Fine Food Fairytale
Chris D'Amelio creates fantastic concoctions at his dreamy Red House Caf& %s;.
Thursday, May 10, 2001
Once upon a time, on the coastline of a great and powerful nation, lay a small, idyllic little town populated by folks with wholesome family values. In fact, the town referred to itself as the last of its kind in that morally deteriorating landscape.
Everywhere, cute little houses were filled with perfect people acting out perfect lives. Expertly tended flower gardens bloomed throughout the year, adding colored accents to a landscape of pristine cottages and majestic homes. Perfectly matured indigenous trees stood guard like giant sentinels, protecting the good people of this good town.
The mayor, like a beautiful princess, tended to her flock with grace, wisdom and loving care. Her royal guard patrolled tirelessly, corralling any and all miscreants and evildoers, banishing them to wastelands beyond the town''s borders. Life there was truly special.
Naturally, our fairytale village experienced occasional difficulties. Maybe the antiquated sewage disposal systems periodically caused the release of tons of raw sewage into an ecological treasure of a bay, but that problem could be easily overcome by quick, decisive civic discussion and action. After all, hadn''t a neighboring village, itself an idyllic burg, almost arrived at a solution to its half-mile-long traffic congestion problem after a mere 20 years of discussion and planning?
But I digress.
Perched on a corner about three-quarters of the way down the main street of Pacific Grove, Red House Café calmly holds its spot among the delightful surrounding businesses. Inside, three small dining rooms wrap around a tiny, partially open kitchen where chef and owner Christopher D''Amelio calmly and steadfastly fashions perfectly prepared renditions of classic breakfasts, lunches and, on weekends, dinners.
My first Red House encounter began with a Sunday breakfast that turned into an informal brunch. We (Larry, Curly and I) arrived at about 10:30am and sat down for breakfast. We ordered our orange juice, coffee, tea, etc., and then selected an order of smoked salmon and a bottle of chardonnay (at the time, it was the 1997 Bernardus, one of the best chardonnays of the vintage).
Being in the mood for a leisurely stroll through a gastronomic garden, we almost were stymied by the fact that Red House stops serving breakfast at 11am, then closes for a half hour while the staff prepares for lunch. Undaunted, we--who were wowed by the smoked salmon--ordered another at the buzzer, along with the county''s best crab cakes, and gently eased our way into the lunch hour, happily munching on great fish and gorgeous crab while savoring our superb chardonnay. When the staff had properly prepared itself to begin serving lunch, we just continued the flow right into early afternoon bliss.
We repeated this on multiple occasions, stopping short of it becoming routine (the Stooges do routines, not routine). Sadly, with schedules, responsibilities and inclinations being what they are, we hadn''t visited Red House Café in a few months. Last week, purely out of the blue, we decided to revisit Red again--this time for dinner.
Grubbing With the Gods
Primed by the memories of wonderful breakfast/lunches and inspired by Chef D''Amelio''s talent, the Three Stooges once again set out for that idyllic little town by the bay. We tried to make reservations, but were told that it is first-come-first-served (which is just about the most democratic a method available), so we just headed out and let the gods handle the details.
It was a Thursday evening--more late-afternoon evening than early-evening evening--when we arrived at Red House (it only opens for dinner on Thursday, Friday and Saturday).
The first thing that comes is good bread and butter and a little ramekin of green olives that are tossed in some type of homemade, garlicky marinade. They were delicious. Larry ate about 13 bowls of them (a slight exaggeration). We ordered the Bernardus Chardonnay (it''s the 1998 vintage now--still good, less fat than the 1997).
But I knew we''d be screwed during the entrees because there really isn''t much of a Red House Café wine list, so I bolted across the street to the local liquor store and purchased a decent pinot noir. Naturally I first asked if that would be all right with the restaurant folks. They said sure and charged me a modest $8 corkage fee.
The Red House menu is pretty simple. There is a printed list of a few different appetizers (they''re called small plates). Each meal comes with a choice of soup or salad, and that''s that. It really is like eating in someone''s house.
We ordered the cheese plate to share as an appetizer--five lovely artisanal cheeses, a fruit (in this case quince) and bread. Delicious. And then we selected our entrees: halibut for Larry and Curly, filet mignon for me.
Out came three country-style plates, beautifully mounded with absolutely perfectly prepared versions of halibut in a delicate beurre blanc and expertly prepared filet mignon in a version of au poivre (brandy and peppercorn sauce). Both came atop cloud-like mashed potatoes with delightful, fresh vegetables riding alongside.
Halfway through the meal, although our taste buds were screaming at us to keep going, we thought better of it and packaged up the rest to take with us. Warming cappuccino and exquisite France tea bolstered us enough to leave this wonderful dollhouse and trek back home.
The next day, I sliced the filet, spread the remaining potatoes, gravy and vegetables on bread and composed a most exquisite lunch for myself. Great meals make great leftovers.
Red House Café is located at 662 Lighthouse in Pacific Grove and is open Tuesday-Sunday from 8-11am for breakfast, Tuesday-Sunday from 11:30am-3pm for lunch, and Thursday-Saturday from 5-8pm for dinner. It is closed on Monday. For reservations or more info, click on www.redhousecafe.com or call 643-1060.