A surprise transformation in Monterey and a lively January of events.
Thursday, January 15, 2009
I came for pink pizza. I left baffled by Pink Tuna.
The special order slice also known as Mama Michelle’s had been teasing my mind’s appetite since Sean Croce first told me about its bizarre pasta-powered character a few months back. My mission found sweet carbo-loaded success at the still new Croce’s East Coast Pizza joint in Monterey (375-5150, www.crocespizza.com)– the slices of pie are layered with a homemade pink alfredo-marinara sauce and piled with rigatoni shells, huge crumbles of ricotta cheese and Italian sausage. While spendy at $4.50, they are outstanding.
Then I found more than I bargained for through a pair of new doors. The once tiny Croce’s Pizza in downtown Monterey suddenly enjoys a side room that more than doubles its capacity. And through another set of new doors, the next element of their burgeoning downtown dynasty– the Croces also own Doc Rickett’s– has come together with incredible quickness.
Jan. 9, Pink Tuna was selling sushi late into the night. Just a week later, Croce and company were dishing up New York dogs, cheese steaks and plates of pasta across black granite bar beneath a massive mural at a place called Croce’s East Coast Eatery. “I had guys going 16-17 hours a day,” Croce says. “We finished it in six days.”
The quality of the comfort-food context makes the turbo tranformation that much more startling. The mural depicts scenes from New York and Philadelphia; the 16-foot menu imports the pizzas and sandwiches and salads they serve next door and adds New York Hots imported from the East Coast (you have to order 1,000 pounds for them to ink a contract, New York-native Croce says), specialty cheese steaks he claims are better than his pretty-damn-good pizza, pastas, beer and wine. They also borrow the extended hours that have made Croce’s East Coast Pizza a quick hit– until 2:30am Sunday through Wednesday, until 3am Thursday and 4am Friday-Saturday– at price points increasingly strapped customers can appreciate (pitchers of beer start at $6.50). They deliver the whole menu for free.Ford Stays Fresh
“We can’t guarantee the forks will match,” says Pelican Tavern (and Aquarium) head foodie Dory Ford, “but the food’ll be killer, the prices affordable.”
One of the more forward thinking chefs in the area, Ford has lined up an impressive roster of up-and-coming chefs for Thursday “Underground Dining” events at his easygoing Tin Cannery spot (647-8200, www.thepelicantavern.com). Tonight, Jan. 15, it’s young talent Seamus Platt stopping off before moving to Europe to hone his craft at a number of Michelin starred restaurants, serving price fixe ($38) fun like seared spot prawns with fennel, almonds, crab apple vinaigrette and verjus croutons and prosciutto raviolis.
Ford’s own executive sous chef at the Portola Cafe, Estevan “EJ” Jimenez, will have some small plates flying at $7 a pop Jan. 22– think ricotta dumplings with charred tomato compote and artichoke pesto or truffle scented chicken breast with cauliflower mac and cheese.
Translation: Dory and friends know what they’re doing. This is a series worth at least one visit; discerning gourmets may go serial.Extra Servings
Rotary Club of Monterey Pacific’s 2009 Cioppino Night stars Phil’s Fish Market Cioppino and includes wine, salad, garlic bread and desert. Live music and auctions complete the event at St. Angela’s Merici Parish Hall in Pacific Grove. $55 before Jan. 22, 512-203-5641, www.montereypacificrotary.org. Proceeds go to local literacy projects.. Friday, Jan. 16, pioneering Heller Estate Organic Vineyards stages a Library Wine Tasting at their Carmel Valley Tasting Room from 5:30pm until 7:30pm. Expect their vintage estate Cabernets to perform as advertised, dancing on palates, while hors d’oeuvres are served and Winemaker Rich Tanguay hosts. $25 per person, or $20 for Wine Club members. RSVP: 659-6220… Through the end of the month, London Bridge Pub (655-2879, www.themenupage.com/londonbridgepub.html) is throwing down some depression denting deals: five meals that include a soda, beer, house wine or well drink and a choice of a number of items– half-pound Angus burger, chicken sandwich, bangers and mash, cottage pie or their famous Icelandic fish and chips– for $6.99 to $9.99. They’re off-menu, so visitors gotta ask for ’em… The brand new Japanese joint on Fremont in Seaside, Harumi (899-9988), has a sushi-centric colleague abuzz. She says they offer some strong bento boxed lunches for $8-$12– and “great presentation, friendly service, a nice interior and competitive prices for maki and nigiri” to boot… Special guest chef Steve Gothman of Robuchon Las Vegas joins Executive Chef Christophe Grosjean at Aubergine for a five-course fungophile dinner featuring a variety of wild mushrooms on Jan. 30. Each course will be paired with specially selected wines. $125, 622-5907… Under the Tuscan Moon at Pèppoli at The Inn at Spanish Bay Saturday, Jan. 24: Pebble Beach Chef de Cuisine Arturo Moscoso welcomes special guest chef Cinzia Ninci from the renowned Trattoria della Fonte restaurant at Fonte de Medici estate in the heart of Chianti, Italy. $80, 647-7493. Suerte.