There are glass bottles of Lebanese rose water ($2.99), tubes of Alex’s Meat “baby bologna” ($6), containers of sesame tahini ($9.99) and herring both marinated in packs ($4.25-$8/pound) and waiting in a pail in the back ($5.50).
They’re found in a little place like none other in Monterey County – unless there’s another that carries Armenian yogurt, whole bean Turkish coffee, Hungarian wines, Greek dolmas, Lebanese hummus, a range of international baklavas and several dozen tubs of Middle Eastern spices like red aleppo ($2/tub) and za’atar ($1.75).
At International Market & Deli (375-9451) in New Monterey, Lebanese news plays on the TV and Eli and May Saliba await behind the counter next to a shelf that holds Greek ouzo and its Turkish cousin, raki – and drips nazar (or “evil-eye”) jewelry to ward away the devil.
I often come for the tasty house-made falafel sandwich ($5.99; $7.99/plate), sometimes for the small but exotic beer selection – with bottles like Kaiserdom Pilsener ($3.50/half liter) from Germany and Baltica ($2.99) from Russia – and always for a look around.
While Eli preps my falafel and a spiced lamb-and-beef gyro wrap ($6.99; $8.99 with Greek salad and dolmas), I tour the two short-but-stuffed aisles and coolers, poring over shredded phyllo dough ($3.50), kefirs ($3.99), quince preserves ($2.99-$3.75), Turkish delights ($11.99 and up), two types of marinating olives ($3.99-$5.99/pound) and three styles of soaking fetas ($5.99-$8.99).
Lebanese Americans Eli and May have been there for five years, after buying it from Eli’s sister; the outpost itself has been around for a quarter century. While Eli clearly loves providing familiar grocery goods for the 300 or so foreign families whose parents teach at the Defense Language Institute just up the hill, he insists the prepped tastes are his favorite part of the operation.
“I like to do my own food best,” he says. “I make the hummus, the babaganoush, the tabouli, everything. The only thing I buy is the gyro meat.”
The exotic spot fits poetically into the top international block in town, with bangin’ barbecue from Won Ju Korean (656-0672), yum fish burritos from Taquería del Mar (372-7887) and fun sushi that ranges from Kazu’s crazy karaoke-moat boat experience at Sakura (373-1767) to the clean creativity at Crystal Fish (649-3474). Plus there’s two huge value spots squeezed in, with two combo slices for $3.50 at Pelican Pizza (649-4040) and the lunch ($5.95) and early bird ($9.95) specials at Loose Noodle (641-0130). I’m moving back to New Monterey.
• The folks behind the pioneering CSA-of-the-sea, Local Catch Monterey Bay (345-5153) have sent subscribers fresh spiny lobster, swordfish and chili-pepper rockfish in recent weeks. (It’s $20 a small share, $40 a family portion.) Now they’re inviting everyone to brand new La Balena on Junipero north of Sixth in Carmel for a pop-up dinner ($75++) with Colleen Logan of Savor (708-8315) Dec. 16. Learn more about Chef Salvatore Panzuto’s plans for La Balena’s soups, pastas and rib-eyes on the blog.
• Underappreciated Salinas spot The Steinbeck House (424-2735) – just try the Monte Cristo special before it expires Nov. 30 – is doing a different holiday thing, with an open house 11am-3pm Dec. 1 and two Christmas tea parties ($25) stacked with fresh-baked scones, tea sandwiches, desserts and more Dec. 8 and 15.
•The angels at the Auxiliary of Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula have compiled more than 200 recipes in Recipes to CHOMP On ($15.95), a cookbook to benefit hospital programs. Call 625-4823 for info. And yes, the hype is right: I tried a strawberry shake from the cafe by the fountain ($3.22) and it was berry-fresh-and-creamy excellence. Just maybe the best in Monterey Bay.
• Chef Willi Franz layers on jumbo crab cakes, gem lettuce love, braised short ribs and more at American Culinary Federation’s holiday party ($50) on top of downtown in the Marriott. Food Bank for Monterey County and Rancho Cielo benefit. 915-9357.
• More angel food news: The Monterey County Gives! holiday fundraising push had reached $81,700 by press time, not counting the $100,000 match from the Weekly and chief backers David and Lucile Packard Foundation and Neumeier Poma Investment Counsel. Just the Health, Wellness and Food category alone is loaded with worthy forces of good like Rice Plus and Meals on Wheels. Giving is as easy as it is fulfilling and fun at www.montereygives.com.
• Even more: Three canned food items equals a ticket – which usually starts at $30 – to the American Le Mans Monterey race in July. It’s part of the SCRAMP volunteers’ effort to help the Salvation Army; they’re receiving donations at the main office and souvenir store, in the race paddock. Hit 242-8201 for more.
• Guy Fieri trashes Hollister – or not. Check out the blog for more.
• Carmel Valley’s East End Wine Row Holiday Taste ($50) debuts the collaboration between Chesebro Wines, Cima Collina, Dawn’s Dream, Holman Ranch, Joyce Vineyards, Parsonage and Silvestri Saturday, Dec. 8 with two tastes from each and snacks from Cafe Rustica, Lokal, Vineyard Bistro and Paradise Catering. www.eastendwinerow.com.
• The must-do, crab-crackin’ Portuguese Hall glory is back. Jan. 13, $45 earns all-you-can-eat cioppino, garlic bread, salad and cheap wine. And though they seat hundreds over two seatings, it will sell out. 204-0584.
• Take it away, Patti LaBelle: “You don’t have to be an angel,” she says, “just be someone who can give.”