A Dozen Ways to Upgrade Monterey County Food
June 26, 2012
Dear Monterey County,
Here’s a free 12-step recipe on how to make glorious and grubbin’ things happen right here in our hood.
The best thing about them: The vast majority are already happening.
Serve a vegetarian treat or 20.
Pica (975-5219) on Main in Salinas is a totally worthy Mexican joint, but offers exactly zero meat-free options on its menu. Some of the best dishes—cheese chile relleno, mushroom enchiladas, super quesadillas—need no puerco, carne or pollo to be poppin'. Doesn’t seem very smart or contemporary to make the increasingly huge vegan and vegetarian population struggle to honor its principles.
Extend Monterey Bay Aquarium Restaurant hours.
Making Cindy Pawlcyn and Jeff Rogers’ place close well before dinner feels like making someone stop peeing midstream—after a 24-ounce of Big Hurt Beer. It’s one of our best restaurants. Let’s treat it that way.
Turn vineyards into concert venues.
Here’s something different—and rockin’. Asleep at the Wheel, who have recorded with Willie Nelson, toured with Bob Dylan, and earned a surprising amount of Grammy love, play…Galante Vineyards on Saturday, July 21, in the Carmel Valley hills. Lawn chair seats are $55 (bring a low chair), reserved table seats are $75, 624-3800, galantevineyards.com.
Never serve soggy bacon.
Maybe Tony Baker’s English back bacon is better wet and slippery, but the guy’s a goofy limey. Bacon should be ordered crisp, or at least served that way when requested. Anything less is insulting.
Bend the foie gras rules.
Earlier this year Hudson Valley Foie Gras’ Michael Ginor told the Weekly restaurants would quickly develop workarounds to circumvent the foie ban, who goes into effect this week. “If you don't write it on the menu, you're not really selling it,” he said. “For instance, you have a filet mignon with potato mousseline, it has black pepper, salt, maybe caramelized pear, but no dish divulges every single ingredient. It's often very minimalistic, like [Thomas Keller's famous] ‘oysters and pearls.’ A chef could say, ‘Duck liver.’ Duck liver is duck liver, but foie gras is fattened duck liver, one is not that different.”
Use chile verde to beat cancer.
And make Monday less manic at the same time: From 11am-2pm Monday, July 2, the North County chamber in Castroville is unloading bundles of beans, rice, chile verde, tortillas, cookies and water for $10 a head to benefit American Cancer Society Relay for Life. Orders of 10 or more can be delivered. Call 633-2465 or fax 633-0485.
Be creative with your combinations.
Goes for pizza…and business models. For Trio Carmel (800-860-3024), which had its ribbon-cutting on Dolores last week, it’s fresh olive oil, boutique wine tasting and warm-blooded art. They feature Pelerin, Chualar Canyon, and Mesa Del Sol, small family-run operations like their own, with Five wines from that portfolio rotated through the tasting flight each week ($15/tasting, waived with $75 of wine). The first winemaker night (3-6pm Fridays)—happening throughout the summer—happens Friday, June 29, with Chris Weidemann from Pelerin. Carmel Valley’s Patricia Qualls headlines the lineup of starring artists, then there’s 50 or so oils and vinegars poured fresh from on-site steel fustis made in Italy.
Serve more coffee pancakes.
Bistro Beaujolais (624-5600) now does breakfast. The 7am-on menu has my stomach smiling with things like coffee pancakes layered with shaved espresso chocolate and homemade whipped cream ($9.95) and the East Coaster omelet with smoked salmon, caramelized onions, capers and cream cheese ($11.95).
The Independent Marketplace returns to Sand City 4-9pm July 5 with, fittingly enough, Independence Day designs: Anticipate an Americana + Celebration of the BBQ + Sand City Artists theme, with five upcoming solo acts like Mikey Selbicky and Bernadette Conant curated by Brian Conway playing against American flag backdrops; Pezzini Farms bringing an elaborate artichoke stand (think fresh thistles and fresher gadgets); Moto Espresso out of Sand City; Kenny Wolf of Wolfman BBQ fame; Spice It Up Food Truck and their tender tri-tip; plus barbecue heroes Bruno’s Market from Carmel. Two different pie vendors—Sweet Elena’s and Devil’s Food—further ramp up the patriotic mood with personal apple and berry pies, as will Hen Scratch Quilting workshops…and that’s in addition to all the normal beer, wine, produce and craft vendors that make this thing an essentially unmissable monthly blowout.
Get the all-time greats going again.
The old Club XIX was once a local gold standard, a Pebble Beach see-and-be-seen spot that helped spawn other Peninsula standouts—like Fandango and Meadowwood—with its alums. The beautiful news is that it’s back with an open-flame attitude in the kitchen and a new name on the door. The Bench (625-8519) opens Aug. 6, Pebble Beach Company leadership announced today, featuring Chef Yousef Ghalaini, most recently executive chef of Imperial No. Nine in New York. The inspiration behind the name: When Pebble returned to American hands in 1999, the deal was closed overlooking the 18th hole.
Take to the streets.
The city of Monterey is preparing to allow Caffe Trieste (241-6064) to put outdoor seating in Alvarado Street—yes, in the street—which sounds like a step in a walkable direction Mayor Chuck Della Sala has long prioritized.
Leave with grace.
As John Cox leaves Casanova (625-0501) for Sierra Mar (667-2800), he’s helping recruit his replacements. James Anderson, who worked with Didier Duerte before Cox, was already in place. Brad Briske will play sous chef and help continue developing our charcuterie program and seasonal menus, bringing a background that includes Main Street Garden Cafe in Soquel, Gabriella Cafe in Santa Cruz and Natural Gourmet Cooking Institute in New York. “One of his dishes that I remember vividly,” Cox says, “was a local rock cod that had been brined with herbs and then roasted in the wood oven, it was simple, but perfect.”