Cindy and Ted Walter tag giants; BSF&W III goes bon-bon boom.
Thursday, November 10, 2011
There was no holy-mackerel moment when Cindy Walter realized she should make sustainable seafood sourcing a priority.
She was born that way.
So it goes when Mom is a full-blooded Native American who imprints a duty to act on behalf of the seven generations to follow, and Dad is an immigrant pole fisherman so beguiled by the damage done to the ecosystem by trawlers that he would take his kids down to Fisherman’s Wharf and say, “They’re destroying our ability to fish. I’m going to have to find something else to do.”
Years later Cindy’s a Cooking for Solutions honoree and a board member at National Marine Sanctuary Advisory Council, so it should come as no surprise that she and husband Ted – and a team of upcoming winemakers led by their daughter Megan Glaab – are pulling off an unprecedented ocean-minded benefit at their Passionfish (655-3454). Bidding for seats at their Dec. 3 Tag-A-Giant dinner closes 5pm Tuesday, Nov. 15 (more in a minute).
As I learned during a recent visit there, though, there are other surprising things in the Walter water. Not Cindy toting along a shoebox of homemade waxes, soaps, lotions, balms, salves, powders, tinctures and toothpastes, or that the Walters, like Tony Baker of Montrio fame and his family (who were eating there), are part of a tribe of epicurean powers who are also equestrian enthusiasts. Nope, most surprising: Cindy, who has helped Ted build Passionfish into a Peninsula seafood institution, is allergic to shellfish, nuts, seeds, stonefruit and melons. And she doesn’t dig whitefish to boot.
That means Ted’s sumptuous scallop ($8), perched on an artichoke-risotto cake and crowned with caper-walnut-raisin relish, slaps three allergic reactions on her. And that their Seaside-Salinas love story seems a strange pairing – like a deaf person falling for Beethoven – and a difficult existence for Cindy.
But if successfully launching an award-winning restaurant isn’t evidence enough of her hardiness, enduring the first steps of the conscious seafood era is. When the Walters asked purveyors for Seafood Watch-approved species, they were laughed at. They were insulted and, maybe worse, dismissed. Common responses included, “This is what we have” and “You can’t find that.”
Then came a supreme gift plate from the kitchen of Akaoni (620-1516) in Carmel, from the kind of sushi chef who makes the Soup Nazi look like a soggy crouton: toro belly, the richest cut of one of the most expensive and endangered animals in the sea, bluefin tuna.
They swallowed hard and sent it back. Chef didn’t speak with them for a year.
“You ask yourself why you are doing it,” Ted says. “But hopefully enough people get fed up and start listening.”
“Once you destroy a species,” Cindy says, “it’s gone.”
Bluefin is the first element at the benefit, only delivered with a glory unobtainable on the plate: The top bidders take a tour of Hopkins Marine Station Bluefin Research Facility led by Stanford’s Barbara Block. Then come 12 paired courses like oysters with pomegranate-ginger granita; mackerel crusted with olive, parsley and garlic; shrimp-pepper stew; clams with bacon and white beans; and a smoked salmon-oxtail “coq au vin.”
“It’s gonna be fun,” Ted says. Um, yes. Bid at www.passionfish.net.
The seasonal edibles we tried with Ted bode well for the one-off, like the short rib-foie gras tortellini swimming in a buttered beef broth ($14), a smoked bacon-butternut-squash chowder ($8) and a can’t-miss crab-avocado salad ($16). On came roast lamb with goat cheese sauce ($18), Arctic char with fennel relish ($17), zippy Alaskan halibut lightly crusted with tamarind ($28) and tender sturgeon with fun lemongrass slaw ($23). In short, a kaleidoscope of subtle, surprising flavors from an unsurprising – and uncompromising – source.
While we grazed, Cindy grinned, sharing her laugh, ideas, history and homemade lotions, munching on a made-to-order house rice cake.
• There were rabbit bon bons and smoked-duck-goat-cheese parfait, chocolate-fed pork and nature-fed wine hikes. Big Sur Food & Wine III unspooled another epic. Peek a video report on the blog.
• Heller Estate’s Rich Tanguay brought his barrel to BSF&W. Come 6-8pm Friday, Nov. 18, he does a library tasting at the tasting room (659-6220) for $45. Noon-2pm Sunday, Nov. 20, he’ll bring his wine wizardry to the godly vineyard for Winemaker for a Day ($500 with a case of custom-labeled, custom-blended wines) and gourmet picnic fixins from Michael Jones.
• A quarter mile from Heller’s tasting room hides a hub of foodie and decorative dreams worth hitting any day of the week, Baum and Blume’s (659-0400). It gets even more attractive this weekend with a free stacked holiday open house 11am-7pm Nov. 12-13. Family-owned wineries rotate through for tastings; housemade snacks circulate (think autumn mushroom pate and Southwestern green chile tarts) and demos like an instructional on nori-crusted salmon make it pop.
• Speaking of under-the-radar all-stars, a semi-secret spot’s getting sexier with a daily 4-6pm happy hour (yes, daily). Chef David Frappeia’s open-to-the-public Courtside Cafe at Chamisal (484-1135 x17) now does a fried Medjool date stuffed with chorizo and wrapped with bacon ($3 normally) and a sand dab slider ($4) for half price plus $3 drafts and house wines.
• Best of the Blue lands 1-4pm Saturday, Nov. 12, at Del Monte Aviation. Look for more than 40 wineries and six food trucks, Cachagua Playboys music and more. $60. www.montereywine.org. for tickets.
• One of the better Pinot tasting values in town happens 5:30pm Thursday, Nov. 17, at Zeph’s One-Stop (757-3947) – just $20 in advance ($25 at the door). That’s also when McIntyre Vineyards goes all grand opening with its swanky new tasting suite (649-WINE) at Hyatt Regency at 6pm.
• “Don’t tell fish stories where the people know you,” Mark Twain said, “but particularly, don’t tell them where they know the fish.”