Everybody eats. Only nobody can predict the stunners the restaurant world will reveal.
Those are the primary reasons the food beat is the tastiest in town, a gift that keeps giving, meal after meal, month after month.
A quick look at the top surprises of 2014 provides a smorgasbord of proof:
13. Cars crashed into things.
Taqueria Zarape had the busiest debut of any eatery not named Giorgio’s all year, thanks to big “turbo” burritos, superb shrimp tacos, a nice salsa bar and earnest service. Not long after they opened, a car smashed into their patio. But it wasn’t the most sensational wreck of the month, or the half-mile radius. That was the man who ran his car into the sign at Seaside’s DMV… during his drive test.
12. In-N-Out actually moved in.
People have obsessed over the back-and-forth, up-and-down of In-N-Out finding a suitable spot in Seaside for years. Now the beloved burger joint has a 2.2 parcel at 1350 Del Monte Blvd. near Holiday Inn Express. Its opening is likely a year off.
11. People completed insane treks.
For some reason, people taking on truly mind-boggling epic challenges found their way to me and the column. As part of the Great Pacific Race, people rowed boats from Cannery Row to Hawaii. I met a kid walking from Florida to Seattle, by way of Big Sur and Seaside. Then came a cancer survivor pushing a giant testicle across the country.
10. Jim Gilbert secretly took over more of the restaurant world.
Rappa’s at the end of Fisherman’s Wharf and The Whaling Station, two of the most visited restaurants in the region, were bought up by Gilbert’s restaurant group, without him making more than a peep. (He leaves much of operations and messaging to partner Kevin Phillips.) Those join Beach House at Lovers Point (a big 2013 splash), Abalonetti’s and yet-another-concept-to-come as part of a pudgy-and-getting-pudgier restaurant portfolio.
9. Two Carmel pillars launched new projects.
Booked-up rustic Italian farm-to-kitchen spot la Balena is adding il Grillo for more dining and deli options, plus a bigger kitchen for more butchering and pasta-making. Dametra’s singing-and-dancing approach to pan-Mediterranean bred a grab-and-go sibling in Del Monte Center.
8. Carmel inched toward night life.
Affina restaurant introduced an invigorating wine bar, a grand piano fun and a farmers market-fresh menu. Barmel pioneered nightly entertainment, including touring acts like Baby Gramps and Screamin’ Rebel Angels. The upwelling of wine tasting rooms provided a variety of venues for acoustic music and mingling.
7. Monterey County tasting rooms hit the speed limit.
With another wave of new tasting rooms, the area total is 56. Check out the first-ever comprehensive tasting room guide at www.mcweekly.com/tastingrooms, and do it on your mobile device for best results.
6. Lucky’s Roadside gave Seaside more than it had an appetite for.
For a city ravenous for a hip restaurant, Bill Lee’s latest project gave it that – and a primer on the highs and lows of new restaurants, with a booming debut, controversial chef change and speedy demise featuring Lee’s exit after seven months. But great news followed: Basil Carmel co-owner and Italy native Denis Boaro is bringing a rustic-but-modern Italian concept starring his parents doing prep.
5. Oldtown Salinas is back, period.
Giorgio’s is more than a pretty place with the soaring ceilings, vintage design, glowing bar and sweet fire-pitted patio. It’s socially alive and full of flavorful homemade pastas, braised meats and popular pizzas. Combined with Patria’s late 2013 arrival and Dubber’s clean and fun bar-grill scene, Oldtown often has more energy than downtown Monterey
4. A craft brewer faced down the big bullies at MillerCoors.
Local brewmaster Jeff Moses saw Blue Moon tread on his trademark for the use of the word graffiti on beverages. He sent a cease and desist, adding “it’s an insult to graffiti artists to use street art to represent a mass-produced product.” The real surprise: MillerCoors backed down, abandoning their brands. That never happens.
3. Bahama Grille melted down.
Michael Lipe dished up a cautionary tale when he suddenly shuttered the South Main Street spot and all its kitchen gear disappeared overnight, leaving a team of employees out in the cold, financially and emotionally.
2. Coastal Luxury partners split.
Co-founder Rob Weakley’s departure came as part of a particularly epic – and exhausting – CLM year: Rose.Rabbit.Lie and Faith & Flower debuted in Vegas and L.A., respectively. Key lieutenants Tobias Peach and William Townsend started their own firm to steer Rich Pepe’s dynasty, only to get their own surprise: Pepe wasn’t as committed, pulling a sneaky firing that could get him in trouble for breach of contract. Most promisingly, David Bernahl and company recruited Jason Franey to run 1833’s kitchen.
1. The “biggest” food story of the year is about banning babies.
It shouldn’t have even been the biggest story about the Shake family’s restaurants. (That was the announcement of the incoming Scales Seafood and Steaks oyster bar/restaurant/cafe in the expansive former Gilbert’s.) But word that Ol’ Fisherman’s Grotto had a sign saying crying children aren’t permitted in the dining room led to 70 radio and TV stories in 48 hours. Check please.
➔ Bonus surprise (see story, left): Carmel landmark Casanova closed for more than two days for the first time in 30 years around Christmas for a remodel. More major Georis restaurant news: A division of the family of restaurants that includes La Bicyclette and Casanova is rumored as brothers Gaston and Walter get older and their families get bigger and more complicated. Get more on the blog, www.mcweekly.com/edible.
➔ Eight words I never thought I’d type: My favorite new eatery is a cupcake boutique. Check out how Mrs. Delish's (612-1884) new outpost in Monterey earns affection on the blog, or get such updates direct to your inbox with the Food E-newsletter via www.mcweekly.com/subscribe.
➔ Bernardus is deep into its massive makeover that will combine Wickets and Marinus, add breakfast and open both to a reimagined lobby. The big, iconic Ben Pon white couch is bye bye.
➔ Persian Grill on Lighthouse Avenue in New Monterey has posted a sign that reads “Closed. Out of Business.”
➔ Salinas Sports Tavern has undergone another makeover, which included a wall getting knocked out to connect the dart/billiards room and the main space. As the new year starts they aim at menu changes too.
➔ Peta2, the youth division of PETA, gave a Libby award for best new vegan food item to the Big Sur Breakfast Burrito made by Moss Landing’s Sweet Earth Natural Foods.
➔ The Hope Center for Monterey receives 10 percent of the proceeds from the first Tuesday of every month from Favaloro’s Big Night Bistro, including Jan. 6.
➔ Game Night Tuesdays are live at Jacks Lounge (649-2698) in January: Scrabble, checkers, chess, $25 includes two signature cocktails or glasses of wine and a bar menu item.
➔ It’s official: No more puns on Mucky Duck, as of today, Jan. 1. It’s now Bull and Bear Whiskey Bar & Taphouse (655-3031).
➔ Restaurant 1833 (643-1833) has a new wine director. More on the blog.
➔ Henry Moore: “I think in terms of the day’s resolutions, not the years’.”