Monterey County's Top Five Must-Do Adventure Meals: Number Five
March 19, 2013
Even as their creators make them happen regularly, Monterey County's must-do adventure meals can feel like once-in-a-lifetime events.
So when the cosmic tumblers click and you can do several in the space of a lifetime, let alone a month like March (the Weekly did four of the top five in the last two weeks), life is cracking open all sorts of heavenly stuff.
Like the format for many of the top five—often one featured food served family-style—the criteria to qualify for consideration aren’t complicated. Events can be storied or newborn, frilly or funky but each must be just one meal and occur no more than once a week.
Family-style eating is good—communal eating seems to swell the magic of the moment—but not mandatory.
Eating with your hands, also good.
High costs, bad: Modest price points are an important part of the alchemy, which disqualifies superlative foodie parties like Pebble Beach Food & Wine and Cooking for Solutions (those are more than a meal anyway).
Fifty bones max, far less just fine.
To that end, the BYOW option that occurs with many of them is much appreciated.
Another quite crucial requirement: the clear sense that the event is as much experience as eating—though the food’s gotta be really good too.
So, without further ado, the youngest member of the top five, and the fanciest, even if its inspiration is decidedly blue collar.
5 • Fried Chicken Sunday Night at 1833
The setting at Restaurant 1833 (643-1833), especially in the booths of the founders' balcony above the bar, arrives a touch swankier than, say, Portuguese Hall (they will appear elsewhere herein) or the Retired Men's Social Club (more on their catfish frys soon), but the down-home comfort is just as rich.
For $36, on Sundays, diners tuck into four courses including a triumphant half chicken's worth of pieces (three), with the option to tack on sides for $6 each.
Ordering can be as simple (and satisfying) as saying, "I'm here for the chicken."
A classic deviled egg is a nice way to start. The pedestrian Caesar romaine salad that comes next doesn't belong in this glorious sequence, but what might be the best fried chicken ever hatched comes next, and prevents any dwelling on that.
Weeks of intensive experimentation by Exec Chef Levi Meszick—which included testing KFC's and Thomas Keller's legendary poultry preps and a five-hour test "lunch" of 75 different chicken styles—went into it.
His resulting recipe reads like a magic spell: Brine the chicken for half a day in honey, salt and herbs; soak another half day in buttermilk; sous vide with duck fat, sage, thyme and rosemary; and coat it in a superior blend of flour, spices and herbs including Hungarian paprika. (Check out a video from the fried chicken day of destiny here.)
After participating in the marathon “chicken seizure” lunch, my anticipation was mighty, but the chicken flies high enough to match the hype: crisp, unoily, lively and succulent on impact, tender, juicy and umami inside.
Two words: More please.
Family-style serving makes for quite a spread—a pyramid of chicken on a delicately crunchy and delicious corn bread tile, a seductive boat of bacon gravy, a couple of sides orbiting the spectacle.
Each side succeeds, including rich roasted cauliflower (save some for the rest of the table); slightly creamed Brussels sprouts; mac and cheese and cheese and the crazy-creamy mashed potatoes—even before the bacon gravy baptism. If you have to keep it to two sides, do Brussels and mashed potatoes, but know whichever way you go, it's a rich and filling place, even the veggies.
The small apple pie to finish is deliciously too much—I'd love the option to share one or take one rather than receive one for each person. But with its girth and goodness, it provides a fitting close to a meal that must appear on this adventure bucket list rundown, but also any comfort food and fried chicken lists too.