Thursday, October 9, 2008
EAT YOUR HEART OUT… Wow, 20 years of Weekly weekly, never weakly. I came aboard in the summer of 2000 after I answered an ad in the Coast Weekly looking for a restaurant reviewer. My then-neighbor Pam Mielke showed it to me and said in her commanding way: “Ray, you should do this.” With 20 years of restaurant and hospitality experience branded into my soul, a former life in small-magazine publishing and a taste for new adventures, I dug out a few yellowed copies of some things I had written and submitted them, along with a sample restaurant review, to the editor at that time, Tai Moses.
Moses, likely desperate for someone to fill the position, assigned me Clawdaddy’s, in Cannery Row, for my trial review. It had replaced Friday’s in that horrible location upstairs above Ghirardelli Chocolate and was trying to do some type of Cajun-style seafood restaurant and bar concept. I showed a little bit of flair with the way I approached the genre and people seemed to like it so Tai and the Weekly welcomed me aboard.
SO MUCH FLAVOR… I remember some fun trips to review joints. Usually it would be Sweet Thing, whose popularity in the community is legendary, my neighbor Pam and myself. I would write about us as the Three Stooges and try to give readers a sense of what the whole night’s experience was like, rather than get totally bogged down writing strictly about the grill marks on the halibut or whatever. There was the magical trip to Deetjen’s, when we saw a bust of Robinson Jeffers dematerialize and rematerialize briefly as Elvis. There was our first delicious dinner at Alberto’s, a little one-man show tucked against the DLI trees on Forest Ave in P.G. where I got up and danced over a plate of linguini putanesca he prepared.
I remember the night Sweet Thing and I had a perfect dining experience at Lincoln Court, Wendy Brodie’s last actual restaurant. Golden Fish in Salinas was the scene of down-home, honest food served with love. Back then Passionfish was struggling to get itself known in the community. I remember asking our teenaged waitress Megan, who turned out to be Ted and Cindy Walter’s daughter, to let me speak to the owner. I told them how wonderful the restaurant was but that if they didn’t raise their wine prices they’d be out of business– goes to show you what I know.
There were the clonkers too. Like the night The Three Stooges turned into Ghidra the Three-Headed Monster in a long since shuttered relic of a restaurant living off a faded reputation from another era. It turned out to be one of my favorite pieces but I never filed it because it was just too negative. I still have a few folks mad at me for the occasional biting comment, but all in all it was a lot of fun.
NEXT COURSE… A year of that was more than enough. Knowing how hard the restaurant business is– and how much the people in it care– made it difficult to be too overly critical of their efforts. I was ready to pack it in (Ohh Martha, why didn’t he, why didn’t he) but because I had built a small but faithful following (I have a big family) the powers that be suggested the Food Chain column. Along the way, I sort of sculpted the concept into its present form whereby I inject (you ain’t kidding) some of my personal juju into the mix.
So for approximately 435 of the 1,040-plus weeks of Weekly, I have had the honor and pleasure to spew forth, in a forum tailor-made for my particular quirkiness, for an audience of wonderfully unique community members, each of whom views it through their own personal prism and reflects back to me beautifully varied rainbows of opinion. Thank goodness most of them don’t know my phone number.
RAG TIME… To Bradley Zeve, the Big Daddy himself, I thank you for the commitment to excellence all these years, first as a community member who was a regular reader long before I ever was a part of it and then for allowing me the rare opportunity to add a little spice to your epic pot of journalistic gumbo. Congratulations to you and the entire history of Weekly staffers (and stringers) who so industriously create this profound publication… weekly.
TASTY NOTES… Local Mari Lynch Dehmler sent me this last week after the Carmel Author and Ideas Festival: “P.G. resident Tom Pavich (Pavich Organic Grapes) gifted me Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food, saying, ‘I know I’m singing to the choir, Mari.’ Still, I learned from Pollan how, in 1977, Washington lobbyists’ beef (yes) with guidelines proposed by S.D. Sen. Geo McGovern’s health committee ensured our Great American Nutrition Confusion. I appreciated hearing Pollan summarize this madness at the Carmel Author and Ideas Festival, along with his simple Rx: ‘Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.’” Mari, that’s a damn good idea.
Dehmler is the one who originally turned me on to Café Ella, in Watsonville. You know I’ve been raving about Ella “Queen” King’s fresh and lovely breakfast/lunch soon to be a dinner spot. She has opened store No. 2 in Hollister. When I asked her if she had opened Hollister yet, here was her reply: “You better, you better, you bet! Rockin’ dinner out six days a week!” 1709 Airline Highway, 638-0338, www.café-ella.com. Check it out.
The AIWF is doing a New England Clambake and Down East Lobster Feast on Monastery Beach in Carmel on Sunday, Oct. 19. at 3:30pm. The dinners, flown in from Maine: clam chowder, boiled shrimp or steamed clams, Maine lobster, corn on the cob, potatoes, salad and cheesecake. Local wine is included, call Carol Hilburn (626-9369) or Betsy Slinkard Alexander (655-2098)… by then we should be closer to an all Chicago series… goodbye Yankee Stadium.