Still Winning

Yafa’s hugs at the door and octopus in the kitchen contributed to a Carmel foodie boom that included a farmers market and a brand new orgy of epicurean indulgence with GourmetFest.

People love to say the Weekly picked them – for Best Cakes or Best Calamari or Best Cup of Coffee.

The Weekly did not. The winners that fill this pudgy annual issue – in 216 categories across five sections like Specialty Foods and Restaurants – are readers’ choices. (You can findWeekly staff opinions with the Editors’ Picks, p. 98.)

That expression of collective appreciation for personalities, places and tastes is one of the many reasons I enjoy the issue. I also cherish the opportunity to take stock of where we are as a foodie community, a cultural ecosystem and an overall place to live. But pauses can be hard to find when putting out a 152-page paper.

So here, another appreciative pause to take a look at still more standout ingredients – bonus besties! – that we’ve got in our Monterey County pot.

~ ~ ~

Best Citywide Appetite • It would have to be Carmel. Since last year’s Best Of vote, linchpins like Aubergine and Anton + Michel have gotten slick updates, new populist spots likeYafa (624-9232) and Treehouse Cafe (626-1111) have blossomed, and a new farmers market (10am-2pm Thursdays at Sunset Center) was born. It will soon move to Dolores for a week because of another development: The new – and resolutely world-class – food-and-wine festival from David Fink, GourmetFest, coming this March 27-30 with a cavalcade of Michelin-starred chefs.

Only Monterey may have done Carmel one better, adding downtown sidewalk seating, a breakthrough market-cafe-mini-mini S.F. Ferry Building model with Wharf Marketplace(649-1116), a landmark bar and grill with Turn 12 (372-8876), a see-it-to-believe-it Bay of Pines (920-3563) and the big daddy to come, Alvarado Street Brewing & Grill opening in around two months’ time across from the Golden State.

But Salinas might’ve trumped ’em both, adding its best restaurant in memory (Patria, see story, previous page), huge family-owned Hacienda Grill (424-6400) and a redoneSalinas Sports Bar and Tavern (422-5652). Dubbers (775-0175) was scheduled to open Monday, on St. Patrick’s Day, but delays intervened. Another two food-centric spots are on the way at key Oldtown locations. It all makes for the most prolific restaurant year the area’s seen since turkey bacon was born.

Best Legacy • Steve Pessagno, who died suddenly at 55 last June, left more than four sons to guide his eponymous winery, the same upstart that tilled the fields for local small-plot family-owned operations to flourish throughout the area. He left a River Road Wine Trail that, thanks to his County General Plan advocacy for more growing and tasting opportunities, is now a pillar for a county named a top 10 wine spot to visit – in the world – by Wine Enthusiast. He left glowing examples of how to throw a mean pop-up wine dinner and prep a massive pan of paella too.

Best Coming Out Party • For anyone who hadn’t gotten the push alert that Justin Cogley of Aubergine (624-8578) traded his star figure-skating soul to the devil for heavenly powers of food imagination and creation, a Food & Wine Best New Chef nod and Best Chef West from James Beard Foundation nomination furnished an extra heads up.

Best Freaking Out Party • Gabe and Nico Georis (of Mundaka, 624-7400) rallied hundreds up a long and bumpy Big Sur road for a hot and thumpy independent music festival. Now they’re doing the same with new High Tide, suddenly and emphatically Carmel’s best night spot. And by helping Weston Call host brand new Carmel Arts Alive on the first Wednesday of every month – which partially fills the vacuum created by the quiet conclusion of the Independent Marketplace dinners (themselves The Best Use of an Empty Room in Sand City).

Best Kryptonite Love Affair • Local restaurant manager and Weekly food writer Shiho Fukushima carries Ocean Sushi and epicure enthusiasm to new heights despite the fact that essentially every food she gets near causes allergic reaction.

Best Dock Drama • Fisherman’s Wharf saw a meltdown at the former Isabella’s, where lease disagreements and petty trashing of the place preceded its oncoming rebirth under landlord/longtime restaurant guy Nino Palma. The city blocked the sale of Rappa’s to the team behind AbalonettiGilbert’s and Crabby Jim’s, then relented, which means big things for a bookend property. Lease talks with four other tenants are ongoing.

Best Meatless Revolution • Moss Landing’s Sweet Earth Natural Foods broke out in a big way, using Buddhist monk nutrition and small-batch prep cycles to turn a fringe food – a wheat protein called seitan – into the engine for a healthy and tasty meat-free burrito boom.

Best Homemade Hooch • New Lost Spirits blows mind with peated whiskey made in the yard of their house on the edges of rural Salinas. Wait until the rum.

Best Way to Honor Your Best • Take a pic with your winner – whether readers agreed or not – and hashtag it #bestofmc. You assert your own authorship – on Instagram – and the best three selfies earn a one of three food-wine-spa packages. Here’s to the best.


• Dan Priano, GM of Post Ranch Inn – which includes Sierra Mar (667-2800) – is resigning, effective in May. While rumors swirl over why and how, he says that, after 13 years, it’s time to move on. “I want to do more for myself,” he says. More on the blog.

• Two monster events in three weeks: GourmetFest and its cavalry of Relais & Chateaux chefs March 27-30 and Pebble Beach Food & Wine April 10-13.

• Valley Hills Deli & BBQ (293-8608) does its first monthly wine tasting and pairing ($12) 5-7pm Wednesday, March 26, with lettuce-cup shrimp salads, Sriracha pork sliders and more.

• Winemaker Dan Tudor is rattling bottles for another grape-centric battle in Carmel. More on the blog.

• March 19 was Global Volunteer Day, which led to some neat educational things in the Asilomar Conference Center kitchens with local students. More from Elizabeth Hensleyon the blog.

• Local winemaker Alan Silvestri did the score for Cosmos, a reinterpretation of the Carl Sagan exploration of life in the universe and on Earth, from the macro to the molecular level. Dramatic.

• Chalone Vineyards tasting room reopens after years dark Saturday, March 22, at 32020 Stonewall Canyon Road in Soledad.

• P.G. P.R.I.D.E. unleashes 35 restaurants and wineries 4-7pm Sunday, March 23, to boost Pacific Grove schools ($55,

• Organic power coupling: Bay of Pines Organic Restaurant (920-3564) + Heller Organic Estate wines Wednesday, Mar. 26, with lamb lollipops, halibut en papillote, Roger Eddylive and more ($75).

• Live music from country-blues dude Rand Rueter 6-8pm every Wednesday and Saturday at Salinas City Barbeque (758-2227).

• Year-round Wine Down Wednesdays flow on at Tarpy’s (647-1444) with rotating local wineries hosting free tastings and deals by the glass.

• “It does not take much to make us realize what fools we are,” Flannery O’Connor said, “but the little it takes is long in coming.”

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