The sommeliers were drained like the Silver Oak. They were on the exhaust end of a 2010 Pebble Beach Food & Wine sprint that involved something like 2,000 bottles, 40 events and two hours of sleep.
So after helping them unload some reserve Roederer I volunteered to take their motorized ultility cart back across the huge Spanish Bay parking lot so they could catch the shuttle next to us.
Only when I reached my destination, there was a lil’ flock of foxy foodies exiting the demo area. They could use a ride.
I got a stern look from the valet when I dropped them, assured him I was one of the good guys and promised to stable the beast where it belonged.
But legendary chef Charlie Trotter was exiting with his sweetie upon my return to dock. “Hey chef! Need a ride?”
Trotter wasn’t into my questions about the presentation he just wrapped, giving me the “Yeah, yeah, great” nod before tucking into a quiet conversation with his lady. But upon his deposit at the lobby, he did grant me this: a $5 tip.
Surreal. And quite a ride. Not unlike 2010 food in Monterey County.
Seeing so many promising restaurants light up a dark economic atmosphere was certainly surreal – and renewing. Wildly popular Happy Girl Farms (372-GIRL) is suddenly making pickling sexy again in P.G. In Marina, Noodle Bar number two (384-6225) built upon a fun family business that occupies their awesome (and tiny) coffee-bar-style spot in Seaside. Just up from the little Noodle Bar, their cousin Mikey Nguyen opened hot fusion spot Chopstix (899-2622), packing enough folks in to earn another outpost, coming soon near Del Monte Center.
Element Tasting Bar and Pizza Bistro (998-7045) was a River Road revelation. Not far from there, Rancho Cielo, landmark vocational educational center for troubled kids, added Drummond Culinary Academy.
Bellagio Pizzeria (643-9500), Habanero’s (375-3700) and Luxe Lounge, meanwhile, filled in a big void where Croce’s and Doc’s once reigned in Monterey. Sakana Sushi (375-7375) is now doing clever maki around the corner from there. MYO number two (649-FROY) is bustling just up Alvarado.
Flanagan’s Irish-American Pub (625-5500) gives Carmel’s Barnyard a vital watering hole (and good fries). Michael’s Taqueria (754-8917) is uplifting Oldtown Salinas, and ballyhooed Cannery Row Brewing Company offers the Row and the wider county nothing less than a game-changer that’s actually up to the outsized hype.
Miss Delish (612-1884) rode farmers market acclaim to a storefront on Lighthouse. Former Duffy Hunter’s Tavern owners opened up Down Under Deli (625-DELI) in Mid-Valley.
Pastries and Petals (620-1400) does style, savory and sweet on an off-beat street in Carmel while Babaloo Cuban Cuisine (262-4150) provides our first real food truck with pick-up.
The homegrown Bakery Station (783-1140) transformed an old gas station into a hub of freshness. KT’s Sweet Lunch (214-7465) redefined delivery. Monterey Bay Salt Company (760-6993) got grinding with help from top local chefs. Itsy bitsy Viva La Crepe (601-4847) raised the bar for fast French on the Italian-dominated Wharf.
Two of my favorite chefs found under-the-radar hideouts perfect for insiders to quietly tap their talents: Brian Christensen of Stokes took over Brophy’s (624-2476) and David Frappeia now steers Chamisal’s open-to-the-public Courtside Cafe (649-1135 x17). PigWizard (236-1844) got a USDA nod (and as of this week, a spot at the Monterey farmers market). Big Sur got sushi at Treebones! (805-927-2390).
New French countryside-style Toast Carmel Valley (659-8500) can make a claim to best breakfast in the valley – and lunch and dinner ain’t bad either. Up Carmel Valley Road, Tim Wood is ushering in a new era of eats at Carmel Valley Ranch’s Lodge (625-9500) with help from ace gardener Mark Marino.
Some rebirths were wondrous: The Otters Den (883-1227) is totally repimped in Marina. The Penny Farthing Tavern (422-5652) and Pajaro Street Grill (783-1285) are back as institutions in Salinas. Terranova Fine Wines’ (333-1313) second coming boasts impressive technology and ambiance.
The best birth, though, came right before Christmas, when Weekly Assistant Editor Kera Abraham laid Kahlil Robert Panni on us.
And hey, the Special Edible food blog walked its first 196 baby posts in 2010, with highlights including advice from Thomas Keller, “teacup” pot-bellied pig video and a big buffet of food scoops. It’s there you can find my rankings of the year’s biggest surprises, most painful extinctions and best events.
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The industry lost a close pal with the passing of Gilles Szumacher, the incomparable Parisian sommelier at Casanova’s… The increasingly culinary Fungus Fair in Santa Cruz (www.scfungusfair.org) is Jan. 7-9… The Clambake for a Cure is back for year two (hooray away) Feb. 10 with a stunning chef lineup. $75, www.clambakeforacure.com… As Plato said, “The beginning is the most important part of the work.”