Ventana shines, Big Sur Food & Wine goes big and Great Wine Escape soars.
Thursday, November 5, 2009
We knew we were onto something special when the cauliflower-horseradish gratin hit our lips, enriching a bite of natural bone-in rib-eye ($38) and a sip of ’07 Rosenblum Zin nicely.
Actually, that’s not accurate.
We knew we were onto something exceptional earlier, when we first sliced into diver scallops as tender as James Taylor’s heart – during a take-me-now appetizer round starring foraged mushroom strudel in a tarragon beurre blanc ($13) and endives stuffed with oven-roasted squash, Shaft’s blue cheese, spiced walnuts, dried cranberries and pear cider vinaigrette ($11).
Wait, that’s not quite right either, because, at the Ventana Inn & Spa (667-2331) that Dory Ford and company have brought glowingly back from catastrophic ashes, the signs that you are onto something sweet arrive well before: In the new sparkling kitchen stocked with huge porcinis, oysters on ice and organic rabbit (and talents like Executive Sous Chef Estevan Jimenez and Pastry Chef Gina Scalla) or at the bar where pony-tailed Brad Mallory of Monterey Rock Festival/Erotic Art Show fame stirs mojitos and basil gimlets that pair perfectly with peach-fuzz sunset views on the expansive, re-perfected patio perched on its own marine terrace.
Fortunately the signs continue, whether with the help of the rod-and-reel-caught albacore conserva ($32) or the maple créme brulée with pumpkin gingerbread genoise, chantilly cream and toasted pepitas ($10).
The place is spendy (welcome to Big Sur) but sensational. Ford, the mad seasonal-sustainable source-er formerly of the Aquarium, has taken his wizardry to a new altitude – and his Prius’ tires to the brink – in helping Big Sur get one of its destinations back.
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Those destinations go on deliciousness duty this Friday-Saturday, Nov. 6-7, at the first-ever Big Sur Food & Wine. Ventana will play a prime part in the prodigious proceedings, hosting Arturo Moscoso, Mark Ayers, Cal Stamenov, Ben Spungin and Ford as they all collaborate for the banner event, “Dinner With Friends: A Benefit for Big Sur,” on Saturday ($40/reception; $250/dinner). Like each event – check out everything from panel/tastings (like “North to South and in Between: Bordeaux Blends We Love,” $50) to flavor tours (the six stop “Afternoon Eclectic: Post Ranch Strolling Tour,” $80) at www.bigsurfoodandwine.org – it’s well-endowed with wine wonders like Talbott, Chappellet, Bernardus, Justin and Ridge, whose Paul Draper graces the weekend.
The landslide of winemaker dinners at seven venues, meanwhile, constitute events within an event themselves. To wit: Given the hearty-organic attitude Deetjen’s brings to the table, roasted rack of venison with black truffle jus is going to be ga-ga good (especially after seared scallops with caviar and grilled duck with crispy pancetta). The fact that the good people at Graff are pairing their finest with each course approaches absurd ($150). And there are six more spots like Big Sur Bakery and Sierra Mar serving similarly fixation-friendly multi-course meals ($60-$165). On Saturday, a grand tasting ($40) pours 30 wineries and purveyors like Mundaka, PassionFish, The Cheese Shop, and TreeBones Sushi! into the Big Sur Lodge.
Better yet: MST is running a free shuttle from Carmel Crossroads at Rio Road at 10am and 11am that will travel between River Inn and Nepenthe until 3:30pm and 4pm when they head back.
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A week later, the 12th Annual Great Wine Escape Weekend (Nov. 13-15) delivers seminars, top tastes and big names throughout a weekend dripping with still more wine dinners – DeTierra and Montio, Pessagno and Sardine Factory among the dynamic duos – running up to Sunday’s Grand Finale ($90) and its overstuffed lineup of local wine growers and super chefs.
Insiders tell me Friday’s “Coastal Kitchen” seminar-demo-lunch ($150) at the InterContinental will present a parable in pairing insight, with C Restaurant Executive Chef Jerry Regester and Jeffery Jake of the Carneros Inn in Napa touring simple sensory secrets behind dishes that bring out a chosen wine’s soul, DFV Wines Cheryl Indelicato taking on Jake to create the best app pairings, and Food Network exec chef Robert Bleifer joining the chefs for a blockbuster lunch.
And that’s just the beginning. Literally. Get tickets for vineyard tours, wine-trail field trips, more dinners and tastings at www.montereywines.org.
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Tuesday, Nov. 10, fiendish French food genius Kerry Loutas is doing a Cajun Night – Gulf Coast oyster fritters, bayou mudbugs, jambalaya, couchon de lait, Ohzone hurricanes, $65 not inclusive, 620-1942… Big event for a bigger cause: 19th Annual Feast for AIDS is Nov. 15 at the Beach Club. Julio Ramirez, Ayers, Tony Baker among the chefs prepping six courses to go with beautiful wines, $175, 442-3959… I don’t feel franchises much, but I like the local-boy-backstory behind Erik’s Deli (see story, pg. 43) and pizza purveyors Me N Ed’s in Seaside (899-0101) – and not just because they bake football-shaped pizzas. They often donate to groups like CASA and the Boys and Girls Club – and they have bargain pitchers and were the only non-fast-food eatery open past 10pm in Seaside last Saturday. Now they’re celebrating a year in business with $11.11 larges and $1 one-topping personals for kids all month.