A battle over high-value Vietnamese and Rush Limbaugh’s food legend lives.
Thursday, March 22, 2012
Poor Joel “Easy” Ede didn’t know what he was in for.
The Weekly video-web guru had just agreed to a $20 Throwdown Showdown Challenge at Chopstix Vietnamese Restaurant in Monterey (372-2622). The idea: each contestant gets one Andrew Jackson to maximize the most flavorful and substantive meal-for-two possible.
There’s no better place to stage a cost-savvy showdown than Chopstix, the freshly minted winner in our annual Best of Monterey County readers poll for Best Place for Cheap Eats, a much-watched category where the Stix chopped a dynastic streak by another celebrated spot for fresh affordability, Turtle Bay Taqueria (333-1500, 899-1010).
The problem for Ede: His opponent. I lived almost entirely, and happily, off $2 pizzas and $1 chorizo sandwiches for a year in South America. When there’s five to-order tacos for $5 at an obscure liquor store in Seaside, I’m there. I bend formidable Whole Paycheck to my budget for fun, absconding the other day with my own dinner-for-two—a fat Farmers Market sandwich, box of crunchy kale salad, a lil’ gourmet cheese and chocolate for $19—which we couldn’t finish.
But give Ede credit. A popcorn chicken starter ($4), five-spice chicken rice dish ($5.50), zesty lemongrass rice platter ($5.50) and a revelatory coco-taro snow tea ($3.25) and he’s in with room to spare. Rice and chicken heavy, but hey, he tried.
Only here comes a raft of veggie spring rolls ($5), a house-special combo bahn mi (Vietnamese sandwich, $3.50), a barbecue-shrimp-and-pork noodle bowl ($5.50), a tempura banana with green tea ice cream ($3.50) and a smooth house-blend milk tea ($2.50). For those scoring at home, that’s three courses, two mains, two desserts and one clear winner. (Ede’s only hope: a technicality because I left no room for tax.)
There’s a video version of the showdown on the blog. If you get the Inbox Lunch newsletter we recently launched, you got it directly Wednesday, with a Wine Find of the Week, Happy Girl Kitchen pop-up love and an In-Your-Facebook gardening challenge.
Recent newsletter nuggets include the debut of a new chef at Toast Carmel Valley, lines to local Cooking Channel features and a bargain on Talbott Pinot. It’s like something good – the Weekly’s local food insights – got a little better. (Email firstname.lastname@example.org to get it.) Same applies at Chopstix, now that owner Mikey Nguyen has added a fresh cane juice machine and a widening selection of wine and beer – including Lucky’s Buddha beer in a pot-bellied green glass ($3.75). Chopstix now delivers too.
• The Pebble Beach Food & Wine Grand Tasting Tent is up – yes, #5 is almost here – so Rita Rudner can lift the 19th Annual Comics for Kids gala benefiting Boys & Girls Clubs of Monterey County Saturday, March 31 ($300, 394-5171). PBF&W info at www.pebblebeachfoodandwine.com. Weird side note: One local has contacted the Weekly with a threat should one Rush Limbaugh appear, as he did last year. “There are demonstrators from the Monterey Peninsula and Santa Cruz who are ready, willing and able,” he writes. Now why would they want to beef someone with such a nuanced take on food systems? “We have food insecurity out there,” Limbaugh says, according to his website. “Food insecurity is when people who run out of food stamps get hungry.”
• No need to be an alum of the storied Forest Grove Elementary to love the PGUSD-boosting Taste of P.G. 4-7pm Sunday, March 25 ($50, 642-4943, www.tasteofpg.org). All that’s required: an understandable affection for the foods from similarly storied spots like Fandango, Patisserie Bechler and Vivolo’s Chowder House and the wines of standouts including Pisoni, Bernardus, Joullian and Hahn. They’re among 28 participants at the 22nd annual.
• Carmel Food Company (624-0300) is turning 1, but we get the present: On anniversary day (Thursday, March 29), its prix fixe menu runs $29 for two (rather than the usual one – in other words, make reservations). CFC re-opens for Wednesday-Saturday lunch the following Friday, March 30.
• Mary Chamberlin, recently dubbed a Disciple of Escoffier at Bernardus in February, talks worldly, serious soups 2:30pm Wednesday at Diment Hall with the Carmel Foundation (620-8705). The free exploration spans her The Traveling Soup Pot, with its endless international cappuccino pumpkin and Portuguese bean offerings.
• Beautiful edible number of the week: $9, as in just nine clams for nine fresh Morro Bay oysters at Schooners (372-2628), as happens every Thursday. Paired with a glass of champagne ($4), you’ve got yourself a deal. Better yet the rotating deals there – like $5 Skyy martinis, $5 pizzas and $5 sushi rolls, among others – happen 5-9pm nightly (except Saturday.) And Chef James Waller’s poke tuna ($8), four oh-yes sashimi slices of heaven with wasabi on sesame crisps, is almost on par with its big brother version appetizer, which comes on a Himalayan salt brick in the remade restaurant ($14).
• Fiona Bond and Todd Champagne et al orchestrated another yummer at Happy Girl Kitchen (373-4475) with Spruce chef John Madriaga. Visit the blog for a photo-loaded look at the affair and future dinner dates.
• A profound pop-up with John Cox of Casanova ($65) happens at the brand-new MEarth kitchen classroom (624-1032) Thursday, April 5. I swung by for a volunteer thank-you dinner the other day and the setting was as inspiring as the soups, salads and breads made with ingredients grown just feet away by students and staff. Cox is planning fava-bean-and-burrata bruschetta and prosciutto-wrapped asaparagus from the wood-fired oven, then four courses like local abalone with brown butter and Carmel Valley suckling pig porchetta.
• Take it from here, William Blake: “To see a world in a grain of sand/ And a heaven in a wild flower/ Hold infinity in the palm of your hand/ An eternity in an hour.”