The Good News
Appetizing reports from Salinas to Carmel to Cannery Row.
Thursday, July 29, 2010
First, three-pronged Salinas excitement: The National Steinbeck Center opens easily its most ambitious and diversified Steinbeck Festival outing ever – its 30th annual – on Thursday, Aug. 5, with a world cuisine highlight reel directed by deliciously talented food artist Wendy Brodie. Brodie’s done more than inspire Californians with her craft and TV show. The well-traveled toque has developed menus in Europe and Hong Kong (among other travels), so this “Circumnavigating the Globe Through the Art of Food” sucker should be seriously savory.
“The food’ll visit places Steinbeck did,” she says. “Mexico, Japan, Russia, Paris, Berlin and – of course – Cannery Row-Monterey-Salinas.” It’s only $10 (members), $18 (general), 775-4721.
Habanero (757-1975) reopened last week in the heart of Oldtown after being closed for a couple of months due to drama with the sales tax man. Place is quick, good, convenient and delicious. Owner Miguel Martinez recommends the signature brochetas ($12 with rice, beans and tortillas) – skewers of a range of spiced meats blanketed with fresh melted cheese. And his housemade salsa can stand up to anybody’s.
And change is afoot at Oldtown Bar & Grill (757-2720) as Mike Hackett, who also directs traffic at Casa Sorrento (757-2720), is selling the popular spot. Hackett’s a big idea guy – he once told me he wanted to bring Salinas its own Catalyst a la Santa Cruz – so don’t expect him to go quietly into the valley night. Former manager George Ramirez says a mariscos spot is expected to move in sometime in August.
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Beautiful news by the sea: Mundaka (624-7400) is rockin’ for lunch 11:30am-2:30pm Tuesday through Saturday. Hence the best city for sit-down lunch on the Peninsula – the land of Dametra (622-7766), Basil (626-8226) and Bouchee (626-7880) – just got better.
I went by a week back. Chef Brandon Miller was the master of the heirloom tower at Stokes, and the guru’s still got it. His house-pulled mozzarella remains mighty, the tomatoes earthy excellent, and the combination of sea salt and a honey-like gastrique add a godly accent to the assemblage ($12).
The padron peppers ($7), meanwhile, are back in all their seasonal, smoky, Maldon-salty glory. Little silver slivers of the sea – boquerones, or white anchovies with olive oil, vinegar, garlic and parsley – present a sustainable treat ($7). The cauliflower gratin ($5) earns a recommendation too for its blend of purple vegetable, horseradish and gruyere cheese. And it’s not really tapas without the papas. Ordering the fried bravas ($5) with spicy aoili is an automatic for this hombre.
I hear the open-face goat cheese sandwich with oven-roasted ratatouille ($9) is excellent, but Miller recommended the steak sandwich with shoestring fries on the side. Nice call, chef – the foccacia-style bread is a good vehicle for the super-tender filet and Spanish onion jam, and the fries are right. Finally, for the lunch that really means business, the wine list remains stacked with great values like a Vinho Verde we plucked for 15 bucks.
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More good news from the best-kept secret in the Laureles Grade sun: The Courtside Cafe at Chamisal (484-1186 x17) – an idyllic outpost with a talented chef in David Frappeia that gets lost because people assume the restaurant is for members only (it isn’t) – sold out its first two wine dinners and has three coming in August. Mann Vineyards on Aug. 7, Pelerin on Aug. 14 and Figge Cellarson Aug. 28. Five courses is standard ops. Prix fix of $75-$95 includes food, wine, tax and tip. As Frappeia writes, “More fun than a barrel of crazed circus monkeys!” Another nice note: He says they’re the first restaurant in the Salinas zip code to become Seafood Watch members… Hard not to heart Schooners’ patio hard. Though our readers vote Chipotle Best Burrito in Monterey County, they get Best Drink With a View right. Now there’s live local music from studs like the Money Band 5:30-9pm Fridays (see story, p. 39). The concerts happen on the corner of the Schooners ocean patio through the end of summer… Dory Ford and Esteban Jimenez, have reunited at Ford’s Aqua Terra Culinary (917-6502) do-everything catering outfit after teaming up at the Aquarium and Ventana previously. Allison Cady and Mario Mabalot also join the squad – which means you can anticipate big(ger) things from ATC soon, including the launch and evolution of its godsend school lunch program… Fresh Cream (290-7943) has a new happy hour Sunday-Friday 4:30-6pm, 25 percent off all drinks at the gorgeous bar… More wonder nuggets of good news. Coastal Luxury Management, which has Cannery Row Brewing Company hopping – it was stuffed last Wednesday and the ahi tuna tower ($12) was melty amazing, the belly bomber sliders ($12) superior, the two-hour wings ($.75/each) great – say the tentative opening date for sister restaurant 1833 is mid-August… And the Pig Wizard just completed his first batch of USDA-inspected products. No more parking lots and street corners (or attending the rare event where he cooked) to get his crazy-good pork grub. “PigWizard is going to be flying around all over the place soon!” PW Jonathan Roveto says… “We cannot make good news,” Edward R. Murrow said, “out of bad practice.”