The truffle chips, glowing garlic bread, towering BLT, craft beer garden and new tasting room reinforce this: Carmel Valley becomes better in the summer sun, and as enjoyable as ever. It also evokes an old friend who just gets cooler with time. A recent visit reveals why:
Joe Solis Barbecue.
The former longtime owner of Monte Vista Market on the hill in Monterey does barbecue with the best of them, and he sets up shop next to the Chevron across from Kasey’s most Fridays from 11am-1pm (419-2324), with a line forming before he starts serving. Carnivores get all aflutter for his Kahlua pork, “big boy” burger, chicken and ribs ($6.50-$10.25/sandwiches, $10.50-$12.25/meals), but his garlic bread – the platform for the sandwiches – is the stuff I dream of in my sleep. Keeping with the theme, an old friend I hadn’t seen since the playground – whaddup Chris Perkins – was waiting for tri-tip.
Brendan Jones Bacon.
It’s not cheap at $14 (plus $2 each for avocado and egg), but it was two delicious meals’ worth of lush applewood-smoked bacon, with aioli on sourdough, served by smiling Jolene Rust, who has moved back to the area after a life chapter in L.A. (Old friend alert!) It served notice Jones is back in the saddle after a near-sale of Lokal (659-5886), and still delivers one of the better brunchy lunches in the valley.
Speaking of brunches, Fabrice Roux dished a dizzying lineup of roasted asparagus, deviled eggs and fried paella balls (!) on a recent Saturday at his eponymous new restaurant (659-5020) on Pilot Road. Paired with a tour of the new chef garden-in-progess, a bottomless mimosa ($15), the oak-decorated patio and talk of the absurd wedding party he and partner/new bride Jennifer were planning there, it was a captivating morning by way of companionship and calories.
Big Sur Vino (and Art).
Chock Rock enjoyed a youthful vibrance in its tasting space next to Trailside Cafe on Del Fino, but Dan Karlsen et al decided to sell through the winery and wine club. Big Sur Vineyards (652-3020) inherits the space, and fills it with the striking photography of Richard Gebhart (husband to brand mastermindLenora Carey). Two flights ($10, $12) star a standout Pinot and Rhone blend. Hours are 11am-5pm Thursday-Monday.
Owner-operator Sean Allen has added taps in time for summer, now 16 all told, and reopened the welcoming pebbled garden in back. Barstools, benches, Adirondack chairs, funky-fresh beer signage and succulents help set a vibe for the sipping of craft brews like Hop Concept “Citrus and Piney” double IPA ($5-$7 per pint); live music kicks in on weekends.
Jerome Viel worked as an executive chef for years, including years at Wills Fargo, and now he’s introducing a new era at Carmel Valley Market (659-2472). He’s stocking intriguing grocery items that fit his native French tastes – escargot and the habit-forming black truffle potato chips among them – while reorganizing, localizing and deepening the wine and produce and, most importantly, building a kitchen for gourmet grab-and-go meals. One-time ownerCharlene Randazzo sold the store to Viel’s predecessor and is back to work the register, saying, “With all the new stuff it’s really exciting.”
The aforementioned landmark Will’s Fargo (659-2774) has officially opened its renovated back patio and is serving goods like avocado toast with fried eggs and pickled onions on grilled bread ($12) and cinnamon brioche French toast with bourbon cream ($12) for brunch/lunch Thursday-Monday 11:30am-3pm. Yay.
~ QUICKBITES ~
- Fun new event from Monterey County Vintners and Growers: Tunes, Trucks and Tastes on the River Road Wine Trail 11am-4pm Sunday, June 12 ($45/tasting and glass, $10/food truck “bucks,” $20 designated driver, montereywines.org, riverroadwinetrail.com): bands and food trucks appear at a bunch of wineries to pair music and food with superior Salinas Valley wines. See p. 43 for more.
- A new concept called Urban Wine Row gives Marina and Monterey County a stylish tasting experience with Comanche Cellars, Cima Collina and SinecureWine collaborating on special Saturday tastings at their warehouse wineries. More on the blog.
- John Cox will help consult on Cultura Comida y Bebida in Carmel, joining fellow Sierra Mar alums Sarah Kabat and Michelle Estigoy on what’s amounting to a creative Oaxacan-California-Mezcal dream spot. More on the blog.
- A farmers market favorite builds out its brand this summer as Tricycle Pizza introduces a brick-and-mortar outpost at the corner of David and Lighthouse in New Monterey (across from Carl’s Jr. and Coco’s). “We’re turning the property into something fun,” says Danica Alvarado, who adds they’re aiming for end of June/early July debut. The wood-fired pizza they do at Pacific Grove Farmers Market – chicken pesto, fennel sausage and mushroom, margarita, salami-pepperoni – will all appear, as will additional pies they didn’t have the bandwidth to introduce until now.
- Juice news nugget #1: Perfectly Pressed has added slushie-style juices for summer days at the Seaside (901-3900) and Salinas (998-8770) locations.
- Juice news nugget #2: My hombre with another nombre, Cousin Bill on the drums, tells me Tommy Faia and the Juice have a much awaited CD release party 6-9pm Sunday, June 12, at spacious Turn 12 Bar & Grill at Franklin and Tyler in Monterey.
- Bizarre-but-real thing #1: Monterey’s semi-secret rooftop bar has a new secret weapon on the grill. More on my Twitter feed, @MontereyMCA.
- Bizarre-but-real thing #2: A saint who goes by the nickname The Candy Man (Michael Cyrkeil) graciously gave me a ride to the airport in Vegas for free. He’s also a pit boss, and he invited all of you to The Fremont in downtown/oldtown Vegas when you’re next in the place that sleeps never ever. He even shared his number if anyone wants the drop on atypical fun spots (702-385-3232).
- Every Sunday and Monday 7:30-11am Happy Girl Kitchen (373-GIRL) brings it with a pancake breakfast ($5-$7, includes real maple syrup and fresh whipped cream). Every Tuesday night starting at 6pm they do pizza until they run out ($12/12-inch).
- The 14th annual Monterey Beer Festival happens Saturday, June 11 at the Monterey County Fairgrounds. Get the lowdown on p. 40.
- Good news for vegetarians, vegans and people who like good food: Julia’s Vegetarian (656-0533) has expanded its dinner serve to seven days a week and added weekend brunch. Daniel DeCamp was wowed; get his review on the previous page.
- Francisco Castellon has joined the kitchen at Hyatt Carmel Highlands as sous chef as they launch their newly remodeled and reimagined restaurant with a new deck overlooking the Pacific.
- Krug teams with Grasing’s for a fancy wine dinner Tuesday, June 14 ($195, 624-6562), in Carmel.
- Oceana just released a report revealing shortfalls in the Obama administration’s proposed traceability rule to address seafood fraud. Findings include 74 percent of the 50 types of seafood identified as mislabeled in the U.S. will not be covered by the proposed rule (like wild Alaska salmon) and 77 percent of mislabeled seafood occurred within the U.S. (beyond the reach of the rule).
- Eminem: ”The truth is you don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow.”