The Peninsula’s best eatery street improves and Dann Dunn gets drunk.
Thursday, February 24, 2011
There’s something different about Carmel’s newest tasting room, Caraccioli Cellars (622-7722). It must be the lively-but-loungy, hip-but-old-world feel generated by architect Si Teller’s eye, the riddling wall in the back, the floating shelves and varying stone, wood and leather textures. No, wait, it’s the educated effervescence of magnetic manager Jill Botelho. No, it’s the fact that C.C. ferments both still and sparkling local wines with differentiated excellence.
OK, it’s all of the above, which is why the place is generating buzz after just a month, which bodes well for the peerless Dolores Street food scene.
Sparkling winemaker Michele Salgues pioneered Anderson Valley for top Champy makers Roderer Estate before he came to Santa Lucia Highlands, where C.C. grows its own grapes on the Escarole Vineyard, though they currently contract with neighboring Talbott for fruit. His 2006 Brut Cuvee Champagne ($53) rode the tiniest bubbles to a walk-on-air crispness chased by a soft finish provided by 40 percent Pinot; its rosé sibling ($57) enjoyed the palest salmon tint and a richness you don’t get with bubbles too often. With only Scheid and McIntyre producing local sparkling as far as I can see, Salgues is officially upping the area’s ante.
I took home a bottle of still winemaker Joe Rawritzer’s lively, light and mineraly 2007 Chardonnay ($29) over his acidic-but-still-full-bodied ’08 ($29) and joined the ranks of those surprised by the profile of the 2007 Pinot Noir ($47), a mysterious, smoky, fruity testament to C.C.’s desire to make their name through small plot wines with close, expensive attention afforded by a successful row-crop family farm.
The Georis family of Casanova fame certainly has laid down a name for themselves, but they’re not resting on their laurels. Down the block at La Bicyclette (622-9899), they’ve added a big, high-ceiling, open-pizza-kitchen space to the tiny room that once housed the French fusion classic by itself. Exec Chef John Cox had the place full mid-week, even with the new square footage.
We dug into a mezza rigatoni with lamb meatballs ($29 with a heirloom beet terrine and a yum mushroom soup) and a dish brimming with black mussels and Nduja sausage ($27/three courses).
It was the fact that they use organic vegetables from Carmel Middle’s MEarth Habitat – and deployed them in the unforgettable butternut squash-speck ham-argula-gruyére wood-fired pizza ($14) – that made our night. Though the artisan bread selection was excellent, it’s the leftover pizza I should have never left unguarded in my fridge.
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Dan Dunn’s brand-new Living Loaded: Tales of Sex, Salvation and the Pursuit of the Never-Ending Happy Hour ($14.99) just published, riding high on affection from the Most Interesting Man in the World (“Dear friend Danny Dunn knows what he’s talking about. He’s been drunk since fourth grade”) and Time columnist Joel Stein (“Reading [it] was as close to living the life I secretly want to live as I’ll ever get. I hope my wife doesn’t read this blurb. Or this book”).
Though Dunn sets up shop in L.A., our area figures prominently into the plot. One chapter tracks his misadventures at PBF&W, where we met in 2009, from his approach on the course (“Five holes in and I’m starting to hit my stride,” he writes of the celeb chef golf tourney. “Unfortunately for the rest of the team, my stride looks a lot like Mel Gibson during a roadside sobriety test”) to his approach on the road (“I’m driving in on Highway 68 near Spreckels in Monterey County… Spreckels? What the hell is that?… These people should be allowed to live somewhere that doesn’t sound like a skin condition”).
He even opens “Hangovers and How to Beat Them” by quoting Steinbeck: “I have always lived violently, drunk hugely, eaten too much or not at all, slept around the clock or missed two nights of sleeping, worked too hard or long in glory, or slobbed for a time in utter laziness. I’ve lifted, pulled, chopped, climbed, made love with joy and taken my hangovers as a consequence, not as a punishment.”
Each chapter of his book – including “Drink Like a F**king Man, Man” is paired with a signature cocktail by one of the craftsmen he’s encountered along the way. Three are up now, with additional D.D. fodder for thought, on the blog.
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Children’s Miracle Network and IHOP restaurants celebrate National Pancake Day Tuesday, March 1, 7am-10pm with a free short stack; in return, diners leave “a little something” for Salinas Valley Memorial Hospital… Underrated Santa Lucia Cafe (333-1111) next to East Village in Monterey, has drafts at half off before 6:30pm and live entertainment on Fridays… The fabulous Fifi’s (372-5325) is firing up a monthly wine dinner series starting Wednesday, March 9. Calvin and Michele Wilkes and Chef Janet Melac are pairing things like duck proscuitto with figs and seared king salmon with France’s finest for $70… Big Sur Chanterelle Cook-off’s this Saturday, and could double as a fine art photography exhibit with all the pieces donated by local stars to benefit Rachel Short (see p. 24)… “Champagne for my real friends,” Tom Waits says, “and real pain for my sham friends.”