Breaking beer news, Bahama Billy’s deals and fresh farmers markets.
Thursday, May 20, 2010
And first, a word about beer.
Duvel from Belgium. Goose Island from Chicago. Port Brewing from San Diego. Magic Hat from Vermont. Ninkasfrom Oregon. Speakeasy from San Francisco. Unibroue from Canada.
Yes, the Monterey Beer Festival 373-2843) cometh, June 5, at the Monterey Fairgrounds ($35).
Behind it rises a local cerveza sensation with a gravitational pull strong enough to grab 250-plus just for a sans suds job fair last week: Cannery Row Brewing Company. The final “draft” of the CRBC beer manifesto-menu is 19 pages and 7,540 words long, or more than twice the length of this week’s cover story, topped by five house labels – including Madame’s Flora, “a light, approachable beer, with a hazy opalescent appearance and soft, gentle texture” named for the Steinbeck-era brothel that had once the Row humping.
Now rumor of a new beer marriage to rival the one that happened on the fairgrounds lawns at the ’09 fest – this one between the fest and the folks behind the brewery – had me popping questions.
I asked David Bernahl of CRBC parent Coastal Luxury Management (whose Mark Ayers is already “in the lab” testing brew company menu items) and festival chief Jeff Moses about the romance.
“CLM is always looking at opportunities that would benefit from our infrastructure and network of partners,” Bernahl says, “to make those brands more special and valuable. No formal offer has been made, [but] we’re like-minded people.”
Moses offers a version of the same thought: “You never know.”
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With apologies to the cats at Costco sizzling sausages on hot plates or microwaving hot-pockets, the wholesale warehouse’s not the place I expect to see a chef, let alone a Chicago legend.
But there he was, grinning. Rick Bayless, Cooking for Solutions’ Educator of the Year.
OK, Bayless, chef-founder of Windy City’s Frontera Grill and Topolobampo, was on the side of a box of Mexican beers promoting some of his recipes that could be found inside. But still. He was in Big Box Land, sleeping with the enemy.
A similar WTF-chef moment ambushed me from a TV the same week: Cooking for Solutions’ special guest emcee Guy Fieri giving the camera the ol’ punchline-and-googly-eyes as the host of NBC game show Minute to Win It. Whoah – bizarre – but so as spooky as the Food Network star’s TGI Friday’s spots (or the “inside-out burger” he pimped on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives).
Two guys selling themselves to Tecate distributors and boilerplate “diners” being honored by the preeminent conscious eating event on Earth? Signs of the foodie revolution widening, yes, but, depending on who you talk to, that also might be – like the mainstreaming of organic – bad news. Or simply beautiful. (Wal-Mart Organic as the anti-christ – or a savior? Does democratizing important principles render them dead – or give them new life?)
I found sense from one of the first to the organic-sustainable party, trailblazing chef Jesse Ziff Cool, who feeds hundreds of Stanford students and knowing Bay Area folks “ingredient-driven food so beautiful that it speaks for itself” – and leaves no lunch comas in its wake.
“I think it’s fabulous that organics is industrialized,” she says. The problems of the movement have simply shifted, she adds. Before, some didn’t get why cheap food that punished soils and internal organs wasn’t really a good deal. Now the challenge is to empower big companies to see the difference sustainable can make – without allowing greenspin.
“We are adjusting to what are these new frontiers,” Cool says. “Big production and small production is now in the limelight. It’s not that not that one is wrong and one is right.”
She put her microgreens where her mouth is, working for 18 months-plus with one of the mightiest of the food makers on the continental crust, Sodexo, to bring sustainable eats to Stanford hospital. “That was challenging,” she says. “They work on such a different level, with big kitchens and liabilities a little kitchen doesn’t have. We both had to be kind. I could say, ‘No, that’s not right,’ but I had to listen. [And] it was them being able to let me come in with pink hair and believe in something, to cook food from scratch and get them to work with it.”
Now Stanford has a farm-fresh choice on every menu for their patients, which in its reasonable portions is actually quite economical, and resonates strongly with Cool’s inspiring modus operandi – more good food is very good, even if there are some growing pains. Accessibility is everything. (“[Major food supplier] Aramark is trying,” she says. “Sysco’s trying. They weren’t five years ago.”)
“Food shouldn’t be precious,” she says. “It shouldn’t be where it comes from the mind rather than from the soul and the heart and the palate.” I’ll toast a Tecate to that.
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It feels fitting that word on two new certified farmers markets arrived the week Cooking for Solutions is in town.
Starting Wednesday, June 2, nonprofit Everyone’s Harvest – who runs the show at Marina and Pacific Grove – will set up tables from folks like Avalos Organic Farm and Universal Organics in front of Natividad Medical Center’s outpatient services building as part of NMC’s commitment to healthy eating. The 11am-4pm season stretches to Oct. 27.
And it’s happening in Greenfield like never before come Saturday, June 5, when another Everyone’s Harvest, through-October outpost sets up on Palm between El Camino Real and Ninth 10am-2pm. For more on either hit www.everyonesharvest.org or call 384-6961.
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The first time I went to the Artichoke Festival a couple of years back, despite the worthy waves of live music and cool cars, it felt flat, mainly because the only real food choices seemed to be artichokes fried, grilled and sauteed (really). It no longer feels that way.Skateboading was partly responsible for ramping things up, with free-wheeling talents on loan from the state champ Marina Skate Team and support from team sponsors On the Beach Surf Shop and OTB owner Kelly Sorensen, as was an improved wine-tasting pavilion. The most vital upgrade, though – beyond the reinforcements of ’choke tamales, fish tacos with artichoke sauce and artichoke cupcakes – was engineered by Prunedale’s Marc Jones, owner of Tasty Solutions (277-2576) and a key food product player at this year’s Pebble Beach Food & Wine. He brought in local chefs like Mary Pagan (of the Monterey Culinary Center) and Tony Baker (Montrio), who led lively and insightful cooking demos while tolerating iffy emcees like Ray Napolitano and me. Pagan and Baker both did bisques and unloaded a harvest of artichoke ideas. Pagan encouraged folks to microwave steamer bags to cook artichokes easily and accurately – and to use manufactured cream available at Smart and Final to give soups a restaurant velvet finish. Baker pointed out the stem of a ‘choke stores more tender heart behind the stringy and easily discarded exterior.
In the tasting pavilion they offered gourmet renditions of artichoke dishes for free, including a smooth and savory arti-veggie soup and an artichoke risotto with rough cut bacon that was artfully textured and alive with complementary creamy and rich flavors, marking a welcome alternative to the “mile-long” potato chips and funnel cakes outside. (Not saying you can’t still have the wonder that is a hand-dipped corn dog – I too adore them – just saying now there’s a choice that wasn’t around before.)
“With a special thing like an artichoke, it made sense to take [the festival] in a cooking direction,” Jones says. Baker’s healthy and delicious bread-thickened bisque with no cream or butter had folks lining up for a taste after his demo. Get the recipe at the Special Edible blog.
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I don’t have the data back from downstairs, but something tells me life is better with meatloaf sliders. Or maybe it’s just better 3-6pm daily at Bahama Billy’s (626-0430). The brand-spankety new “Island Time” happy hour menu and the “Locals Sunset Menu” were just introduced. I tapped the crab cake from the happy hour menu, which also slaps down the sliders with guava gravy ($5), sesame crusted rare tuna ($6), sweet potato fries ($3) and fried coconut prawns ($5) among nine choices. At $3.50, the cake, which comes with a little baby arugula salad and a zing of lemon aioli, is a steal.
I also reeled in a surprisingly sizeable Bahama fish taco with cilantro slaw, habañero aioli, jack cheese and a nice piece of fried Alaskan pollock for $4.
The Island Time line also rallies libations, including draft Fat Tire, Pilsner Urquell and Blue Moon for $2.50, a range of reds and whites by the glass for $3-$6 and tall margaritas, Bahama mamas and miserable bastards for $5.
The Sunset Menu, meanwhile, delivers three courses and calypso bread for $15.95 – crab mango bisque or green salad then choices like fish and chips, Billy’s rib rack with garlic fries, a Hawaiian pulled pork plate, or hoisin salmon and an an “Arctic sundae” closer.
As far as less tasty fare, owner Anthony Momo acknowleges a potential sale has been discussed, but that everybody “is putting the carriage before the horse,” and stressed that any shifts wouldn’t happen for more than a month and a half at the very, very least. (You could say the sale’s on island time.)
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One of the best $20 a wine drinker can drop: the regular Santa Lucia Highlands Tasting they do at Zeph’s One Stop (757-3947) in Salinas. There’s one 5:30pm tonight – Caraccioli, Hahn, Tondre, Pessagno, Paraiso, De Tierra, Puma Road, Joyce, Las Alturas, Mer Soleil, Aiena,MorganandManzoni among them… Like Julia Child said, “In cooking you’ve got to have a what-the-hell attitude.”