The Incredible Edibles: Atypical Standouts from 2011
December 29, 2011
Maybe you didn't see this flying around the Internet. It's my pick for the most incredible video of the year.
And it's more than incredible. It's daring. Fun. Collaborative. The same applies for many of the following look-back-at-'11 spotlights. One thing that applies to all of them, though: They're damn good.
Highest Cuteness Quotient ••• Pastries and Petals (620-1400, pictured at top) might've opened just before this year but we brought it to readers in late February of '11, smitten by the adorable and Carmel quaint cottage storefront and its even-more-adorable glass case of impeccable cupcakes ($3.50) and apple strudels ($4.50). But cute can only get you so far, especially if you're tucked in a semi-hidden spot on Mission, in a small courtyard a couple of doors up from Fifth on the northeast side of the street, where Le Coq D’or once lived. That's where the cinnamon French toast ($7.50) and old fashioned oatmeal ($5.50) with fresh berries (add $2) come in, or the worthy P&P breakfast sandwiches ($7), which are built from scrambled eggs and chives on an English muffin, bagel or croissant with choices of turkey, ham, bacon or turkey apple sausage and Jarlsburg, cheddar, jack, or brie. Or the eggplant casserole ($12.50, with a salad) filled with asiago, mascarpone and chevre. Or the tuna salad ($9.50 with three-bean salad) with chutney, toasted slivered almonds and scallions. Or the...
Most Welcome Revitalization (tie) ••• Fernwood's Redwood Grill (667-2129) can be almost seem an afterthought given the celebratory bar scene, the campground's river and redwoods and the profound indy shows that boom from its stage. It can also be a godsend—good food in a strategic place—and tatted Chef Tommy Noel has restored it to its once-prouder place in the excellent Big Sur foodie universe. Try the housemade pork chorizo burrito ($10.95 platter) or the tri-tip torta ($9.95)—or any of the Mexican preps—and, when in season, the chanterelle benedict. It's a blessing. • Down Highway 1, another (relatively) new chef has a Big Sur landmark back on track. I'm still dreaming of the rabbit bon bons Truman Jones did at Big Sur Food & Wine's opening night, which is appropriate given the celestial spot Ventana occupies above the Pacific (the restaurant was once called Cielo, after all). Following a debilitating kitchen fire, bank drama and turnover, Jones has the kitchen on key and the South Coast is grateful for it. • Back in "town," the once-much-maligned, now-redesigned Mucky Duck (655-4225) deserves some love for stomaching a city government that asks them to meet tough new rules then says it's not enough, and meanwhile succeeds on improving its live music, adding brand-new beer and wine dinners, a establishing a much more visible and trustworthy management team. Plus the food is better too. The scallops and the crusted lamb chop (both around $15.95) are early standouts.
Most Miraculous New Chef ••• Restaurant 1833 (643-1833) proved up to the prodigious anticipatory hype with irresistible atmosphere in seven unique spaces and a drink cart unlike anything along our coastline. But you can hang in four or five different rooms before staff wonders if you're the next Ryan Zen Lama (so he likes the place—who can blame him?), and can only have three flaming absinthes before GM Tobias Peach will cap your intake. Not so with the food. I could eat about 15 of Levi Mezick's appetizers without a hiccup. Not that the whole roast chicken or poached egg pizzas aren't epic, but it's the list of sun-dried tomato biscuits, "crispy pork" and squid salad ($2-$8) is where I live happily forever after. Mezick might've apprenticed at the aprons of some of our country's best—Daniel Boulud and Michel Richard among them—but it's the stuff he's coming up with himself, like the crispy egg, that prove most inspiring. Just look at the four- and seven-course situations he has coming for New Year's ($75, $125, respectively), with its bread-crusted branzino, roasted squab with black truffle and pan-seared foie gras with kumquats, almonds and rum sauce.
Top Sandwich Value in Town ••• The new Bahn Mi Bar (384-6599) plugged in next to sibling Vietnam spot Noodle Bar Two in Marina and promptly plunked down traditional authentic sandwiches stuffed with pate, steamed pork daikon, carrots, cucumbers, cilantro, pâté and mayo on a French baguette They compare favorably with the famed Slanted Door’s fusion versions—and that's saying something when BMB's run $3.50 and SD's are more like $8. That means lunch on you for the office or homies—maybe a house marinated chicken number, barbecued pork, Vietnamese meatball and the house special with bacon, egg, sausage and steamed pork—for about $15.
Most Impossible Pastry Chef (tie) ••• I have a friend whose little sister aspires for nothing more than to become a pastry chef. The fact that she's spent time hanging out with one Ron Mendoza, whose Aubergine (622-5909) cracked Zagat's top five for the entire Napa-San Francisco region, has to be a contributing factor. This year his alchemy was so atmospheric, in fact, that it earned him recognition far beyond the Bay: He was one of six semi-finalists from the Americas to compete in the C3 International Restaurants Desserts Competition in Paris, France in April. • That said, some locals in the know say Ben Spungin of Bernardus (658-3400) might be better. I will say he had the most bafflingly delicious dessert I had all year as part of a completely foraged feast he and Cal Stamenov completed in spring: Oak ice cream made from roasted bark he later somehow pulverized and reduced to an essence that went into the handmade dessert. The nice thing is we don't have to pick between the two. We can eat at both places. Big puff-pastry props to both.