Reflections on Sweet Elena’s recipes, Wubeez and veggie Vietnamese.
Thursday, August 18, 2011
It might be the culinary equivalent of a secret Big Sur trail. It delivers mind-trampolining experiences drawn from simple but powerful fundamentals. It’s been there seemingly as long as time, but remains almost hidden, beautifully pure and under-trafficked. It feels like a discovery no matter how many times you’ve been.
Only instead of sky, tide and redwood, Elena Salsedo-Steele of Sweet Elena’s in Sand City (393-2063) uses basics like sugar, lemon juice and flour to create something sent from the same place as the Sur in her signature, ever-so-lively lemon tart. And she’s tucked among the industrialness in Sand City, where “since 1992” counts as forever. Salsedo-Steele was a pioneer here long before the West End Celebration – celebrating its 10th year next weekend (Aug. 26-28) with an absurd amount of high-grade live music and endless art for free – picked up a paintbrush. Her formula: Everything is from scratch. Artisan is an old-school approach, not a new sexy trend. Lots of customer contact is key.
Now on the Food Blog (www.mcweekly.com/edible), the Sweet One Herself, who evolved her French cooking genes further at Big Sur’s Ventana Inn for a decade and a half before the Sand City situation, shows you how she does the lemon tart. The video is the latest installment of the Weekly’s chef-centric In Your Dish video series by Joel Ede and me. (OK, mostly him.)
I took a friend by Saturday for some Lorraine and spinach-tomato-feta quiches that I’d enter in a baked-breakfast showdown with anything around here. The subsequent swooning wasn’t a surprise. My other favorites include the pizza that seduces at Friday’s MPC Farmers Market, the can’t-miss pies and killer cookies – and a new fave, the eggplant mozzarella, which she also demos on the blog.
And while we’re here, there’s another commonality I feel at both Elena’s and Big Sur: The urge to return. Soon.
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They’ve been sitting on my desk for weeks, but they only recently kidnapped the quadrant of my brain responsible for creating language.
Now I walk around thinking it. Wubeez. Then saying it. Wubeez. It’s my new favorite word. Wubeez.
I got the man behind my new oral fixation, Robert Hendrickson, on the line to ask about Wubeez Glass Polishing Cloths (233-9635), which I pronounce WUBB-eez.
“Oh, WOO-beeez,” he said, “Like, ‘Wooh!, that was eeeasy.’”
I still say Wubeez. WUBB-eez.
But he’s right about one thing: They are damn handy. And I’m not the only one who thinks so.
Along with his wife and Wubeez co-conspirator April, Hendrickson works at Post Ranch Inn’s Sierra Mar (667-2800), as he has for 14 years, where they go through their fair share of some of the area’s finest foods and plenty of wine glasses, providing the perfect proving ground for his start-up.
“Every high-end restaurant in the country should be using them,” says GM/sommelier Wanda Straw.
They are also in the kitchens at Pebble Beach Food & Wine, Inn at Spanish Bay, La Playa, L’Auberge, Montrio, Rio Grill, Vesuvio, Flying Fish, Andre’s Bouchee and more.
Wine clubs are getting into them. J. Lohr has gone through 2,000-plus with their own emblem. Taste Morgan sells their own monogrammed 20-by-15-inch towels for $8.95 in the Crossroads.
“We love em!” tasting room staffer Amy Eitoku says. “We were using the standard cloth that everybody has and got all this lint on the glass. Now we use Wubeez because they don’t leave any. And it just shines so much better.”
Hendrickson started polishing his game after a visit to Mid-State Fair in Paso Robles. He had already been testing fabrics on glass, then saw the ShamWow wacko. But the Sham left yellow hairs.
“I started sending for samples,” he says. “Rag companies. People who do ‘clean rooms’ in Silicon Valley where [microcomputers] have to be spotless. Medical supply places.”
Pretty soon he found a fabric he dug and started ordering from a special supplier. When the box they came in revealed the broker’s source, Hendrickson went there directly. He started selling over the Internet and sampling restaurant spots. Today he sells them for $7.95 on his website ($52.95 for 12) and estimates he nets $16K a year.
“A nice little side business,” he says.
He recommends them for more than wine glasses. At Sierra Mar he says the busboys use them on silverware while chefs polish up plates.
“Use it on the big screen TV,” Hendrickson says. “It's a universal tool. I’ve been approached about doing a little one for the iPhone.”
After trying out five rags, Wellesley Wine Press' Robert Dwyer loved a range of "strengths," including "the perfect balance [between] weight and absorbency while still being pliable." The weaknesses? "For better or for worse, [it] hasn't reached wide distribution yet." My experience reflects that. Expect our local boy to go big. He's already infiltrated government: He just shipped his second order to the U.S. Embassy in Oslo, Norway. Which makes me want to say one thing. Yessir. Say it with me.
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Two servings of tasty news from Vietnamese kitchens, particularly for my meat-free peeps like the PETA protester rocking nothing but panties and paint – which mimicked a butcher’s diagram of body parts in the spirit of animals aren’t breasts and thighs and flanks – in downtown Monterey last Tuesday.
Món Chay Vietnamese Vegetarian Cuisine (622-7777) has opened in Carmel’s Barnyard with a decidedly fresh and leafy oomph. I like the look of the crispy orange eggplant with steamed broccoli ($10.95), the “string bean forest” with tofu skins and shiitake mushrooms in house sauces ($8.95) – all the dipping sauces are housemade – and at least the ambition of the vegetarian herbed duck noodle ($7.50) with marinated soy “duck." There are hot pots ($15.95-$16.95) and sexy specialties like spicy lemongrass ($9.25) and black bean stew with tofu ($8.95).
A colleague/food scout stopped by for the spring rolls ($5), egg rolls ($5.95) and the “Món Chay special soup” ($8.75).
“Everything was clean and pure,” she says. “I was just eating so healthy – green and fresh. The soup was superb. The spring rolls were over the top large, loaded with noodles and vegetables and tofu.”
Over in Marina, The Bahn Mi Bar (384-6599) is now open, slanging 14 versions of the Vietnamese sandwich for $3.50, including the house special with bacon, egg, sausage and steamed pork, and a barbecued chicken number marinated in a money house sauce, plus all the requisite pickled daikon, carrots, cucumbers, cilantro, pâté and mayo on a French baguette, with a crossaint option coming soon (as are salads). They also pour boba drinks like they do at its sister (and neighbor) restaurant Noodle Bar Two (384-6225) and do a daily soup, often curry or egg-flour ($6 with a sandwich; $3 a la carte). Most exciting, perhaps (which is saying something given this guy’s bubbling love for bahn mi): There are also steamed buns with barbecued pork or any of the meats ($3 for a sizeable serving). Now pounce.
>> Saturday, Aug. 27, is Eating for Education, a decentralized, grassroots fundraising partnership push between school gardens/school lunches and restaurants who dig that kind of education, launched to sync with the 40th anniversary of the founding of Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse. Check back here next week for local contributing eateries, or follow along on the wider regional movement at www.eatingforeducation.org.
>> The next day, Sunday, Aug. 28, Bernardus Lodge is unleashing its seasonal sumptuousness 2 – 5pm Sunday, Aug. 28, with its third annual summer garden party: live music, newly released Bernardus wines and lip-licking hors d’oeurvres like house smoked salmon flatbread by Chef Cal Stamenov in Carmel Valley. $65 per person inclusive, 888-648-9463.
>> All too often a type of generosity-washing happens with local foodie events. Well-intentioned organizers deliver promises to donate to community nonprofits only to let the followup fall away – or come through with cash years later (really). Rather than waste this space calling out those folks, I’d prefer to spotlight someone who came through: Victoria Lara of the newborn FUD pop-up dinner series. Even though she personally took it in the frying pan on the event (life with start-ups), she donated 10 percent of revenue (again, even though it didn’t equal payout), and shared it with Food Bank of Monterey County (758-1523), masters of leveraging every buck for benefit. (You should see the oldies-but-goodies at the senior facilities when the truck arrives: “Apples!” “Are there beans?!” “Let’s eat!”) Here’s hoping the startup keeps keeping up – keep an eye out for the next FUD fun at this flavor station.
>> Taco-obsessed individuals moving along the 101 would do well to flag Taqueria Hidalgo in Chualar (679-2384). It’s right off the exit on Grant and right on the money with a chorizo quesadilla ($4.50) I want to marry. They were out of al pastor when I materialized (sacrilege), but the carnitas ($1.25) were so crispy good I wolfed em before I even thought to take a photo (rarer than sashimi for me), leaving this taco freak to believe the al pastor’s gotta be a revelation. The quesillo tortas are a strong play too, at $4, best with a tallboy brown-bag Tecate from the carniceria next door.
>> I saw one commentary calling it “still a dive,” but the new Mucky Duck (655-3031) is looking good. Apparently dude didn’t see it before, or had too many delicious drinks from Jean (great to see standbys like her and Trevor still around, harmonizing with new owners). The spotless bathrooms alone are a capital-U Upgrade. Also looking good: a Lagunitas beer and dinner pairing ($30) 5-8pm Wednesday, Aug. 24.
>> “Never work before breakfast,” Josh Billings said. “If you have to work before breakfast, eat your breakfast first.”