Of Meatballs and More
From above-and-beyond events to Underground Dining.
Thursday, February 26, 2009
There in the cool barrel room, the warm meatballs sent a multi-part message. One: Chef Todd Fisher knows what he’s doing. And two… well, let Fisher tell it.
“It’s all about how you handle your balls,” he said, surveying the scores gathered at the Jackson Family Winery for Monterey County Vitners and Growers Foundation’s annual gala last Saturday. “I use veal, pork and beef, add crackers and garlic, and poach it all in wine and veal stock.”
The results represented a mouthwatering revelation, and the fare he rolled out later worked too. The good news: You don’t need to don the gala gear to get his grub – he and Steve Pessagno are back at their “1645 River Road” operation, where they convert the winery into a restaurant for Friday nights full of seasonal food paired with great grape juice. It happens two Fridays a month through June (including this Friday, Feb. 27), 206-8401, www.1645riverroad.com.
But the real revelation at the gala came with the speakers – first with the poise of the young industry students who benefit from the work of the foundation, then the night’s honoree. Jerry Lohr, recognized by MCVGF for his now-legendary work building up a family winery into an industry institution (and then refracting his success to burnish and benefit the Monterey County wine world, the wider community and local wine education), had some good news of his own: He’s getting married. Decades since he attended college in South Dakota, and after losing his wife last year, he found a kindred soul in a fellow survivor: his college sweetheart, who lost her husband in the last few years as well. There’s a lesson in there somewhere about how to live life.
Between the bed and breakfasts (Captain’s Inn), the ethnic eateries (like Lemongrass Thai and Haute Enchilada) and the pole dancing at Moss Landing Inn, the land of the power plant is a destination with underappreciated energy. It’s also a good pit stop – and its wattage just went up.
Just last week a deluxe roadside fruit stand opened next to The Whole Enchilada, offering a range of produce plunder from local fields, plus a selection of snacks like habañero garlic-stuffed olives from Gil’s Gourmet of Sand City and dried Mex Chili mangos packaged by Morgan Hill’s Marra Bros.
Just three months ago, the Whole Enchilada Marketplace (632-2628), which already boasted great sundries, snacks and sodas – plus a sandwich counter with high-caliber sandwiches like the pesto-chicken El Clucko ($5.99) – now has a wine and beer bar featuring labels like Bocage and Ventana, a selection of beer bottles and four drafts on tap. Pints of Dead Guy Ale, Sierra, Drifter Pale and Anchor Steam are $4.
The Brian Christensen era is unfolding deliciously at Stokes. (So what if the guy has had one day off since he took the lead at the start of the year? As he admits, that’s not a bad problem to have these days.) It was humming again Friday, with Mario Magaña lavishing the inviting bar area with expert service, drinks and even counsel on cooking carnitas (slowly – in OJ and apple juice). Meanwhile, BC’s new additions sailed out of the kitchen along with the traditionally adored pizzas and pork shoulders – delicate fried frog legs, juicy garlic sweetbreads, a fresh crab and avocado salad. 373-1110, www.stokesrestaurant.com.
Still down with the Underground (when they come around) – and not just the Digital edition starring a baby-faced (and still trump) Tupac and Humpty (pronounced with a “dump-tee”), but Underground Dining, the guest chef series Pelican Tavern co-owner Dory Ford hatched in January and since handed over to manager Diane Kleindienst. The idea: Up-and-coming chefs stir up creative stuff and their friends and fans fill a sports bar briefly shrouded in tablecloths and candles.
John Ladas, who plays chef de cuisine at TusCA after stints at Highlands, Tamarack and Le Cordon Bleu, starred last Thursday. A local gardener and I split menu one (“Backward-Forward”) and two (“Gastro Pub”) and the experimentation was as intriguing as it was edible. From the Backward side, the starters (portobello flan, chevre mousse among others) were the highlight, while the exotic sliders – tuna tartare with avo, pulled pork with fried pickle and quail egg with tomato – ruled menu two. Affordable wines ($17 for an Estancia Chard), or $10 to uncork your own, help a fun idea play out nicely in practice.
E-mail Kleindienst (diane@thepelicantavern) to see who’s up next (they moved this week’s to Fat Tuesday).
A n afternoon reception, recipe tasting and book signing this Sunday honors the publication of the new Cooking with Les Dames d’Escoffier – At Home with the Women Who Shape the Way We Eat and Drink. Present at the 3:30-6:30pm event ($35) will be Michel Escoffier, great-grandson of Auguste Escoffier… Monterey County Hospitality Association will hold its annual dinner on March 20, 2009 at Quail Lodge, when they’ll tab their pro of the year. 626-8636 www.mcha.net… Mobil Travel Guide awarded the Monterey Plaza Hotel and Spa a big fat four-star rating for superb service. Given the fact that Mobil minions come secretly – and armed with stopwatches – and only a handful of hotels around here haved earn such a nod, that’s huge.