Chamber of commerce ribbon cuttings are generally low-key insider affairs – snacks and handshakes, oversize scissors, a couple dozen people. That was not the case at brand-new Carmel Valley Chophouse (659-5886) Dec. 2, when a two-hour open house fielded 400 people and the crowd flowed from the restaurant, filling the patio and spilling onto the sidewalk at 13762 Center St.
Such is the enthusiasm for the latest restaurant for Fabrice and Jennifer Roux, whose first C.V. spot (Roux) quickly earned a loyal following. That success – and a glimpse at the food – makes the excitement understandable. The “crispy quacks,” essentially duck chicharrones, have been the best-seller so far, but there is no shortage of temptation beyond them, including 21-day-aged Wagyu beef back ribs, 32-day bone-in New York strip, beer chili and Maine lobster thermidor. (More on the blog, mcweekly.com/edible.) Dinner runs 4:30-10pm (food until 8pm) Tuesday-Sunday, 4-11pm Friday-Saturday (kitchen closes 9pm), with Mondays off.
The pair originally planned to open a French restaurant, but leapt into the carnivorous void created by the departure of Will’s Fargo. But that doesn’t mean those ambitions have said au revoir. In fact, amid the fanfare for Chophouse, they have quietly entered into escrow for beloved institution Fifi’s Cafe Bistro(372-5325) on Forest Hill in Pacific Grove.
Fifi’s co-owners Michèle and Calvin Wilkes have won the Weekly readers’ vote for Best French Restaurant as frequently as any eatery in the area, and have mastered the elusive hospitality alchemy as only the best restaurants can, wherein the whole experience is greater than the sum of the ingredients.
No one testified to that more articulately than my predecessor in this space, Ray Napolitano. All his Queens, New York toughness fell away when it came to Fifi’s, and his reveries stick with me. “The prices are all in line,” he wrote. “The quality is always there. The experience always offers more than your money’s worth. Any way you play it, the hard work of Michèle, Calvin and their dedicated staff has sculpted a wonderful expression of the true bistro. Go, try, enjoy.”
There are more surprises lingering in and around the Chophouse swirl of activity. The Rouxes were one of four local parties to win a California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control liquor license lottery, which means Chophouse and Fifi’s will both end up with cocktail programs (the Rouxes possess another license). The Chophouse program will focus on American and Japanese whiskeys, via flights, tasting and special dinners.
“There’s a lot of exciting new culinary entertainment ideas happening,” Jennifer Roux says. “People are listening to their audience and taking chances.”
The other winners of the lottery are il vecchio in Pacific Grove; Paul Whitecross of Britannia Arms and forthcoming Pacific Grove tavern The Monarch; andHotel 1110 in Monterey.
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News flash: People go crazy about their pizza. So this will be a week with its fair share of insanity.
People go ga-ga for pizza pies at Little Star Pizza, a cult hit in the San Francisco Bay Area for years now, thanks to deep-dish Brussels sprout pizzas, thin-crust chicken-bacon pizzas and spicy wings. Michael Foley staffed its original Divisadero Street location for a decade, working his way up from pizza maker to general manager.
After relocating, he’s been relentlessly reinventing the space at 700 Cass St. #2, kitty corner from the Monterey Post Office (in the former Kathy’s), while laying down language like “local,” “sustainable” and “the best deep-dish pizza ever.”
The reborn space looks sleek, with a clever peace-pizza sign for Heirloom Pizza Co. (717-4363), a patio, contemporary interior, integrated sound system and shiny taps ready to flow beers from English Ales, Discretion and Bear Tent.
Target open date is Wednesday, Dec. 13. The menu proves magnetic – note the “slider” pie with meatballs, mushrooms, onions, roasted garlic and extra cheese.
When asked what has him most pumped, Foley has an answer ready: “I’m most excited to become a part of the community in Monterey. Coming from the city it’s nice to get back to a place where being a local means a little more.” Hours will be 11:30am-9pm Monday, Wednesday and Thursday, 11:30-10pm Friday, 3-10pm Saturday, 3-9pm Sunday, closed Tuesday.
On the other side of Monterey (2440 Fremont St.), Mama Joyce’s Take N Bake Pizza (375-7272) is set to open Monday, Dec. 11, in the former Papa Murphy’s. Customers will build their own pies or hone in on six specialty pizzas ($17/large; $19/extra large) like the Perky Pesto with spinach, basil, mushrooms, roma tomatoes, olive, garlic, mozzarella and Parmesan and Grandpa’s Everything But the Kitchen Sink with sausage, salami, bacon, pepperoni, ground beef, mozzarella and Monterey jack.
“We’ve always sat around the table and made pizza as a family,” says John Parker, one-fourth of the double-couple ownership with his wife Amanda and Joyce and Paul Jarl. “Being able to show kids and pass on the recipe is fun. And it’s pizza. Everybody loves pizza.”
The final pizza note: MidiCi, “The Neapolitan Pizza Company,” has officially confirmed it’s coming to 467 Alvarado St. in Monterey, filling 3,044 square feet between Poke Lab and Revival Ice Cream. Hopeful open date is June 20.