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Let's eat.

From Big Sur's killer cliff-clinging eateries to Salinas' unparalleled produce, this blog aims to sniff out all things Monterey County can stomach, via picture and prose, curiosity and appetite, hand and mouth.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Cannery Row Animal

video

The coolest thing on Cannery Row isn’t the Forrest Gump haircut on the look alike guy or the pygmy seahorses.

It’s the mechanical bull El Mariachi Restaurant (324-4953) has in its dining room. I went in the other night for some Monday Night Football and the place was dead empty, but that was OK with this cowboy because it meant as many rides as we wanted, instant service from a cool bartender and quick delivery of some sturdy super nachos.

Turns out three turns on the bovine is just fine (and the operator/barkeep said he was taking it easy on us). The happy hour’s pretty good (half-price apps, $3.50 margaritas, beers that start at $2, 4-7pm weekdays) too.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Breakthrough Technology Alert: Beer Taps at Your Table

Though the Niners stink like a Porta Potty in the sun, there are some good things going on this football season. Like the redone Knuckles’ (372-1234) menu—Kobe beef mini dogs! California cheese steaks with sun-dried tomatoes and avocado!—and their tableside tap service, aka the Table Tender.

It is actually pretty cool. I was thinking it was a gimmick/dangerous to have a beer spout right there rising from your table, but on a busy game day, it is totally clutch to be able to tap yourself some
Kona Longboard or Coors Light rather than tackling a waiter. It bills by the ounce.

It’s $40 to reserve, but if no one has roped it off, you can swoop in there as we did and let the good times flow.

Standing record for a day, I’m told by 20-year vet Cindy the Superserver (seen here demo-ing the spout), is 1,300-plus ounces, which are tracked by the little digital monitor in the wall.

Extra point: Go in on a Tuesday and have a 50/50 chance of having your food paid for—they flip a coin as part of a promotion they’re calling “Toss It Up Tuesday.”

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Mucky Duck's Deal of the Year

The one and only Mucky Duck (655-3031), where the food is underrated and Jean the bartender is my hero—you owe it to yourself, if you like shooters, to try a Jean’s Genie, above—has the best deal in town Wednesdays with half-price night.

They celebrated the holidays by extending the deal to the whole week. The last day is this Thursday. That means half-price nachos....

...and fried pickles! A burgeoning magazine club and I descended on a recent Wednesday, ate and drank to our literary hearts' content—six of us—and still only spent $100, tops.

You know what to do.


Monday, December 27, 2010

Feeding the Need

Angels live among us.

Evidence—extensive evidence—lingers no further than the ever inspiring Monterey County Gives! website, which profiles the scores of local nonprofits participating in
the Monterey County Weekly Community Fund's annual fund-raising push.

Surprisingly few food/hunger-centered groups are involved—the Health, Wellness & Food category includes just two—but they are about as vital to our area's well-being as any organizations out there.

Ag Against Hunger feeds millions with what essentially would be thrown away. Without the Spreckels-based nonprofit, 11 million pounds of produce would have ended up in compost heaps or in landfills this year, instead of at local food banks which in turn distribute the food to groups that need it. The growers who produced that food would have had to pay a fee to dispose of it, and hungry people in three counties on the Central Coast, as well as those elsewhere in California, Colorado, Utah, Arizona and Washington, would not have access to fresh produce.

“We can actually feed one person for one pound of produce, and given that 11 million pounds were saved last year,” Ag Against Hunger spokeswoman Lindsay Coate told me last week. "That’s a staggering amount of people."

Much of their goods go to Food Bank for Monterey County, which leverages every dollar donated into seven pounds of food for the neediest bellies in town.

Donating to these do-gooders, or any of the many assembled on the Gives! website, is easy. I picked five of my favorites to give to and completed the donation in about two minutes.

Even if it's just a couple bucks that still helps a given group compete for bonus funds for drawing the greatest number of donors (or donors under 35). Better yet, the Weekly is adding $100,000 in donations to match reader giving.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

A Christmas Gift For You: Three Rockstar Recipes

You can't spell celebration without e, a and t. To honor the holiday spirit of generosity and good eatin', three standout chefs from the Sardine Factory, the Preserve and Domenico's/Cafe Fina have shared unique and uniquely delectable dishes with Special Edible readers.

I was sold at "lollipop," but, like the Sardine Factory—which just added a new tapas menu and upgraded the front lounge—it gets better: You can eat the "handle." The Factory was already one of our local capitals for calamari, now they do it with even more style. And you can too.

Calamari Puff Lollipops
Bert Cutino
Sardine Factory

Serves 8

2 ½ lbs cleaned squid, filet only
½ medium onion, chopped
1 egg
1 parsley, chopped
1 bunch green onion, finely chopped
½ tablespoon granulated garlic
¼ cup cracker meal
¼ cup bread crumbs
1 tablespoon salt and pepper
oil to fry

Chop squid into small pieces. Add onion, egg, parsley, salt and pepper and granulated garlic into bowl. Mix thoroughly. Add half of cracker meal, baking soda and bread crumbs into mixture. Form into little two-ounce oval balls (about 1 inch in diameter) and roll balls into remaining mixture. Lay on sheet pan with parchment paper. Let set. Fry at 350°. Cook balls in a deep fat fryer until golden brown. Serve hot with your favorite sauce.

"We’ve been eating crab at my Nana’s on Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve every year since I was born,” says Dominic Mercurio, owner of Café Fina and Domenico’s on the Wharf.

Mercurio gets King Crab for his restaurants directly from the F/V Time Bandit, made famous on the Discovery Channel’s Deadliest Catch.

“King crab is so sweet and flavorful, like lobster," he says, "you don’t have to do much to it,” He usually serves it simply with butter and a few drops of lemon. Or he will crack the legs down the middle and serve them open-faced with a light scampi sauce.

When it comes to local Dungeness crab, he deploys a range of treatments: chilled with cocktail sauce and lemon; steamed with drawn butter; cioppino-style in a savory, light tomato broth; sautéed with crab butter, a bit of sweet wine, butter, green onions and a touch of hot sauce; and finally, his Nana’s Sicilian Salad-style, with an oil and vinegar-based marinade.

Nana’s Sicilian Salad-style Dungeness crab recipe

Domenic Mercurio
Cafe Fine • Domenico's

¾ cup of extra virgin olive oil
¼ cup of red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons chopped garlic
¼ cup of chopped flat leaf parsley
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
Juice of one lemon
Salt and pepper to taste

Mix all the ingredients together in a bowl large enough for the three crabs. Add crab, stirring every 15 minutes for one hour to let the marinade saturate. Serve chilled. Preparation can be done in the morning or afternoon, as it is perfectly fine to let the crab sit for up to five hours refrigerated.


While the rain drives some insane in a nasty way, it moves local fungifiles to happy insanity. One of the most revered treasures they uncover: candy caps, a fragrant, syrupy sweet mushroom used in cooking to flavor foods like vanilla or truffles.

Santa Lucia Preserve Chef Carlton Lepine is a fungi pro who leads hunts through the ideally damp redwood and oak underbrush. When he scores these spores, the Preserve's residents and members win big. And while a lot out there off Carmel Valley Road costs hundreds of thousands, now you can eat like them without the massive mortgage.

Candy Cap Blondies

Carlton Lepine
Santa Lucia Preserve

1 1/2 cups light brown sugar firmly packed

1 cup unsalted butter
¼ cup candy cap mushroom, dried, ground fine 

2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
¾ teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt 

2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¾ cup butterscotch chips

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Butter and flour a 9-by-13-inch glass baking dish.
Put the sugar in a large bowl. Melt the butter in a small skillet or in the microwave in a glass measuring cup. Stir the butter into the sugar until smooth, cool to room temperature.
In another medium bowl, whisk the Candy Cap mushrooms, flour, baking soda and salt together.
Beat the eggs and vanilla into the sugar mixture. Add the flour mixture a bit at a time and mix until a smooth thick batter forms. Fold in the chips, as desired.
Spoon the batter to the prepared dish and spread evenly to fill the dish. Bake until the Blondies are light brown around the edges and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 20 to 25 minutes.
Remove from the oven and let cool slightly. Invert onto a rack and cool completely. Cut into squares and serve.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Bacon Revolution Is Just Beginning

Maybe you're like my editor, who's had enough of the bacon insanity that has been sizzling in our culture for the past few years.

"Bacon is our god," she says. "We are worshiping our pork-belly master."

Or maybe you're like me. I was attacking bacon-wrapped dogs from L.A. food carts before Tonya Harding's goons were attacking Nancy Kerrigan's leg. I've believed a breakfast joint is only as good as its bacon since I could say "over easy." I once named a kitten after a Baja California dish that wrapped prawns and jack cheese in you know what. (The little baller's name was Shrimp Papagayo.)

In a culture obsessed with bacon, I'm not just a member, I'm an early adopter and enthusiastic card-carrier. Just the other day I discovered NorCal's Bacon Hot Sauce, ordered some online and blew through two bottles ($14.99/three-pack; check out www.baconhotsauce.com).



But as cooks began chicken-frying bacon in Snook, Texas (check out the above vid), bakers started stuffing it in scones, Whole Foods kept slanging chocolate-bacon candy bars...



and YouTube freaks went on greasing us with videos on candy bacon (above) or weaving bacon into whole blankets, I figured we were approaching reached a saturation point.

Nope.



Now you can give your baby My First Bacon as its best friend. This piece of pork has more going for it than a slick personal statement (“You’ve got a friend in meat!”). The cute little guy’s three feet long, nice and squooshy like a stuffed animal, with cartoony eyeballs.

And (!): This is a creature that speaks for itself. Truly. Press the button behind where his left ear would be and the masculine-sounding meat says, “I’m Bacon,” in a low baritone that sticks in your head like turkey bacon to the pan.

ThinkGeek is the brains behind the bacon. Check out their "stuff for smart masses" website for more.

Did someone say best Christmas gift ever?

Monday, December 20, 2010

Adventures of Crab Santa


Last week insider sources tipped me off to a cracking deal on fresh crab. So I promptly appeared on Wharf Two Friday afternoon to pick up 11 from a lady fisherman named DeLay.

Jane DeLay ain't your average crabber. A dancer and former executive director of the Forest Theater Guild, she normally spends her time studying to be a nurse at MPC, working at the Monterey Bay Sanctuary Foundation and serving Greek grub at Episilon in Monterey. But that doesn't mean she wouldn't give it all up, as she did in taking a month off.

"I'd fish full-time," she says, "but with all the shortened seasons, that's not the reality."

She grabs her crabs in Half Moon Bay—the nearby San Fran bay nursery grounds and sandy bottoms tend to yield the biggest and most mature crabs early in the season, she says—aboard her captain friend Mike Ricketts' (no relation to Doc) Sea Hauk.

She calls herself the crew of the operation; Nellie here is security detail when they get back to shore.

They throw traps with favorite crab snacks like mackerel or squid or sardines, pull them up snapping with crab, and steam back here to the commercial wharf, where Royal Seafood’s Gino Pennizi kindly lets her use a tank and a workspace to slang her crustaceans.

Here's a peek at the tank and a good old fashioned Crab Battle in a Bucket over at Royal, still my favorite place for seafood in town:

video

Market price at the moment was $6 per big fatty—DeLay says they are averaging between 1.9 pounds and 2.25—and an extra buck for her to cook them if that's too complicated for her customers.

Her recipe is nice, easy and tasty in that way that lets the crab speak for its own fresh self: Once the water in your crabpot is boiling, throw the suckers in with lemon juice and salt, bring it back to a boil and then cook them for 12 minute even.

She bagged my babies and I took to delivering to fridges around the Peninsula.

Crab Santa struck twice.

Later we spread newspaper everywhere as four friends and I had a supreme messy feast of chilled crustacean in hot garlic butter, garlic bread, salad, Sauv Blanc and Chardonnay.

DeLay says she'll be back on the high seas once the weather eases off the 10-foot-swell stress around Friday. Reach her at whaledances@yahoo.com 383-9681 for availability.

Fresh and sweet, simple and sublime. 'Tis the (crab) season.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Way Cooler Than Keanu Reeves

Leo might be "the one" to save us from The Meatrix.

Or maybe not.

Take the red pill and find out.



If you found that swine in sunglasses as undeniable as I did, the sequels await:





It was several years ago when these viral animated shorts began zooming around cyberspace. Now they've not only reached a ton of people—according to the Meatrix website, they have been translated into more than 30 languages, reached more than 15 million viewers and represent one of the most successful online advocacy campaigns ever—but provide easy and practical avenues to eating more consciously, including a pretty handy guide to help people find good food sources.

Better yet, they make effective elements for teachers to use with students, as they do at the MEarth Hilton Bialek Habitat in Carmel.

Onward with the revolution.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Channeling Christopher Walken and Other Tim Wood Goods

Over the course of a six-part tasting—including delicious day boat sea scallops with satsuma mandarin, citrus brown butter, shiso greens and black truffle shavings (hidden among the wonton crisps above)—Carmel Valley Ranch Executive Chef Tim Wood showed what he can do mighty well. (Read more about the new Carmel Valley Ranch experience and ownership in this week's issue, including a companion piece by yours truly about the restaurant's revival.)

We grazed on Wood's Black Angus sliders with New York cheddar and red pepper jelly, Swank Farms organic beet salad with shaved fennel and olive oil croutons, delicious lox and latkes (it was Hannukah, after all)...

...and a double-stuffed profiterole that had me reconsidering my long-held suspicion of them.

Captivating tastes, all. But it was his commentary that captivated us the most.

He riffed on growing up in the Catskills, the intense types he worked for in New York at spots like Manhattan's Butterfield 81, the early days with Cal Stamenov and Christophe Grosjean at Bernardus' beginning, dropping in impressions of bosses and colleagues as he went.

As the commentary continued—"I'm the one they send VIPs when they need to be entertained and they don't know what to do," he says—he toured us through the kitchen, where he paused to help a cook he calls "Earrings" (for his huge lobewear) master a sauce with notable clarity and cool...

...then through a backstage demo kitchen adjoining a ballroom. He's already scheming some inspired Iron Chef-style events.

My favorite part of his free-flow had to be the comparisons he drew between himself and the rampant wild turkeys cruising the property—"I'm like the turkey up there on the branch, wobbling back and forth, with everyone watching"—and Christopher Walken.

"I'm like the Christopher Walken of chefs," he says. "I don't use punctuation."

Here's hoping Wood can dance like C.W. too:

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Alberto's Celebrity-Quality Italian Crowns P.G.

Richard Nixon and I never had much in common. With the help of one of the most memorable personalities in Pagrovia, that has changed.

The other night at Alberto's (373-3993) at the top of Forest Hill, Alberto Bonatelli made a pal and I the same veal scallopini piccata he prepped for ol' Tricky Dick.

As guilty pleasures go, this might be one of the most pleasurable. I now get what a friend who grew up in P.G. meant when she told me it's the best she's had, stateside or in Italy.

Plenty came along with the piccata. Like imported Chianti light enough to counterbalance rich ravioli carbonara worth writing the Old World about. And a chicken saltimboca up to the name. And a caprese salad with a nice proscuitto-cheese twist.

And homemade basil-cello was as good as it sounds.

And tiramasu, moist and chocolatey in all the right ways, enough to meet a high challenge—namely, delivering a closing taste potent enough to appropriately punctuate such a strong sequence of flavors.

But that's only part of what Bonatelli dishes out. After he pulled a chair up to our table, turned it backwards and slid into it like a gun into a holster—"This is my home," he replied to my amazement at how well he fit in it—he proceeded to drop more names than the Yellowpages.

He and his Orsini Restaurant were the darling of California’ cushiest bit of coastline, Malibu (nouth of Santa Monica), for the '80s and then some, and he came away with waves of raves and stories. Late nights with Frank Sinatra. Rubbing aprons with Nixon and a number of other heads of state. Neil Diamond's affection for his veal parmesan. In between glory stories he'd dash away to the nearby intimate kitchen and return with more riches and snuggle right up to our table.

Check out this article (click on it to make it bigger) for a taste of his celebrity cred/obsession:

Lightly legendary local food expert Ray Napolitano, my Weekly colleague going on about half a decade, is the one who mandated I visit. I asked him what he thinks differentiates Bonatelli.

"What you get there is him cooking," he says. "Really that's what it boils down to. There's something about the way he puts food together. It's not like recipes are out of this world—they're mostly standard. That's what it's about: I've always felt like you could give 10 people the same ingredients, equipment and nine of them will taste similar and one won't. It's an art. He's an artist. He is [literally] an artist too, he paints and everything else. [Bonatelli does the funky murals that adorn the walls of his one-room restaurant.]

"When guys like him do something it's an art form. It's inexplicable. Doesn't look like he's doing anything different. When he cooks, especially when he's inspired, he simply does an amazing job. The first time I walked in there, I ordered linguini putanesca, a simple dish with four powerful ingredients that can screw it up if unbalanced. I was like s***, this is amazing."

For my part, as I left for a starlight hike through neighboring Del Monte Forest to dent the small innertube that had migrated to my midsection over the last couple of hours, I couldn't resist thinking Alberto's has a legitimate claim to the best-Italian-in-town crown. Joe Rombi’s (373-2416) deserves a nomination, but is a little fancier and spendier. Peppoli (647-7500) is incredible but even more expensive, even by Pebble Beach standards. Gino’s (422-1814) is an institution that deservedly earns our readers' best Italian food vote, but it deploys a different, spaghetti-and-pizza, more family-centered style. Cantinetta Luca (625-6500) does modern-hip Italian with aplomb, but tends more toward Cali-Itali fusion than classic fare.

Why doesn't he get more traffic, then? Maybe because it’s tucked into a strip mall. Maybe because he relies on word of mouth. Maybe some would prefer less forward hospitality. I won't linger too long on those queries—besides, the restaurant community certainly are aware of him, as are locals in the know—because I'm happy to keep it our little secret. I know Tricky Dick is good at that.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Because It's Not a Road Trip Without In N Out

I’d like to believe in free will. But every time I go on a road trip, I get a tasty reminder that my fate isn’t so much my own to manage, because I inevitably end up at the only chain I frequent, a little place you may have heard of called In N Out.

A recent visit inspired me to contact In N Out headquarters to get the real deal on the off-the-menu items I hadn’t figured out yet. As it turns out, I had no idea what a "Flying Dutchman" existed, let alone what it might be.

On this roadie, I tested two new off-the-menu ideas (while only temporarily abandoning my long-ago-established classic "secrets," the grilled cheese with grilled onions and the animal-style fries).

First up: fries cooked to order, like a burger. (The In N Out rep at headquarters said they can do well-done/extra crispy, "light well" and "light," salt-free and with just cheese, in addition to the grilled-onion-cheese-and-special-sauce animal-style approach).

I felt a little diva-like ordering "medium well" fries until the sunny young lady replied, "Medium well done well done or lightly medium well"?

I took the former (pictured above on the left, compared to standard issue on the right). I don't think I'll order any other way from here forward—they're crispier and more flavorful thanks to bonus sizzle and grease time. The road trippers with me unanimously agreed.

I also soaked up a Neopolitan shake. I'll never have to choose between the vanilla, chocolate or strawberry seduction again. It's even better than the strawberry-chocolate combo.

Also, to stem the boring cascade of ketchup, I asked for some special sauce they put on animal style items and got a couple of packets (above right). Just what some medium well well fries needed.

For more on the secret menu and developments at the Seaside In N Out to be, check out my post from earlier this year.

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Goofy Monday Morning Food Vid You Crave

Unearthed this one from the annals of the Internet to help you manage the standard Monday morning mayhem. Cue the edible entertainment/relief.

(Bonus points if you can guess what's going on before the end of the ad reveals it. And if you can tell me where else udders get the spooky CGI treatment.)

Thursday, December 9, 2010

New GM, Chef at Restaurant 1833

If you had to chose one word to describe Restaurant 1833, the destination restaurant that will eventually occupy the Stokes Adobe and, if plans click, a Mount Rushmore-sized spot in the local eating landscape, ambitious just might be it.

After all, the place is planned to accommodate upwards of 200 in distinct spaces ranging from a apothecary-style bar area to a loungy "library" to an outdoor patio-garden concept that is reportedly morphing from a collection of secret garden-style pocket sanctuaries into a more open venue for major events. Anyone who visited Pacific's Edge while Coastal Luxury Management co-founder Rob Weakley was at the controls knows he and co-founder David "Not Afraid of a $5,000 Bottle" Bernahl have designs on a wine list that can compete with heavyweights Marinus and Pac Edge. The menu will be high concept rustic by way of humble and elegant ingredients, and I predict the cocktail program will prove as heady as either by itself.

That's a lot. So it stands to reason that they recruit a world beater to manage the big fat multifaceted dream, and to fill the shoes of departed CLM standby and local hospitality legend Gary Obligacion.

That they did.

Tobias Peach already had a resume laden with foodie-seducing fruit when he stepped into his biggest gig yet in the summer of 2009. He had already opened Vegas' Craftsteak with Top Chef Tom Colicchio, turned heads as GM of Flor de Lys for another celeb chef in Hubert Keller, and managed the staff at San Francisco's revered Postrio before he took that gig, but the stakes were even higher : He was not just opening a Sage restaurant at the brand new, five-diamond Aria Casino & Resort, he was hiring the entire staff, ordering and receiving all the starting supplies and stocking and managing the entire beverage program.

The result? A Best New Restaurant nomination from the James Beard Foundation—the epicurean equivalent of the Motion Picture Academy's Oscar nomination.

His work there bodes very well for all aspects of the similarly scaled 1833. I'm particularly pumped on the beverage program after seeing what he did with absinthe for a Seven magazine piece.



Xania Woodman is the ace nightlife reporter/"career carouser" who directed the short and has been scouring Vegas' VIP booths, wine cellars and stainless steel bars for upwards of seven years.

"He has a spectacular food and beverage pedigree," she says. "He spent his time kind of taking a career tour of respected chefs of the world. Assuming that someone takes something with them everywhere they go—in addition to leaving something of themselves—imagine what he’s picked up. He impressed me a number of times with his beverage program. His food prowess is well known. At Fleur his absinthe cart ran over other programs. It was spectacular.

"He’s the kind of GM that builds personal relationships with purveyors, builds rapport with distillers, spirit brand owners, that sort of thing. He was able to offer things you’re simply not able to find elsewhere."

Hanging out with him Saturday night at a packed Cannery Row Brewing Company, I could tell from his down-to-earth demeanor that those relationships come naturally. The best news here has to be that it was Prunetucky that helped the Peninsula net one of Vegas' hottest young playmakers. He has family there who he wants to be close to while he still can, and we are the lucky bastards that get to benefit.

He'll be joined at 1833 by Chef Jon Mathieson of Washington D.C., another big-city coup of sorts, and himself a quiet visionary.

His Inox restaurant in the 'burbs of the capital earned him lofty praise—one columnist described the scene in the kitchen thusly: "In my line of vision I have perfect food, a gorgeous kitchen, a chef who clearly loves his job."

Coastal Luxury Management's discovery of Mathieson involved no small amount of serendipity. He was the chef at the restaurant adjoining the offices of Red Zone Entertainment, which owns CLM partner Dick Clark Productions.

"We've never had a bad course there," Weakley says. "He just knocked it out of the park three straight times. We couldn’t be more stoked—and we're excited for Monterey."

More on Mathieson's past menu magic and what it will mean for 1833 soon.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Luxe Lounge Makes an Official Grand Opening


After a soft opening that experienced a little hiccup, Luxe Lounge is making its official grand opening this Friday.

As Weekly staff writer Walter W. Ryce reports: "Luxe Lounge is open and ready to take on downtown Monterey nightlife in the former space of Doc’s Dance Lounge. Entrepreneur Dennis Barwick opened the doors of the spot, sandwiched between his Bellagio Pizzeria (643-9500) and Habanero’s Grill & Cantina (375-3700), two weeks back. Tonight, it’s a live venue, hosting the funk, acid jazz and classic R&B of the Joint Chiefs."

The Chiefs spark the party at 7pm. $10 cover. Call 643-1100 or 262-5656 for more.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Further Evidence Food Rules the World

Food is fundamental.

It's our culture, our identity and our obsession.

And, now, it's ready for world domination.

Some genius with some free time and a gift for animation put together a brief history of combat from around World War II forward. You've never experienced food like this:

Monday, December 6, 2010

Kula Ranch Dog Duty

Marina's preeminent full service bar-restaurant has another way of getting people down to the dunes beyond the fire pits, steaks, fish tacos and ravishing Hawaiian nachos (with peanut sauce and wonton chips).

Dogs.

I'd bet a dog bone that Kula Ranch Island Steakhouse (883-9479) marketing maven Marci Bracco, who loves her French bulldogs more than Dr. Dre loves bad-ass beats, had something (read: everything) to do with this new promotion.

"Owner Joe Loeffler has opened the restaurants patio up to four legged friends, daily from 11:30am to closing," the hype master e-mailed. "Rain or shine, the patio offers a covered deck and fire pit for two-legged and four-legged friends to enjoy!

"Want to make sure your dog has a treat while you are enjoying island-inspired food and Mai Tais? Loeffler has created a new dog menu. Four-legged guests can choose from a grilled chicken breast for $4 or gourmet burger (no bun) for $5. All four legged friends enjoy complimentary milk bone treats."

Coincidentally, Bracco just added a third pup to her tribe, which includes Geno (above right), who can moan the National Anthem. (The other two, from right to left, are new baby Hugo and Lulu.) She just so happens to be the one who alerted me to the new restaurant policy yesterday—and told me when I asked for a picture of her pups that the three dogs can come by the Weekly World Headquarters to sing jingle bells if we'd like.]

In a related note, there's a huge Patriots-Jets game tonight, and KRIS's Monday Night Football deal continues to be one of the best in the game. Every Monday beginning at 4pm—while six flat screen HD TVs and a 4-by-6-foot big screen deliver the action—Loeffler and friends spit roast an entire pig and guests get after pulled pork rib sandwiches, double teriyaki cheese burgers, turkey sliders, teriyaki prime rib sandwich or pork and pineapple sausage sandwich, all $5 each, and Bud Light drafts, micro brew pints and margaritas and mai tais are $2, $3 and $4 each.

Is that my stomach growling or Geno getting warmed up for another National Anthem?

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Whalen Away: A Special Dinner and a New Gig

Local toque Michael Whalen of Pacific Grove—who in addition to earning a loyal following through his underground dinner series, has written a range of food-and-wine stories for the Weekly—has new chef duties at Michelin-starred Plumed Horse in Saratoga (408-867-4711).

The move was in part precipitated by his collaboration with the Horse's head chef, Peter Armellino, for a recent Red Cross benefit dinner in Pebble Beach, which came on the heels of a Harvest Carmel event that further helped the chefs get familiarized with one another.

That does mean, however, that his latest dinner, his most ambitious and expensive ($150) yet, might be the last one for awhile. It's happening Monday, Dec. 13.

"The menu was developed to feature all Pinot Noir pairing," Whalen says. "Unlike a normal Sunday Supper Club, where participants bring wine, I will be pulling select bottles from my personal wine cellar. As you'll see on the menu, there will be no shortage of wines."

Here's the menu (click on it to see a bigger version). Call 805-451-6023 to learn the secret location and grab one of only a few seats available:

Friday, December 3, 2010

Wine Bar Rebirth in Downtown Monterey

Terranova Fine Wines (333-1313) is back.

And, in a word, better.

They now offer over 30 wines at a time in self-service pours of 1, 3 and 5 ounces, with prices differing depending on the size and the provenance of the bottle (the 1 ounce servings run $1 to $2.20; 5-ouncers go $5 to $14). You get a little card, pad it with what you want to spend, pop it in the slot at the red wine island (pictured above) or white wine wall panel (below), it deducts the amount and the automated dispenser pours your juice.

The wines for sale include everything from white Bordeaux to Pessagno Pinot. Old World and New World in your modern goblet.

Meanwhile, it’s a $5 fee for five tastes of Richard Oh's Otter Cove Pinots, Syrahs, Merlots and Chardonnays (his premium Pinot is very good—though the reserve flight's $8 for seven tastes) at the bar, which gets waived with any purchase of a bottle ($16.50-$45).

Jeff Alexander, seen here demonstrating the tasty technology, is the manager. He collaborates with owner Kelli Gillam to curate the wine selection. "Most of the wine is California wines," he says. "We'd like to be known for California wines. The vast majority of the California wines are boutique wines." Think Boëte, Joyce and McIntyre.

The values look good. As Alexander says, "Our price is the same you'll on the winery's own website or a little bit less."

The three flat screen TVs and comfy chairs tip the idea that this is intended to be more a hang-out than a house of overly refined sniffing. Lallapalooza delivers quesadillas, oysters, seared ahi and a variety of pizzas through a little partnership—Alexander says it takes 15 minutes. A handful of bottle beers like England's Samuiel Smith and all three Chimay labels plus a pair of French beers served in corked 750-milliliter bottles, plus Heineken and Shock Top suspects.

The joint's open daily noon to 8pm (or until foot traffic stops) and Sunday until 6pm. Don't be an ass, raise a glass.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Free Parking for the People

About a week back I mentioned my new favorite Frenchie joint, Viva La Crepe on Fisherman’s Wharf; the week before I spotlighted the benefit Domenico’s and Cafe Fina are doing in conjunction with the area business collaborative/Custom Plaza ice rink: Bring a ticket stub from the ice action and gain a chance to donate a chunk of the check to local schools who need it.

Both are all the more attractive because parking is free for two hours at the adjacent city parking lots with local ID—local meaning anywhere in the county—and parking garage spots remains free after 4pm for locals down by Cannery Row, though I think folks need to show a zip that starts with 939 (just get back before the attendant leaves or you have to go to the city parking office near Montrio to avoid paying)…

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

A Beer for the White Trash Working Class Soul in All of Us (or at Least Me)

The enclosed box pictured above has a handle. It also has five Mexican beers and a 5-ounce glass bottle of Mexican-made tequila inside: Five beers and five shots. And it can be yours—or a pre-wrapped Christmas-colored gift for a friend?—at just $10.99.

Oh yes.

But these, my friends, are just three of roughly 13 reasons why I heart the new Blanco Basura 5-and-5 pack.

We might as well run through the others now.

• Its creator, Scott D. Gold, lives just across the bay in Santa Cruz. The Cruz's own W.T. Imports handles the importing side of the equation.

• There is also a whiskey edition.

• "Blanco Basura" is remedial Spanish for "White Trash." Beneath the emblem: "Welcome to the working class."

• The box also includes a shot glass (which, like the pudgy lil' tequila bottle, is also made of glass, not plastic).

• Gold has a mission statement of sorts printed on the side of the box.

"Blanco Basura is bad Spanish for 'White Trash' and we don't care," Gold writes. "We do care about giving you a quality drink at a blue collar price. I used to pick up a six-pack of beer and a pint of tequila, it pissed me off that it cost 20 bucks, that's why I developed the Blanco Basura five-pack. Five beers with a crisp, clean flavor. Five shots of premium* gold tequila or aged Kentucky bourbon. One commemorative shot glass. That's what I drink, and I'm proud to share it with you."

*Note: I don't know if I'd call the tequila "premium," but it's a close enough approximation to Jose Cuervo, probably a tick cleaner and lighter. You could say the same thing about the beer and Tecate—comparable, with BB's coming off a little more drinkable.

• Gold told me that the most he's taken down is three in a night. As in three boxes. "But that’s all night," he says. "Going out, strip clubs, starting at 7[pm] and going to 6 in the morning. You’d drink three too."

• The emblem on the box and the beers—and at the bottom of the shot glass—is of a three-legged dog. Turns out it's the silhouette of his late pal Isabel, a brindled pit bull who lost her leg chasing a van through unincorporated Live Oak and getting caught under the wheel.

• On the inside flaps is a picture of Gold and an invitation to party with him as part of the Blanco Basura Army. A 20 spot nets a T-shirt, a hat, stickers and VIP status at I'm not exactly sure what.

• Another part of the flap has a comic strip called "Las Aventuras de El Güero Culero," which I'm not prepared to translate here, that steers people to the BB website.

Star Market (422-3961) in Salinas carries it, and Couch distributes it. According to Star manager/beer purchaser Chris Reyes, the cases are moving "OK" off of shelves, and the Blanco Basura six packs are a decent value by themselves at $5.99.

• Gold calls someone who can finish five beers and five shots in five minutes a five-star general. ("We can't promote that, though," he says.) I call him John Belushi.

• Lots of time spent at his grandparents' place in Baja inspired the Mexican heritage of his sauce. He says he had to buy a small fraction of the third biggest beer factory in Mexico to license what he calls it "the original beer of Mexico." Primary owner and partner Federico Cabo also distills the tequila. (Gold is proud to report that his is the only brewery of the top three, including Heineken's Tecate plant—which happens to set up shop in the same Tecate town as his—and Budweiser's Modelo, that is Mexican-owned.)

• Blanco Basura scored a victory in the courts over Budweiser to patent the "5-pack" idea so central to their atypical marketing. "We had to fight it out," Gold says. "It was a scary time. It would've been the end of the American Dream if Bud won."

• Gold is heavy into racing, and sponsorships are a big part of the nascent company. He and his race partners and friends do everything from off-road to NASCAR to 24-hour women's races. Next year BB plans to be all over the U.S. sponsoring tracks and racers.

• Gold previously worked as a contractor—and as a Capitola cop.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Let's Get Festive: Five Notable December Events

Maybe you just wish—just once—Santa would drop a bowl of Cal Stamenov's white truffle risotto in your stocking. Or that Hanukah could be eight nights of fine añejo tequila tastings.

That may not happen, but some character rich holiday time activities will. They do make good gifts—after all, studies have shown experiences are much more rewarding than material things over time.

Here are a look at some upcoming events that caught my eye.



Thursday, Dec. 2: Intercontinental-Piper Champagne Dinner

Get in good with a great chef and you might be surprised how much he or she finds Champagne an under-appreciated power in food pairing—bubbly goes beautifully with far more than caviar and raspberries.

Tonight guests see what they mean. And with gusto, given the two parties doing the pairing, namely C Restaurant Executive Chef Jerry Regester and Piper-Heidsieck Champagne Ambassador John King. GM Sonny Petersson’s orchestrated another seductive one here.

A quick teaser: Nantucket scallop ceviche with Piper Sonoma Brut; lightly smoked arctic char with
Piper-Heidsieck Brut, NV; and thyme-roasted duck breast with Piper-Heidsieck Rosé Sauvage.
A taste of King of Cognacs in our Louis XIII Lounge follows the seriously celebratory affair. Seating goes 5:30-9:30pm, $95++, 375-4800.


Friday, Dec. 3: Aquarium Members' Holiday Dinner

The best 2010 Halloween costume of the county had to be my friend and local artist Amanda Burkman's homemade leafy sea dragon get-up. As she tires of me begging her to put it on, here comes a welcome work around: epicurean inspiration to get by the Aquarium to look at her little cousins while testing the new foodie waters astir with the arrival of fresh star "culinary partner"/food director Cindy Pawlcyn and exec chef Jeff Rogers.

The Aquarium hosts its Members' Holiday Dinner featuring Pawlcyn's farm-to-table style and Rogers' favorite food sources, with seatings at 6 and 7pm. $36/adult; $15/under 12, (866) 963-9645.


Saturday, Dec. 4: Beatles Tribute Day

Steve Jobs
ain't the only dude with the hots for the Beatles these days. Gary Ozuna's been goofy for 'em long before they reached iTunes, but he's celebrating the historic democratization of the Fab Four with a tribute day that includes a free "mop top topping"—25 all told—on ice cream orders at his Beatles and Classic Rock Museum and Memorabilia Ice Cream and Coffee Shoppe (642-9789) in P.G.

The day will feature a chance to hear alternate takes and special recordings from obscure sessions. Check out the old-school milkshake machines while you're there, maybe taste some egg nog ice cream, one of dozens of Lappert's Ice Cream flavors. 1-10pm, free admission.


Monday, Dec. 6: Lopez Restaurante Tequila Tasting Event

The family of brothers behind Lopez aren't going to win any regional awards for the ambiance at their windowless downtown Monterey destination, but their Mama Chela conjures some mean mole sauces and her kids know how to assemble a serious cavalry of nice tequilas—I think they have 100 at their bar already.

That makes this tasting a pretty good looking deal at $15 (in advance). Maestro Dobel, Donna Linda, 1800, Asombroso and Azcona Azul will roll out everything from diamond blends to expertly aged añejos, while Chela sends signature appetizers from the kitchen and the casual camaraderie that is a hallmark of the family presides. 6-10pm, $15/presale, $20/at the door, 324-4260.

(In other news, the Lopez dudes took over the former Casa Bodega just across Del Monte from Wharf Two, and are adding their tasty Mexican grub to the popular sandwich lineup. I went by the other day; more on that soon.)



Friday, Dec. 10: 14th Annual Truffle Dinner at Marinus
Bernardus revisits its seasonal sensation, the annual truffle dinner. The math on this one is easy: The world's most precious food-stuff + Cal Stamenov = sold out every year (despite the spendy sticker price), so get moving.

A 6:30pm cocktail reception with champagne and Sobieski-black truffle martinis precedes a six-course truffle tasting menu paired with wines hand plucked by Mark Jensen. (And the following Saturday there's a chocolates and desserts cooking demo and tasting 1-3pm with stud pastry guy Ben Spungin for $85 inclusive. Looks like an epic excuse to stay the night.) Friday, Dec. 10, $500++, 658-3550.