The C Restaurant seduces by way of fly seafood and wine barrels, 1833 earns a James Beard biggie.
Thursday, February 23, 2012
The tastiest music masters a balance between predictable and tumultuous. It comforts listeners with familiar chords, but buries the possibility of boring with surprising surges and shifts – keeping brains eager for the next note without overwhelming them with unexpected originality.
No word on how much music theory Exec Chef Jerry Regester is into these days, but he’s scoring quite a nice little flavor soundtrack at C Restaurant in Cannery Row’s Intercontinental Hotel, where his interplay of classic and creative tastes collaborate with progressive sourcing and a stirring oceanfront setting to quietly give us one of the best restaurants in our ecosystem. A February visit reveals sturgeon, arctic char and swordfish steak wrapped in speck, sauced with whole grain mustard vinaigrette and elevated by wasabi crème fraîche and ponzu-ver jus, respectively. Familiar but fresh. Dignified but fun. Wild but within reach.
Fortunately picking a seat is a lot easier than picking between those plates (it’s a raised booth you seek). More good fortune: There’s a three-course chef’s menu to explore several worlds of flavor.
On that menu, more subtle surprises await. The vibrant blood orange salad provides a seasonal dance of aesthetics and tastes with rich red lollo rossa lettuce, baby beet micro greens, roasted pistachios and pickled red onion. The pan-seared sea bass arrives on a bed of tiny fregola pasta grains with a nice mix of wild mushrooms – a tribute to the delicate and textured things Regester does with strictly Seafood Watch fish. A sheep-and-cow’s-milk cheese with crostini seems redundant after the incredible goat-cheese butter that comes with the pre-dinner bread, but thanks to the black truffles in the cheese, all’s forgiven.
Paired with three dynamic wines from C’s six-deep selection of barreled juices – a crisp Ballentine Chenin Blanc, elegant Kemiji Pinot Noir and cheese-loving Beringer Nightingale, tapped directly from barrels that hold 26 bottles and reduce packaging and waste big-time – it feels like a wine dinner ($60) from a sustainable future. Oh, and a plate of the rich caramelized day boat scallops with sweet garlic and porcini-leek stew ($35) helps just a little.
Thursday, March 1, The C stages another A-plus experience ($95++) that balances the predictable (superlative pairings) with unique style (C sends the winemaker to your table rather than gathering everyone family style). Napa’s Nickel & Nickel presides, matching its single-vineyard Chards, Merlots, Cabs and Syrahs to kabocha squash soup with Dungeness crab and Asian pear, roasted Hawaiian swordfish with spiced pomegranate molasses glaze, filet mignon á la Ficelle with chanterelles and Californian lamb cassoulet with house-made sausage, Baker’s Bacon and flageolet beans.
The C, you see, knows tasty.
• Restaurant 1833 (643-1833) has earned the epicurean equivalent of an Academy Award nomination with a nod for Best New Restaurant from the James Beard Foundation. “Everybody in the food and beverage hospitality world looks at these as confirmation and appreciation of something spectacular,” GM Tobias Peach says. “For Monterey, it’s amazing. It puts a spotlight down here. There’s positives all around.”
• The humble request for sushi savant Tamotsu Suzuki, who owns Crystal Fish (649-3474) in New Monterey, was this: Please fill this modest glass Tupperware vessel with a special as fresh as the seashore where I plan on sharing it. Chef promptly overachieved, packing in two half-sized special rolls, one an eel-sea urchin-salmon egg number, the other an even-better soft-shell-crab-and-spicy-tuna combo with albacore belly on top. I had him fill the rest of it with seaweed salad and munched through a bowl of edamame while he crafted the package. The all-inclusive price tag: under $20. The thoughtful execution: priceless.
• Uh oh: The FDA is on the brink of slapping genetically engineered salmon on supermarket shelves, which is troubling. More troubling: While wild or farmed salmon currently require labels, salmon engineered to produce growth hormones that cause fish to grow at twice the normal rate doesn’t, even though 90 percent of Americans want that. Visit the blog to join Eric Schlosser in signing a petition asking for a little justice.
• Major fungus update/upgrade: Big Sur Chanterelle Cook-Off leadership brought in former ringleader Toby Rowland-Jones to boost the winery presence. Suddenly, Chock Rock, Marilyn Remark, Hahn, Bernardus, Joyce, Galante, KristiLynn, Morgan and more have all signed on to participate in the grand tasting Saturday (see p. 26 for more).
• There’s a coupon on these pages for 20 percent off at Oh! Sushi (333-9292). Roll.
• Monterey Cookhouse (642-9900) is dishing three-course “Week Day-Weak Economy” deals Monday to Thursday. House soup (Bill Susalla’s cream of turkey-wild rice if you’re lucky) or salad, then sautéed chicken and artichokes over egg noodles, vegetarian lasagna and garlic bread or beef stew with rice pilaf – and a rice pudding dessert – for $15. Two for just $25.
• Two words: Margarita Mania. Starting 6pm Saturday, Feb. 25, at Monterey County Fairgrounds’ Turf Club, maniacs with $50 dive into an all-you-can-eat taco bar, tequila tasting stations, at least a half dozen margarita stations and music from Kindred Soul. Tres Agaves plays lead sponsor, Monterey County Fair Heritage Foundation benefits.
• A free composting workshop (384-5313) wriggles to the surface 10-11:30am Saturday, Feb. 25, at Monterey Regional Waste Management District. Reduce waste, boost gardens, feel good. Supplies available at next-door Last Chance Mercantile.
• One of the better music-in-a-restaurant sessions you’ll see: Mike Beck and the Bohemian Saints 8:30pm Feb. 25 at Bahama Island Steakhouse (626-0430).
• National Pancake Day is Tuesday, Feb. 28. IHOP offers a free short stack of flapjacks 7am-10pm in return for a little something for Salinas Valley Memorial Hospital.
• “Pain is inevitable,” some dude named Buddha said. “Suffering is optional.”