day with a pile of chips and a cold beer.
Grape EscapeIf you''ve wondered why Wine Spectator magazine''s Grand Award is such a big deal, just think of it in terms of a what a three-star Michelin rating indicates about the way a kitchen cooks. The magazine began recognizing restaurants with outstanding wine programs back in 1981. Very few awards are given out (hardly ever more than five a year) and only 83 restaurants in the world hold the prize today. Interesting to note, 19 of those restaurants are found within California. And, get a load of this: out of the 19, three of them are found right here in Monterey County--Pacific''s Edge, Sierra Mar and Sardine Factory.
To be considered, first you toss your hat into the ring. You submit your wine list, usually by April, since the awards are announced at about the end of August. Then their committee of sommeliers evaluates the list for selection, depth, breadth and price. Every potential candidate is then visited by a group of the magazine''s editors who come to dinner--anonymously--to make sure the whole act is up to snuff. The kitchen has to have their act together and so does the wine service out front. There''s a cellar inspection, to make sure you''ve got what you say you do.
But it''s not like Wine Spectator just hands out an award kit to assemble. Grand Award restaurants run the gamut from steak house to haute cuisine, and each list may have a different focus. So, if you''re putting together an overall wine list of the world, that means that representation has to be given not only to classic regions and estates, but to emerging regions, like Australia and New Zealand and Oregon. All good things to know if you''re thinking about investing the millions it requires to stock an award-winning cellar.
Flaming Hedonist Alert: The opportunity to meet in person some of the names found on those award-winning lists happens again this Nov. 12-14 during The Great Wine Escape Weekend. It''s the third annual event, each year becoming a bigger draw both for out-of-towners, staying at one of the 15 participating hotels, as well as locals taking part in one of the weekend''s many activities.
The kick off is Friday, with a golf tournament at Carmel Valley Ranch, followed by a special vintage dinner, dance and auction at the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas. On Saturday and Sunday, there are three winery bus tours and tastings to choose from, followed by even more tastings (including olive oil!) on those evenings at the Hyatt Regency. No fewer than 18 area restaurants team up with MoCo winemakers on Saturday evening, with special wine-paired dinner offerings. By Sunday, still-flaming hedonists will wine-down the weekend with the Moon over Monterey Jazz Concert at Taste of Monterey. Nothing like a little wine and cheese, some Dennis Murphy Trio, and the moon rising over Monterey Bay before Monday''s nine-to-five.