Best Of Monterey County 2002: Specialty Foods
Thursday, March 21, 2002
Best Local Winery
2999 Hwy 68, Monterey, 372-7415
In his autobiography, Robert Mondavi writes that winemaking is "an art and a science." At Ventana Vineyards, founder/owner Doug Meador has proven his understanding of both. Under his stewardship, Ventana has grown steadily from its lone first release in the mid-''70s to 17 different offerings today. In addition, the family-like atmosphere throughout the organization has extended into the community to place Ventana at the forefront of local support of important causes and at prominent functions. Eschewing pure profit as the sole motive, Doug Meador has built a portfolio of impressive, finely crafted wines at reasonable prices for all levels of enjoyment. That''s why Ventana is number one.
Monterey''s Fish House
2114 del Monte, Monterey, 373-4647
For years, the Sicilian calamari wasn''t on the menu. It was occasionally presented as a special, but insiders knew that you could order it anytime. Now it appears under the appetizer menu (not to be confused with Sicilian Holiday Pasta), and insiders know Sicilian calamari can also be ordered over pasta as an entree.
Calamari rings and tentacles are sauteed in a marinara sauce so exquisite it deserves its own name, which prevents comparison with any other sauce you may have had. It has more spice, more heft, and a creamy quality from, it turns out, pesto. Try the appetizer for its purity of essence. Add bread as needed.
Best Salad Surprise
Mexican Fiesta Salad at Tillie Gort''s
111 Central Ave, Pacific Grove, 373-0335
Tillie Gort''s Mexican Fiesta Salad starts out like a granolahead''s dream: a large pile of lettuce, tomatoes, black beans, olives and chunks of veggie burger bits standing in for croutons. But on closer inspection, the large dollops of sour cream and guacamole hint that there is something more beneath the surface. And there, beneath the rabbit food, it lies: chips with melted cheese! You get two meals, two ways of life, two cravings satisfied for only $7.95. (Word to the wise: Tillie Gort''s light and tangy honey mustard dressing is the best for this meal.
Missing Hole Donut Shop
11572 Merritt St, Castroville, 633-6500
All right. So it lacks ambiance. But do you really go to a donut shop for ambiance? Coffeehouses, maybe. Restaurants, usually. Hotels, probably. Vacation destinations, definitely. But donuts? Heck, no! We just want sinfully caloric creations. And when you want just that, this is the place. We stumbled upon it hoping to spot an egregious crime in progress, what with all the police cars out front and all. What we found instead was storekeeper Dan Dan whipping up handmade, enormous, delectable donuts. Krispy Kreme doesn''t hold even the merest bit of sweet, warm goodness over this hidden diamond in the rough. Dan performs his magic throughout the day by twisting, contorting, dipping and topping the doughy monstrosities, sparing absolutely no calories or fat when he whips up a box for you to take home. And that is just the way a donut should be.
Best Place to Eat Your Greens
10 Delfino Place, Carmel Valley, 659-4444
The red leaf salad here is just amazing. Really. If you like your salads interesting but not too fussy, this is the salad to get. It''s got candied pecans, blue cheese, pears (trust me) and this delicious vinaigrette dressing. To die for. Also, the lamb med-allions are excellent--and the au gratin potatoes that come with it are divine. If you''re a vegetarian, they''ll let you order the potatoes a la carte. The ambience is warm and casual, the prices are very reasonable for this area, the staff is attentive, and the wine selection is tops. Call to reserve; they''re always packed. Yum!
Best Reason to Worship The Cabbage
Coleslaw at Curly''s BBQ
1107 Fremont, Seaside, 394-7274
For the record, I hate coleslaw. For years it''s been nothing to me but watery, sweetish vegetable matter that people leave out in the sun too long at picnics. However, the coleslaw at Curly''s BBQ is magical stuff. It''s so good, in fact, you can eat a bowl of it every day and never get sick of it, which is so weird because coleslaw is usually such an afterthought. Most people focus on the meat and just let the coleslaw be there, just tolerate it and let it stew next to some sweaty potato salad.
Not Curly''s. It defies description. It actually zings. To avoid guilt by association, it shouldn''t even be called "coleslaw." How about "Curlslaw"? It''s so good, I had to tie Curly to a chair and whip him with a hose to get the recipe and then, even then, he wouldn''t rat himself out. He''s a stubborn one, but if I were him I''d protect the formula like the family jewels, too. Put it this way: If some perverted politician ever tried to ban coleslaw, to eradicate it from American plates forever with something like the Higgenbotham-Sorenson Coleslaw Management Act, "Curlslaw" would induce to you to march to Washington and storm the ramparts.
Paris Bakery Cafe
271 Bonifacio, Monterey, 646-1620
The Bagel Bakery
locations in Carmel, Monterey, Sand City, Pacific Grove and Salinas
Best BBQ (Tie)
1107 Fremont, Seaside, 394-7274
10500 Merritt, Castroville, 633-2285
Best Deli Sandwiches
518 Lighthouse Ave, PG, 655-3663
Best Burger & Fries
Locations in Monterey And Carmel
Turtle Bay taqueria
Locations in Seaside and Monterey
Monterey''s Fish House
2114 Del Monte, Monterey, 373-4647
434 Alvarado, Monterey, 375-1400
Best Ice Cream
467 Alvarado, Monterey, 372-1402
725 Lighthouse, Monterey, 649-1500
300 Del Monte Shopping Center, Monterey, 647-8943
Locations in Monterey, Sand City and salinas
Best Local Winery
2999 Hwy 68, 372-7415
Best Filet Mignon
Mission St, Carmel, 620-1942
A lot of joints do a good Filet Mignon. It''s easy to get good meat (no wisecracks), and any decent cook can get it to the right temperature. Many real beef lovers like to just have that bad boy charred rare with nothing on it but the resonance of its former life, but for folks like myself who like to dip into a beautiful accompanying sauce, there is no finer Filet than the one that Chef/owner Kerry Loutas serves at his friendly French food parlor. Of course the meat itself is perfect, but that incredible wine sauce that accompanies it creates the perfect connecting flavors to marry a big, bold Cabernet or Merlot. And if you ain''t marrying a fine upstanding big wine with your Filet, you ain''t doin'' it, pardner. By the way, the rest of the food is outstanding also.
Best Sack of Tacos in Seaside
Taqueria El Peregrino
1501 Fremont Blvd, Seaside, 394-4347
It''s noon, you''re hungry, you''re at work and you only have a few bucks in your pocket. To peer outside and look down Fremont is to find a mildly tempting tunnel of fast food joints. Sure, you can get two cheeseburgers for a dollar, but why choke down processed cow when there are good local eateries worth a try? Think Mexican. Then make your way to Taqueria El Peregrino. For less than five dollars you can walk out of there with a bag of delicious tacos and enough change to buy a newspaper. The menu is in Spanish, but thankfully translated. The fish dishes are popular. Any of the burritos are tasty and the smaller of two sizes is plenty to fill your gullet. The chile verde can be particularly good, but if you''re really hungry, try the chicken quesadilla. It''s a tad on the greasy side but hell, that''s the point.
Best Fish Friday
La Sala''s Bi Rite Market & Deli
250 Casa Verde, Monterey, 372-6824
If the sign "Great Sandwiches, Cold Beer" doesn''t make you stomp on the brakes, then Squid Friday at La Sala''s will. The Bi-Rite is old school and it''s been a family shop since the late 1930s. In fact, the calamari sandwich was born of strict Catholic regulations which prohibit eating meat on Friday during Lent. So every Friday for the last six years, the good people at La Sala''s make a calamari hoagie that has spawned a flock of devotees. If you show up around noon, there will likely be a line, but you won''t have to wait long--the gals behind the counter hand over those foil-wrapped bundles of joy like they''re passing out ammunition. Nestled inside each protective metal casing is a hefty hoagie roll stuffed with an appropriately large slab of breaded calamari. There''ll be some lettuce and tomato and homemade tartar sauce too. It all adds up to one word: Scrumptious.