So Fresh So Clean
The Bench lays out an eye-catching reinvention of the longtime Pebble Beach legend Club XIX.
Thursday, August 2, 2012
Take the old stately lady of Pebble Beach restaurants, give her a bath and flip her on her head. Shoo away the pretentious-and-fading French food. Sweep in a new patio with firepits and a wide solarium dining room next to it. Wrap a Carrera marble bar around a wood-fired oven space, a tiered island of 137 premium spirits and taps to nine wine canisters, each about a third the size of a beer keg, Qupé Syrah and Tangent Albariño among them (around $10 a glass, $48 a carafe).
Install white tile and batten-board-style walls that run to a beautiful wine rack that spans the back wall (and then some), framing a long community table which enjoys views of the 18th at Pebble, just like every seat in the house. By day, flood the joint with natural light.
Finally, take a self-described “lil’ fat kid” from Lebanon, bake him in the demanding disciplines of his grandpa’s bakery, baste him with a little Food Network to get the chef-as-a-career juices going and then season him with Michelin-star-restaurant experience, CIA-Cindy Pawlcyn-Napa knowledge and a love for Central Coast produce.
Yes, a complex cauldron of ingredients and action items go into the reinvention of an institution like Club XIX. Which makes the ultimate effect of The Bench (800-654-9300) – so named after the spot where Pebble Beach Resort managing partners Clint Eastwood, Dick Ferris, Arnold Palmer, Bill Perocchi and Peter Ueberroth bought back the property – deliciously ironic.
“The first thing people said was how clear and simple everything is,” no-longer-fat Chef Yousef Ghalaini says.
The reaction to the newness came during the soft openings; The Bench opens to the public in the bottom floor of Pebble Beach Lodge this Monday, Aug. 6.
It’s not just the minimalist fixtures and clean lines and colors that feel clear and simple. The food does too: charred octopus with cranberry beans ($15), red wine-poached fig and capicola flatbread ($17) and wood-fired natural chicken with artichoke-tomato relish ($17).
“What it looks like needs to fit the room,” Ghalaini says. “We’re not throwing crazy micro-garnish and giving every dish 1 million touches.”
That was more the mood at Michelin-kissed REDD in Napa, where Ghalaini worked next to Richard Reddington, after he volunteered to be part of the Culinary Institute of America’s first class at its Greystone outpost in Napa.
“Life-changing,” he says. “Not only exposed to all the techniques of CIA, but you’re down the street from Michelin restaurants.” Pawlcyn’s Go Fish! too, which he helped open.
He’s filled out a chef-gig grid he crafted young, a bingo sheet of sorts filled with experiences he wanted to own, including working with a hands-on chef – Reddington was on the line almost every night – a high volume joint, fine dining, a NYC hotel and a beach resort.
Now, after hitting each, he’s back at an oven, poetically enough, and one that rarely dips below 500 degrees as it sends out bone marrow ($13), garlic-thyme oysters ($19), wild salmon with panzanella ($27) and braised lamb shank ($45 for two). While the understated, oven-obsessed menu fits into the wider foodie trend away from molecular gastronomy and toward rustic and approachable, he’s not afraid to use advanced techniques – “We don’t want to lose track of technology, but the final product should feel unintimidating” – and isn’t alone in sensing the place will occupy a unique slot in local cuisine.
“It feels original and fresh,” he says.
But not without its somewhat trendy ironic aspirations – complex but simple, sleek but rustic, Pebble but accessible. His old Lebanese grandpa’s career advice furnishes another irony: “Don’t do restaurants,” he told the lil’ fat kid. “And definitely don’t bake.”
• Food is medicine. Delicious medicine. Vivacious Rebecca Katz, author of The Cancer-Fighting Kitchen, explains with two "Power of Yum" presentations Saturday, Aug. 11, at MPC. www. CHOMP.org or 622-2844.
• A landmark wine event is here in a hurry: 20th Annual Monterey County Vintners and Growers Winemakers Celebration 1-4pm Saturday, Aug. 11, with 40 local wineries, restaurant snackies, Red Beans & Rice live music at the Barnyard’s outdoor event area. $35 in advance; www.montereywines.org.
• Monterey Cookhouse (655-3355), keeper of some of the best burgers and brisket in town, turns 3 on Friday, Aug. 3. Every Wednesday this month, meanwhile, they feature a local flavormaker with deals and pairings, like Sparky’s Root Beer (imagine the braising possibilities Aug. 8), Carmel Valley Brewing (Aug. 15), Cowboy Sausage (Aug. 22) and Boete Winery (Aug. 29).
• Been training for National Oyster Day Sunday, Aug. 5, with help from Phil’s Fish Market’s (633-2152) $2 Blue Point jewels and Cachagua General Store’s (659-1857) $10 for five Morro Bay babies with beet mignonette (659-1857). Montrio (648-8880) will have Marin Miyagis for $1 and Abalonetti Bar and Grill (373-1851) will have half-shells for $.99, and a shucking demo at 3pm. More Phil’s flavor: They may have the coast’s best grilled artichoke ($7.95) and bartender (Bernardo). More Montrio munchies: Chef Tony Baker’s laying out new seasonal entrees ranging from lamb tenderloin with baked pepper goat cheese polenta to Salmon Creek pork chops with grilled peaches. More Abalonetti’s action: Best pet photo posted on its Facebook by Aug. 8 earns a $50 gift certificate for lunch and a dog menu item – best enjoyed on the new dockside patio – and a Frisbee.
• August’s Independent Marketplace – 4-9pm Thursday, Aug. 2 – features a bunch of superb Santa Cruz purveyors. Go. Now.
•“I believe that one defines oneself by reinvention,” Henry Rollins once said. “To not be like your parents. To not be like your friends. To be yourself. To cut yourself out of stone.”