Do the math: This style of fast-happening infatuation makes speed dating look sloth-in-quicksand slow (and far less fulfilling). Not that I endorse the stupid-quick romances that I am about to propose, but in order to squeeze all of the epicurean affection out of the 25 chefs and 200 wineries that will appear at both of the Pebble Beach Food & Wine’s Grand Tastings, foodies will have to fall in love with one world-class wine or celebrity-chef creation every 48 seconds. For three hours.
In short, there’s gonna be a lot of love in the room (actually, a 60,000-square-foot tent).
As the second annual kicked off early Thursday with a range of celebrity chefs hoisting Cristal and lobster sandwiches at Pebble Beach Golf Links’ first tee, some great values, including a few tickets to the Grand Tastings, remain, despite ticket sales that have pleasantly surprised co-founder and event planning chief Rob Weakley.
“We’re actually looking really good – everything is in line, the weather’s even calling for 70s on the coast,” he said Monday after leaving the ongoing setup in the tasting tent, where he says his appeals to break into one of the 20 pallets of Cristal and Roederer were denied (“C’mon on guys, shouldn’t we open a bottle of 1979 to see if it’s still good?”).
When asked to identify the best remaining values, both Weakley and his operations pointman Gary Obligación automatically talk Grand Tasting. “That’s an easy one,” Obigación says, but not before bird-dogging some others that he says “pop off the page.”
For wine tastings, he pegs biodynamic stud Michel Chapoutier’s Tour de Rhone Tasting on Saturday. “For a Rhone fan it’s a beautiful tasting, because you’re touching every part of the Rhone and each is represented by one of the great vineyards,” he says. “If you’re not a Rhone fan, it’s an incredible education on what the area does and how to get wonderful quality wines at a more accessible price point than Bordeaux or Burgundy.”
From the remaining cooking demos, he loves “One Woman’s Journey – From Cat Cora’s Kitchen to Iron Chef America” and Chef Jamie Lauren and Chef Stefan Richter – Top Chefs Behind the Scenes.”
But it’s getting late – and all events have been available a la carte for a few days – so interested parties better move quickly (622-7770, www.pebblebeachfoodandwine.com). Of course, that’d be good practice for the Grand Tastings.
Keep an eye on our website from Thursday on, as we, in service of the Weekly’s cherished readership, will bravely test the frothy culinary seas to photo-blog live from a range of events, starting with the toast at the first tee.
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Though they give nearby Roger’s Tacos a run for the Seaside crown of Most Culturally Misnamed, Jim’s Restaurant is a decidedly authentic Chinese outlet run by an industrious and tightly knit family who smilingly rotate through the maybe-12-table dining room and kitchen. Wedged into a tiny, hole-in-the-wall strip-mall space on Del Monte Avenue, it’s a hard-to-find-but-hard-to-forget spot East-leanin’ eaters will be happy to try out (394-5117).
Guided there by local writer-professor-colleague Kelley Calvert, our three-top frolicked in a festival of vegetarian goodies, passing well-executed fried bean curd, fresh spring rolls and tofu with black mushrooms around the table while especially relishing the fried rice and screaming-good garlic string beans.
Prices are reasonable for dinner (around $6-$10 a dish) and the specials look good: 27 choices like Mandarin pork and lemon chicken with fried rice, steamed rice or chow mein for $5.95 at lunch and $6.95 a dinner during the week ($6.95 all day on weekends). And the service is sweet and sincere.
A half-century of superior steaks in a magnetic saloon setting merits a celebration – so that’s what one carnivorous institution will sink its teeth into this month in Carmel Valley. Will’s Fargo (659-2774) came into being when Will Fay took over a one-time road house on the “milk run” between Monterey and Tassajara 50 years ago, which makes WF one of the oldest steakhouses in the Golden State. His desire to offer certified hand-picked prime rib and steaks cut to diners’ specifications continues to resonate today – now owned by Bernardus and steered by Chef Cal Stamenov and Manager-Chef de Cuisine, Jerome Viel, the filet, top sirloin chateau, Kansas City, porterhouse and rib-eye cuts make it a perennial contender for Best Steakhouse in Monterey County among Weekly readers.
They’re celebrating with $19.59 three-course dinners and classic cocktail specials now through Friday, April 24, when they’ll convene what they’re calling a “Will’s style” happy hour birthday bash – barbecue, new release Bernardus wines, music from local Pat Ireland and plenty of memories.
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Local culinary instructor Dorothy McNett poured me a pleasant surprise this weekend at Clementine’s Kitchen (392-1494). There to select a birthday gift for a pal (ultimately striking gold with a bamboo cutting board), I noticed other customers cruising the aisles with tall wine goblets. A touch of intense investigative journalism revealed that they frequently host tastings on Saturdays (they suggest calling ahead); this week’s 2008 Mann Reisling and 2006 Chateau Christina Pinot Noir earned unanimous approval from everyone I heard offer comment, and deservedly so.
Meanwhile, McNett’s popular classes held in their adorable little onsite demo kitchen continue to sell out. Visit www.clementineskitchen.com to learn more about classes like “Risotto and More,” “Quiche Buffet” and “Knife Skills.”
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Every Friday Taste Morgan in the Carmel Crossroads (626-3700) hand-plucks one or two cheeses from the Cheese Shop to be paired with its assortment of wines. From 2 – 5pm people are invited to enjoy the wine and cheese pairings at no additional tasting fee; same time two days later it’s Library Sundays, with rare chances to sip something older from the cellar (and featured wines may be available for purchase on a very limited basis). April 19 is 1999 Californian Sauvignon Blanc; April 26 is 2001 Monterey Chardonnay. $5 tasting fees are refunded with the purchase of a bottle… Saucy lunch and dinner deals at Willy’s Smokehouse ($6.95 and $9.95, respectively). Different daily (think Mama’s Boy meatloaf sandwiches and such for lunch, Zeke’s fried chicken with mashed spuds, fresh veggies and country gravy for din din). 372-8880… Out past the Carmel Valley Village resurgent Rosie’s Cracker Barrel (659-2659) has a killer deal going for busy folks looking to grab dinner for the family – $5.99 for ready-to-eat entrees like pot pies or tortellini and a small salad. And they’re doing all sorts of baking and coffee making, concert promoting in partnership with Plaza Linda – call to see what they’re serving/what’s cooking/and swing through… From the Memorable Maki Files: A specialty roll called the Grinch Roll from the new Japanese joint Harumi (899-9988) on Fremont Street in the same Seaside University Center Plaza as Baan Thai. It’s spendy ($13.50) but super-sized and superlative, with deep-fried soft shell crab wrapped with spicy tuna and topped with avocado, tuna, wasabi, tobiko sweet sauce, spicy aioli and, to great effect, some seaweed salad-style translucent greens… Grasing’s Coastal Cuisine (624-6562) has some salivating things shaking at Mission and Sixth in Carmel. Weekends 10:30am-3pm an “endless brunch” pairs an entrée with infinite mimosas for 20 bucks; 5-9pm Sunday through Thursday “The New Deal Menu” proffers prix fixe choices for three courses of items like crab risotto, duck and wild mushroom lasagna, cappuccino brulée for $29.95 ($15 for sommelier pairings); every night on the patio cocktail and wine specials complement a new small bites lineup starting at $5 from 5-7pm… I’ve been hearing good things about Golden Fish (422-4946) on Main Street in Salinas and they didn’t let me down the other day. They treat their diverse fresh seafood specials with customer’s choice of sauces (lemon caper, habañero, roasted garlic, mango, avocado or salsa fresca) and my sand dabs were sustainably sourced (though I doubt I could say the same of the snapper) and tasty, if a lil’ overpriced for lunch at $14.95. The cream of lobster bisque and cioppino they serve Wednesday-Thursday and Friday-Saturday, respectively, look like a good value at $3.50/cup and $6.75/bowl.