Youth Center (?!)
Old-world destination Anton & Michel follows aging Carmel’s trend toward approachability and renewal.
Thursday, January 31, 2013
This 1980 original enjoyed all the elements of a classic action movie: fire, knives and raw egg – and the big box-office receipts that come with it. Of late, though, it’s been starting to seem a little stale.
Fortunately the modern-day sequel, debuting this Friday, Feb. 1, will pull from a new script calling for fresh costumes, set design and a breakthrough bar menu.
Anton & Michel (624-2406), long celebrated as one of Carmel’s signature splurge spots, is the latest of a wave of local productions deploying new materials, tastes and formats, often with a quick-turnaround facelift – see also: Aubergine, Marinus and Casanova – designed to make them more than just big occasion destinations, more palatable to the next foodie generation, and more casual and approachable overall.
The Mission Street spot’s tableside-prepped Caesar salads, rack of lamb and flambee desserts ($110 for two) aren’t going anywhere, and plenty of Angus filets, veal chops and lobster risottos will survive too. But the ties are bye bye, the bar area’s opened up big time and Carmel stone pillars and hardwood floors replace oil paintings and pink paint.
“People were intimidated, especially at lunch time,” says owner Tony Salameh, who also steers PortaBella, Merlot! Bistro and The Grill on Ocean Avenue. “When we started in 1980 it was a different world. Things have changed toward lighter fare, a glass of wine at the bar.”
While it will be mostly sides, starches and sauces that shift with the main menu, over in the bar, an attractive lineup of small plates cometh from 13-year Chef Mark Simpson in collaboration with creative fusion mind Julio Ramirez, founder and former owner of Fishwife and Turtle Bay, who’s back to his globetrotting consulting ways after leaving his post as chef of Quail Lodge. For $10-$15 a plate they’re planning duck confit quesadillas, grilled lamb sliders, barramundi-stuffed puff pastries and peppered bacon and poached egg on quinoa and black beans. (Peek more menu items on the blog.)
“I’m really looking forward to everybody’s reaction,” Simpson says, “to the combination of the way it looks, the new food ideas and the way it’s recharged everybody, like an adrenaline rush.”
The wine list – 24 pages thick with California, French and vertical offerings – and other time-honored ingredients remain, including veteran wait staffers and GM Bert Simpson (Mark’s brother), several approaching a quarter century of remembering names and special preferences. The ivy-framed patio’s better than ever with a repainted fountain and other polish in place.
“You can still come for special occasion,” Mark Simpson says, “but also a quick bite and cocktail, or a nice leisurely lunch on the patio in the afternoon.”
Appropriately enough, the patio backs up to Mundaka’s rear door. It’s there I’ve had a number of conversations around the strategic youthification of Carmel’s gray-haired hospitality hubs with Gabe Georis, the tapas-porrón-party spot’s owner-operator – years before 36-year-old Mayor Jason Burnett ran on a platform of renewed foodie-ness and walkability.
Now, as Anton looks to get hipper, the first Carmel by the Glass wine-fashion party in Devendorf Park last month was a oversold smash. (BTW, Rich Pepe’s doing a 901 Tequila-Fashion follow-up in a week, Feb. 7, at youthful-itself Vesuvio, 625-1766.) Just today alone (Jan. 31), the city is planning to make an offer to a director for its farmers market in the Sunset Center parking lot (after meeting with both finalists) and Aubergine is celebrating a grand re-opening, including the introduction of a lounge menu for would-be foodies without a fat bill fold.
These are the makings of a mini youth movement in Carmel. Which is action that’s good to see by the sea.
• The deets on the Pepe party: 7:01pm Feb. 7 at Vesuvio (625-1766), six original cocktails with Pitbull’s Voli Vodka and Justin Timberlake’s 901 Tequila. $50 VIP tix.
•Didn’t anticipate eating a tender meat cake made of pig’s ear and pig’s feet at Rio Grill’s atmospheric agave dinner a week ago – nor loving it almost as much as Cy Yontz’s poblano “pesto”-horseradish crusted sturgeon and Eddie Banaszek’s spicy blood orange mezcalrita – but that’s the beauty of a special dinner done very well: discovery, deliciousness, epicuriosities and spirited education in one sitting. Rio’s stacked Super Bowl “tail-gate” party – happy hour deals, Rio-’rita pitchers – is Sunday; its Flavor Education Series starts in March, 625-5436.
•Locally owned Bravo! Frozen Yogurt (484-9442) is into its second month of fruit smoothies and froyo plus 50 toppings in Toro Park Center off 68.
• CNN gave Phil’s Fish Market (633-2152) some love the other day. I reserve the most love for their marinated-and-charbroiled artichoke ($7.95, one of seven preps), which competes with any around here. (It’s a ritual order everywhere I go.) And the Blue Point oysters ($2.50). And the lobster roll ($15.95). And Bernardo – one of the best bartenders/hospitality folks in the local industry, and the reason I always sit at the bar.
• Speaking of artichokes, the Choke Coach at Pezzini Farms (596-3125) deserves some sort of award for mobile heart. OK, the food truck doesn’t stray much from its spot next to the Pezzini produce shop in Castroville, but the specialty fried artichoke hearts ($6) take tastebuds great places. There are wraps ($4), jumbo steamed chokes ($5) and lumpia ($3) too. Get choked up.
•National Pancake Day is Tuesday, Feb. 5. IHOP slaps jacks gratis in return for consideration of a voluntary donation to support the Children’s Miracle Network hospitals.
• Former MCVGA exec director Rhonda Motil is now marketing head for J. Lohr.
• “Those who cannot change their minds,” Irish playwright-socialist George Bernard Shaw said, “cannot change anything.”