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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, April 29, 2010

Amateur Photo Contest for Phat Prize

They've become so common at tables they are approaching salt and pepper shaker status: digital cameras. Driven by social media and our ever-creshendoing foodie-food porn movement, everyone is taking pictures of their grub with their cameras, phones and SLRs. The New York Times published a piece about it just today (read that piece here).

Some begrudge it—"It's like keeping a journal during sex," Anthony Bourdain told some obsessive blogger types constantly snapping away on an episode of No Reservations—but I for one like shooting food. I mean, c'mon. Look at that tomato tower (shot by Barnaby Draper Studios at Pebble Beach Food & Wine, coming back starting Thursday, April 8).

I also happen to be sitting on a $100 gift certificate to bayside Bubba Gump's on Cannery Row (373-1884), where you can get a decent amount of cajun shrimp, popcorn shrimp, shrimp and salsa cocktail, peel-'n-eat beer-steamed shrimp, dynamite shrimp and shrimp-and-fish hush puppies for 100 bones.

Hence I would like to take this opportunity to announce an old-fashioned shootout. Below are the rules of engagement. Winner takes the shrimp scholarship.

•Amateurs only.
•Dishes can be homemade or from/in a restaurant, but must be prepared and photographed in Monterey County.
•Entries must be e-mailed to (or dropped off at the Weekly offices) by 5pm May 1, 2010.
•Winners will be selected from a group of finalists by three local chefs.

And away we go.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Introducing the Chefs at Cannery Row Brewing Company and 1833

Mark Ayers (above) has more than a decorated resume, the respect of chefs and anyone with tastebuds across the county and country, and the best burger on the Peninsula (ironically enough, I had his unmatched California Market burger with Gruyere Monday for lunch—only Ventana's comes close). He's got a new job. Which, for those seated at the kids' table, is huge epicurean news locally.

Ayers has earned and honored one of the better chef gigs between San Francisco and L.A. for years, helming the two Monterey County Hyatt properties, which each boast multiple venues and include longtime lavish landmark Pacific's Edge in the Highlands (622-5445) and newer sleek sibling TusCA in the Hyatt Monterey (372-1234).

Now he'll steer the kitchen at the month-away-from-opening Cannery Row Brewing Company in the historic brick building that once housed O'Kane's and Willy's Smokehouse, a venue which Coastal Luxury Management hopes will redefine Northern California brewhouses and casual dining with help from the greatest number of beers on tap in the the region and a gourmet approach to accessible food. Think Yardhouse in L.A. with a fine-dining approach to classic blue-collar tastes a la Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc. Inspiration, in fact, was borrowed from both.

One of the stated goals, among many, at CRBC: to have the best burger, bar none, in the area. My Monday lunch tells me they've got the right guy there. That Ayers is willing to walk away from such a solid job with the Hyatt, meanwhile, tells you something about the upside he sees with the CLM team.

That upside will mean a lot more than cheffing at CRBC. He'll also coordinate chefs at Pebble Beach Food & Wine, where his Masters of Food & Wine experience with Pacific's Edge will come in handy, and mastermind special dinners at private venues.

And there's more big news where that came from: CLM will name the executive chef for 1833 with the same announcement. Tim Mosblech [above, far left, with the PBF&W team of (L-R from there) Ayers, David Bernahl, Rob Weakley, new CRBC GM Ed Hancock and restaurant exec Gary Obligacion] has everything they want for their flagship spot in the former Stokes and longtime Gallatin's, including:

• Killer credentials: He's worked at multiple three-Michelin-star restaurants in three different European countries, and with Laurent Gras of L20 in Chicago, gaining a discipline to execute the most sophisticated plates—though that's not the goal here, where the best description might be carefully crafted rustic: 1833 aims to do a sexy, big city, seasonal, fresh menu that echoes the storied history of the building, which changed owners for the first time in over a hundred years with the sale to CLM, who in turn named the restaurant after the year the building was finished. Items on the wine list and menu will reflect the influence of the predominant populations at that point in time on the Peninsula, primarily Spanish and Italian. More from Mosblech on what he wants to do soon.

• County ties and a nose for wine: After working with Walter Manzke at L'Auberge in Carmel, he later took time off from the kitchen to make wine with Joullian Wine's Ridge Watson. "Talk about a chef who has a better understanding of wine with food," Bernahl says.

• Work ethic combined with personality. "It was about finding a careful balance, someone who can grow with us, take on more projects, and someone that fits with team," Bernahl says. "And he does—he's a rock star, instantly likeable, likes to have fun, but at the end of day is serious about what he does, which fits in with our culture."

That culture is live. As CLM keeps cooking, expect more stir-the-pot news soon.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Instant Karma

Namaste, y'all.

A new lunch spot has landed on Alvarado in Monterey. Karma Cafe (920-1310), from the festive and friendly folks at Indian Summer (372-4744) between the Portola Hotel and Benihana near Fisherman's Wharf, opened yesterday next to the Mucky Duck.

Local artist Amanda Burkman is working on magnetic murals for the walls. Owner Rocky Rana is fashioning a menu like that of Indian Summer, where tandooris and tikka, kebabs and papads decorate a sizeable lineup of subcontinetal grub. No word on hookas here, but there are plenty of treats like masala lassis and darjeeling tea.

"There's nothing more than $10," Rana says. "You can get rice, curry and naan for that." That should attact the younger crowd, among others. So will some surprising hours. Rana says the joint will be open till midnight during the week and 4am (!) on weekends. He adds that beer and wine is on the way in as little as two weeks, though that seems optimistic.

And a welcoming lotus flower on the wall.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Green is Good

Peter B's (649-2966) has some A-grade qualities. It enjoys a plaza-adjacent patio with a waterfall, brews its own worthy IPAs, ambers and stouts, draws a spirited sports crowd for Sharks and Lakers playoff games and boasts a pool table (though rates are rough on the budget). The happy hour knocks a buck off beers—which are already good values in big mugs of 16 ($5 non happy-hour), 20 ($6) or 25 ($7) ounces—and pours $3 house margaritas on the rocks and $5 Long Islands. The food deals are solid, particularly the onion rings with stout aoili and pale ale blue cheese ($3.50) and the large lump of nachos with braised pork ($4.50, above). Best of all, it's a wide 4-7pm window for those deals that doesn't close (like most) on Fridays or weekends.

But now there's another reason to believe in this brewpub. As part of an admirable effort to green its operations in sync with a LEED certification application, they approached Surfrider to see if they could help out with Earth Day. That doesn't happen every day.

To help rally folks to Asilomar to scour the beach this Sunday, the Portola Hotel people threw a post-cleaning party at Peter B's with tasty fried treats and pitchers for the sea-protecting peeps. They also granted them mug memberships, normally $50, which includes a 25-ounce stein to hang on the wall/ceiling that gets filled for just $4. Most impressive, the Portola team, including Peter B's Manager Alvin Olis and Jacks Chef Jason Giles, joined the clean-up, dragging palettes and old metal buoys off the beach and plucking plastics and Styrofoam from tide pools and wads of kelp.

(In a related note, anyone late to the game on banning styrofoam in restaurants only need participate in a clean up to see how insiduous the stuff is, breaking down into tiny specks that ever-so-ironically will end up back in our bellies after sea critters and their predators eat it and pass it back up the food chain. Fortunately the county just passed a ban, joining Carmel, Monterey, Pacific Grove, Del Rey Oaks and Seaside.)

Over at the recently reinvented Jacks (649-2698), where they use Bio-Pak to-go containers, Giles is making some great sustainable plays in adhering to the Seafood Watch Program and seeking out Salinas Valley and Central Cali sources for his produce and meats.

From the lunch menu I like the looks of the corn and crab chowder ($6) and the grilled swordfish sandwich with heirloom radish salad (Swank Farms) on a focaccino roll (with house cut fries, potato salad, fruit or a side salad, $10.95), though the salad bar is among the best in town—and $2 off with local ID.

And the green restaurant in-roads are just one of 16 advances happening at the wider hotel, including everything from renewable sheep's wool carpets to organic cotton mattresses to chemical-free cleaning programs to a cogeneration hot water machine that also generates electricity.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Side Dish of Irony

This is a beautiful thing. The grilled tilapia tostaco ($3.75) at Turtle Bay in Monterey (333-1500), the best fresh-and-healthy value around (same price at the Seaside TB, 899-1010).

The thing that kills me is that at the very home of this killer deal they charge for chips and salsa, which seems like a faux pas.

I called to ask why. Cashier Karla Navarro was candid, and her response made some sense. "It's all homemade, not store-bought like a lot of places," she said. "We do it very, very fresh."

Of course, other places do that but don't charge (albeit the price is just $1.50). But there are more compelling reasons to stomach the charge:

• They refill it, according to Navarro, "Three, four, five, six times."

• A basket includes all you-can-eat, equally fresh homemade salsas which are simply superb, from the electric orange, burn-your-bridge habañero to the cool tomatillo-avocado (above right) to the classic jicama red.

• With a tostaco, your total is still just $5.68 after tax.

The tostaco's big brothers are also excellent at the area Fishwifes (375-7107 P.G.; 394-2027/Seaside), which are part of the same nuclear family of eateries. Those include the Grilled Tilapia Salad ($10.95, above)...

and the Tilapia Cancún with salsa brava, rice, beans, and vegetables on a green cashew sauce ($12.95).

Make sure to ask for extra helpings of the cashew sauce, a coup of a dressing invented by magician and original founder Julio Ramirez.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Carmel's Little Food Revolution

If you interrupted Carmel Mayor Sue McCloud from her clandestine wiretapping of the Weekly newsroom a little over a year ago to tell her that her tiny buttoned-down town would today have a gourmet late-night restaurant and an after-hours social hub brimming with good wine and energy within a 100-yard radius (!), she might've lept out of her muumuu—or at least packed you off to her secret CIA-issued prison for the dangerously dumb.

But here we are, celebrating the one-year anniversary of delicious and diminutive neighbors Basil and Mundaka (who is responsible for the indulgent tuna-poached egg indulgence above, captured by Weekly photog Nic Coury). In the same week.

Despite its petite size and tucked away spot in a courtyard on San Carlos between Ocean and Seventh, Basil Seasonal Dining (626-8226) immediately recruited a platoon of loyal patrons who continue to descend regularly for treats like Passionfruit Basil-tini ($9), short-rib raviolis ($14.50) and sweet & spicy jumbo shrimp (below, $9.50).

That's impressive, but it's been the late night service that really wows. Plenty of people set up shop here and think they can do something like this (let alone survive), only to wilt in the silence of the quiet Carmel streets. Not so Basil, who continues to plate $4 dishes like lil' cheeseburger sliders, duck proscuitto mini sandwiches, beef carpacchio and "spicy midnight pasta" from 9:30pm to around midnight.

Michele Cremonese, who hand-crafts all the good grub, has also crafted an invaluable establishment here.

It seems like so long ago that little adorable-but-feisty Mundaka (624-7400) opened on San Carlos in Carmel. That's a testament to how quickly it established itself as an inviting and lively outpost for Spanish-style tapas (above) from Brandon Miller, great wine values from owner Gabe Georis and great energy from the rotation of live musicians and the rotation of the porrón wine spout around the room.

Today they celebrate their first año with a 2-4pm open house starring a selection of pinchos and tapas (¡dame papas bravas!) and what Georis calls "a big batch of sangria." Vendors like Dick Swank of Swank Farms and Jerry the Fisherman—last seen parading a big-ass halibut through the dining room—all show to soak up the glow.

"I'm just happy we made it this far," Georis says. "I hope it keeps going like this."

The highlight to date for the former Casanova GM and new dad? "The late night dance parties."

Yes, McCloud, in Carmel.

Shoving Hot Dogs in Face Holes

So when's the last time you ate four hotdogs—in three minutes? (Or two at once, like this dude?) Last night several locals did a lil' something like that as part of a hot dog-eating contest that went down at The Planet on North Fremont in Monterey, an event that doubled as the grand opening party for Doggie Stylez (373-1449), a dog peddling outfit within the club-restaurant-bar.

The immediate takeaway: As food experiences go, eating contests are engaging action, in at least two different ways.

One, it is damn entertaining to see competitors, especially amateurs, stuff that many dogs and buns in their face holes. And stomach-turning. And awesome. And horrifying. And hilarious. The gag reflexes and wide-eye expressions and cheek stretching are of particular intrigue. Turning away is involuntary. So is turning to watch more.

Two, it evokes some bigger questions about our appetites for gluttony and spectacle, not to mention hunger and obesity.

Then there's always the less-intense question: How'd the winner do it? George (above), who declined to provide his last name because he was sheepish about being known for eating six dogs in the tiny three-minute-plus window, broke it down like this.

"You gotta just f****** do it," he said. "Once you decide to do it, you gotta just do it."

My money was on DJ Fredo (above), who spun and wisecracked for Jammin 97.9 for a long time and now is helping launch a local ESPN radio affiliate (at 630 AM), since he's swallowed some sickening morsels on Fear Factor and is a gamer: He always played well at Good Old Days Media Tournament, and as part of his new program he takes on peeps like the Harlem Globetrotters at their own craft. "Mind over matter is the key," he said—after losing me $3.

Domingo Rivera does Doggie Stylez every Tuesday and Thursday at Anthony Lane's The Planet, a hub for young shennanigans like Beirut (or "beer pong") and themed nights like salsa, Italian and comedy. The menu is pretty simple and saucy: A choice of original, polish, hot or smart dog foundation is $3 and toppings like chili, cheese, bacon and guacamole are a $1 each to lavish on, or folks can wrestle with a Cali (with bacon, guac and cheese, $6) or a DaKine (bacon, pineapple, teryaki, $4).

Or they can always request a bunch of dogs, buns and a pitcher of water and see how many they can cram in their craw in 180 seconds.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Super Solutions: Cooking for Solutions 2010

Between the green garlic and stinging nettle soup (with creme fraiche) and the grilled quail with kumquats, bacon and wilted greens (with date-walnut glaze), you know the girl is good. And those are just a pair of appetizers at her Lucques Restaurant in L.A.

But it's the Beard that really sets her apart.

Suzanne Goin (above) has taken home the James Beard Foundation honors for best chef in the region and been a finalist for best in the entire U S of A, some of the loftiest praise possible from the organization founded by Julia Child and Peter Kump and one unequalled in epicurean credibility in this country.

This year's she is the Aquarium's Chef of the Year, meaning she will be starring at the most palate-charming and thought-provoking progressive food event on the planet, Cooking for Solutions (May 21-22, 2010), which showcases how tasty good sourcing practices can be on an annual basis.

"Goin's been one of the main voices on sustainability," CFS collaborator and Aquarium spokesman Ken Peterson says. "She's had the message for quite a while. We've very glad we can have her back."

Chef-author-superstar Rick Bayless has also been Bearded for his work at the landmark Frontera in Chicago. This year he's also earned CFS's Educator of the Year, joining the likes of Alton Brown, winner a year ago and a CFS regular.

Foodies flock to the Friday gala with good reason and greater reliability—the thing sells out every year—as the honorees and dozens of other Celebrity Chef Ambassadors prepare sustainable tastes butressed by more hedonistic-but-earth-healthy nibbles from standout local spots (who help host the visiting chefs). Sixty vitners from the region pair wisely raised wines, and folks like Goin and Bayless sign cookbooks. Saturday features a range of "food and wine adventures," cooking demos and an Iron Chef style Sustainable Seafood Challenge where four chefs square off and special host Guy Fieri and the one and only Sam Choy run charismatic commentary. Check out the whole gourmet gamut at the Aquarium's website.

Even more nourishing, perhaps, is the Sustainable Foods Institute that Thursday, when decisionmakers, journalists and industry leaders all gather for an intensive slate of panels, keynotes and presentations on the state of our food systems.

Just the first few hours see entrepreneur-environmentalist-visionary Paul Hawken kick things off followed by powerhouse panels on the future of wild fish and the hopes of doing aquaculture safely and sustainably. I'll plug you into the highlights right here come mid May.

CFS news was part of a message I got the other day from the Aquarium. In a cyber world where we are all blessed/doomed to see a small army e-mails march into our inboxes every half hour, one with a recipe from Goin was a nice reprieve. It also included an interview with Goin and word on the Aquarium's new Super Green List for eating to maximize ocean health.

Sign up to get the Aquarium e-newsletter by punching in your e-mail on the Aquarium's home page on the lower right.

Here's the recipe for Spot Prawns with Tomato Confit, Garlic and Chili (above):
(Serves 6)
  • 24 large prawns* (about 4 ½ pounds)
  • 3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • 1 1/2 cups sliced shallots
  • 1 tablespoon thyme leaves
  • 1 tablespoon thinly sliced chile de árbol
  • 1/2 cup sliced garlic
  • 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 1/2 pints cherry tomatoes, cut in half
  • Yellow tomato confit
  • 1/4 cup sliced flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 tablespoon chopped oregano
  • 2 tablespoons sliced green basil
  • 2 tablespoons sliced opal basil
  • 1 lemon, for juicing


Use kitchen scissors to cut the shells of the spot prawns down their backs, from the base of their heads to the tips of their tails. (Don’t remove the shells.) If the prawns are wet, dry them with paper towels.

Heat two heavy-bottomed sauté pans over high heat for 3 to 4 minutes. (You will need to cook the prawns in batches to avoid overcrowding them.) Swirl 2 tablespoons of olive oil into each pan, and carefully place the prawns in the pans, on their sides.

Season each batch of prawns with 1/2 teaspoon salt and some pepper. Pour another 2 tablespoons of oil into each pan, and cook about 5 minutes, until the shells get some color and the flesh begins to turn opaque on the first side.

Turn the prawns over, drizzle another 2 tablespoons of oil into each pan, and season the second side of each batch with 1/2 teaspoon salt and some pepper. Cook another 3 minutes or so, until the prawns are just cooked. (You can peek inside the cut shell to see that the flesh is completely opaque.)

Remove the prawns to a platter and turn the heat under both pans down to medium-low. Divide the shallots, thyme, and sliced chiles between the two pans. Season each pan with 1/4 teaspoon salt and some pepper.

Cook 2 minutes, until the shallots are translucent, scraping the pan with a wooden spoon to release all the flavorful shrimp bits. Divide the garlic between the pans and cook 3 to 4 minutes, stirring often, until the shallots and garlic are soft and just starting to color.

Turn the heat back up to high and add half the cherry tomatoes, 1/2 teaspoon salt and lots of freshly ground black pepper to each pan. Taste for seasoning and cook a minute, stirring often.

Add half the prawns, sliced parsley, oregano and the two basils to each pan and roll the prawns in the cherry tomatoes to coat well. This final step really helps coat the prawns in the cherry tomato sauce.

Spoon the hot yellow tomato confit onto a large warm platter.

Arrange the prawns on the platter and squeeze a generous amount of lemon juice over them. Spoon the remaining cherry tomato sauce over the top.

Serve with lots of crusty bread for sopping up the sauce and juices.

* Other sustainable shrimp or prawns may be substituted.
Recipe from Sunday Suppers at Lucques: Seasonal Recipes from Market to Table, by Suzanne Goin and Teri Gleber. Reprinted by permission of Knopf, copyright 2005. All rights reserved.

The Pig Wizard's Sausage Sorcery

It went down like some kind of cloak-and-dagger drug deal. He told me the description of his truck, and asked me to meet him in the parking lot of a shopping center.

I brought the cash. He brought the sausage.

The payoff was profound. The goods he produced from an ice chest in the bed of his truck—one-pound packs of chicken-artichoke heart-manchego and lamb-black currant-cumin sausage ($8 each)—made me a hero at a birthday barbecue. Turns out they could be classified as a drug. Either way, his name now made more sense, because the Pig Wizard's sausage work was magical.

I first uncovered evidence of Jonathan Roveto's existence at a coffee shop in Seaside that shall remain unnamed, where the underground-adept owners had arranged a sign-up-for-sausage situation. Drop some money and a request, return to pick up tubed treasures.

Self-trained Palo Colorado resident Roveto has shared his secrets at Mary Pagan's Culinary Center on Cannery Row and butchered for a while at Monte Vista Market when it was a proud community pillar, and dismantles whole pigs himself (and intructs people how). I've since tried his "orange poppy" sausage—candied orange rind, poppy seeds and chicken. It made Christmas breakfast sacred. The "Sicilian," meanwhile, with pecorino and romano cheeses, parsley, basil and wine cooked in, is an offer that can't be refused.

Only I couldn't write anything about it, because, though he made his sausage at a USDA-inspected plant in San Leandro, he hadn't cleared the extensive permitting of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration required to do his own product there.

Now the time has come. The paperwork should be in place soon, though progress remains stuck in government time. In the interim, the Wiz took Most Creative and Best Presentation (trophies below) for his wildly bizarre and tasty pork-wine-wild-mushroom-chanterelle sausage pinwheel (above right) at the Big Sur Chanterelle Cook Off not long ago (and smoked up the whole room with his hibachi).

He'll be at the Monterey Beer Fest serving the orange poppy, artichoke heart-chicken-manchego, the Sicilian and a hot Sicilian. And he's scheming on acquiring a food truck that he hopes to park in Sand City (because he says leadership there seems most amenable) while he waits final USDA approval.

He's also been working with wizard-in-his-own-right Craig von Foerster of Sierra Mar at Post Ranch on the art of dry salume, fermented salame, dry curing copa and all kinds of other Euro-style aging, and soliciting no small amount of overtures from area restaurants hoping to arrange a supply line.

After today's rendezvous I have reloaded my fridge with two magic tricks: his "Meguez," born of lamb, salt, paprika, garlic, harisa, black peper, lemon juice, sumac powder and cumin in his standard-issue hog intestine casing (rather than the chewier, harder-to-digest collagen wrap). I haven't had the Meguez, but a French friend of mine says not only can he rarely find the South France-North African flavor in this Yankee land, when he has it wasn't remotely this good. Trick number two: some more of that "Sweet Morrocan Lamb" with pomegranate juice, dried currants, salt, white pepper, thyme, cinnamon, curry, cumin and ground ginger.

More magic at or 236-1844.

Friday, April 16, 2010

News Flash: You Don't Go To the Sea Otter Classic for Great Grub

The 20th version of the biggest bike lover-aggregating affair on the big spinning vehicle called Earth—the Monterey County born-and-bred Sea Otter Classic—is not the spot to pursue inspired food. But it is a place to peep a supremely pimpy fat-tire Specialized bikes like this with a cherry barbecue trailer. Hot damn.

Or a dude wearing riding spandex designeed to look like jean cut-offs. Damn, man.

Not that there isn't good flavor, though it is limited. This calamari and fries (easy on the fries for the same $8) was up to the Sea Harvest namesake, and one of a minority of local spots.

This dude was local too, and seemingly loco for serving biscuits and gravy from a ghetto-fabulous little propane camping oven. After cross-examination, though, it makes sense. His main game is root beer floats and ice cream cones, and since he is required to get there in the early AM to secure his spot, he needed something to sling while he waited for the heat to push the peeps his dessert directions. Getting warmer.

The festival continues through Sunday, and is worth seeing for much more beyond the small sampler platter pictured above—there's the sky-scratching gainer stunts by BMXers on huge ramps, downhill madness slaloms at speed a la Mach Severa,l and Sierra Nevada beer wagons—plus studs like Rebecca Rusch (above) riding with mortals/civilians like us, despite her world class chops as a 24-hour mountain bike racer and adventurer mama not to f*** with.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Free Beer and a Super Bar Sandwich

What's better than drinking good IPA in the day time?

a) Not much.
b) Adding arguably the best bar sandwich in the area code to the mix.
c) Getting free tastes of a new IPA and free pint glasses.
d) All of the above.

Congrats, class: D is correct. Yesterday the Bulldog in New Monterey, as fine a neighborhood bar as I know—and voted precisely that by our readers in years past (in addition to the Best Bar for Darts in Monterey County for several years running)—had an IPA tasting from New Belgium, the people behind Fat Tire and Skinny Dip beers. (For a look at all of this year's winners, click here.)

It sounded like a great excuse to head down for the last throes of their 4-7pm happy hour and grab a Red Devil chicken sandwich (above), my bacon-avocado-jack-spicy aioli-smothered submission for best bar sandwich in the area. If you don't agree, I challenge you to e-mail your nominee to and I promise I'll try it out.

And it actually did get better because I met John the Jade Hunter-Halibut Slayer (above) of Bulldog-neighbor Bamboo Reef (voted Best Dive Shop) down there. Not only can he spin some yowser yarns—about being pulled from caves by sea lions or dragged to deeper water by a huge halibut he just speared or lifting 4-ton boulders of granite from the depths by inflating 19 truck tire inner tubes around it—he could break down what we were tasting since he brews his own beer and used to work as quality control chief at Monterey Brewing Company.

"When I was in college I dreamed of a job like that," he said. "Where you get fired for not drinking."

He also dreams of IPA. He liked the Ranger IPA New Belgium's Todd Dudley was pouring, particularly the up-front character of its Cascade hops and the impressive "juggling act" it took to balance a healthy IPA bitterness with a smooth flavor that doesn't sting the throat.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Edible Video: Legendary Insight

BoldIron Chef champ, Blue Ginger star-chef and East-West guru Ming Tsai broke it down. “If you can take anything from this demo," he said, "It should be, ‘Taste, taste, taste.’” Later, Charlie Trotter added his own echo: “To be a great chef, maybe you can filet a fish, prep a goat, read cookbooks, but if you don’t taste, you’re nothing."

Here's a video look at a handful of the other lessons, direct from Pebble Beach Food & Wine's dynamite chef demos:

Trotter actually shared three—on basil, tasting and wine pairing at home—as he fielded a trio of questions from the crowd to decide who would get to taste the deliciousness he was crafting in the swanky Jenn Air-equipped stage.

A day earlier, Tsai talked about the importance of good cutlery in the kitchen...

...and how to look stylish opening a screw cap (where it's tough to match the theater of a cork, especially if it's a spendy bottle).

Elsewhere Jacques Pepin, on stage with his daughter Claudine doing a caviar cooking demo, was awarded a huge bottle of double-triple-secret reserve Cristal by Gregory Roederer (with an assist from local product and event co-founder David Bernahl) as part of the first lifetime achievement honor Pebble Beach Food & Wine has bestowed.

And the worthy one himself, Thomas Keller, snuck in one of his favorite reminders: salt and pepper are not equals. One does magical things, the other, not so much, just to be clear.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Another Helping: "Lifesavers" from a Master

Thomas Keller, the artist who had more than one Grand Tasting goer getting lightly afflutter by his simple appearance on Saturday, gave his PBF&W crowd a look at some of his most useful tools a day earlier during a demo called "Ad Hoc at Home."

He called the recipes he introduced his "lifesavers" at Ad Hoc, the relatively new Yountville spot he and his team hatched as a family style hit "reminiscent of home," elements prized for their invaluable versatility.

The sweet onion tapenade, he said, can be used with meats like lamb or pork or even on crackers with cheese and tomatoes—or thinned with olive oil and seasoned with vinegar to be used on cruidtés, fish or chicken.

The mushroom conserva, meanwhile, would go well cool or warm in a salad, or with a steak, lamb or chicken main dish. And the cured lemons make for a sweet-sour-salty treatment that can be applied all sorts of ways.

Here's how he does the tapenade and the lemons:

Sweet Onion Tapenade
Makes approx. 1 1/2 cups

Canola oil
2 cups chopped red onion
1 anchovy, salt cured preferred
1/4 cup milk
1 cup (4 ounces) pitted Kalamata olives, rinsed
1 tsp. Capers, rinsed
1 medium garlic clove, peeled
1/4 cup plus 2 tbsp. Extra virgin olive oil

Heat a film of canola oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions, reduce the heat to medium-low and cook slowly. Adjusting the heat as necessary for about 30 minutes to soften the onions without caramelizing them.

Meanwhile soak the anchovy in the milk for 30 minutes. Rinse under cold water, removing any large visible bones.

Remove the cooked onions from the pan and place them in a Vita Mix (read: a high-end blender) with the olives, anchovy, capers, garlic and the olive oil. Blend, scraping down the sides as necessary to puree.

Refrigerate in a covered container.

Cured Lemons 8 (3 to 4 ounces each) lemons
3/4 pound (1 3/4 cups plus 1 tbsp.) granulated sugar
1/2 pound (1 1/2 cups plus 2 tbsp.) kosher salt

Cut off 1/2 inch from the ends of each of the lemons, leaving you with the nicest, widest portions of the lemons. Slice each lemon into 1/8 inch thick rounds, removing the seeds as you go.

As you layer the lemons with the salt and sugar, keep in mind that the goal is to have enough of the sugar and salt mixture evenly distributed on all the slices so that when it dissolves, all of the lemon slices will be covered with the liquid. It is better to use too much sugar and salt than too little, because any exposed areas of the lemon can begin to mold.

Combine the sugar and salt in a large mixing bowl.

Sprinkle a just under a 1/2 inch layer of the sugar mixture in the bottom of a storage container that is about 4 to 6 inches high and has an air tight lid. Arrange a row of slightly overlapping lemon slices on top. Cover with a layer of the sugar mixture that covers the lemon slices completely. Continue the process, alternating with lemon slices and the sugar mixture, ending with a layer of the sugar mixture on top. Place the lid on the container and wrap the full container and lid completely with plastic wrap.

Place the jar in a pantry or other dark spot for up to one month. Once it is open use within two weeks.

Something else from the cool and interesting category about "chef" gleaned from this weekend. The winner of England's very prestigious Roux Scholarship—which, among other things, awards the honored chef a career changing opportunity to train at the 3 Michelin starred restaurant of her choice—has never selected an American restaurant. But 2009 winner Hrishikesh Desai chose Keller's French Laundry. The other neat part: Keller invited Desai to hang around all weekend, including the opening round of golf at a picturesque 70-degree Pebble Beach. It spoke to Keller's ability to stay accessible and generous when he could turn towards aloof and too cool for the less gifted, i.e., the rest of us.

More Pebble Food & Wine Post Wrap: Simple Greatness

Two trends seemed to surface at the Grand Tastings: 1) more sweets; and 2) a back-to-basics ethic.

On the dessert front, our own Anastasia Simpson of Spanish Bay whipped up this cubical "peanut butter bar" creation whose nougat hat and smooth moussey magic paved a highway to attendee hearts. Celebrated pastry visionaries Angela Pinkerton of Eleven Madison Park and Sherry Yard of Spago conjured predictably mind-blowing sweet dreams—buttermilk sorbet and cookie treats, respectively.

But it was the simple presentations that most spoke to me. One of my favorite tastes of the whole week: grilled cheese. The livid lady—"Oh my God! I could make that myself! It's pool party food!"—missed the point. You gotta be that much better to impress with an old blue collar friend than with a foie gras-foam-pâté smoothie. And Tommy Habetz (below left, behind the plate) and Nick Wood, chef-owners of Bunk Sandwiches in Portland, Oregon, did something extraordinary, melty, rich, delicious, comforting, dynamic, familiar and original. 

Here's the recipe I got from them:

Grilled Tillamook Vintage White Extra Sharp Cheddar Cheese and Apple Chutney with Slow Roasted Pork Belly
Prep time: a couple of days
Finishing time: 10 minutes
Servings: 4

16 slices Tillamook Vintage White Extra Sharp Cheddar
16 slices country white bread
2 tablespoon softened Tillamook butter

Apple chutney 1/2 Granny Smith Apple, peeled and diced
1/4 cup golden raisins
1/4 cup ground tomatoes
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup brown sugar
12 clove garlic, crushed
1/4 red onion, diced
1 pitted date, chopped
1/2 teaspoon ginger, grated
salt to taste
1/4 cup pickling spice

Wrap the pickling spices in a cheesecloth and tie with a string. Combine all ingredients for chutney in a medium stainless steel saucepan and simmer gently on low heat for about an hour, stirring constantly. Refrigerate for at least two days.

Slow-roasted pork
20 ounces boneless and skinless pork belly
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup salt
1 tablespoon freshly ground fennel seeds
1/2 tablespoon red chili flakes
1/2tablespoon ground nutmeg
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup molasses

Combine spices, salt and sugar. Rub spice mixture and garlic on pork belly and let cure at least 24 hours.
After belly is cured, place fat side up in a casserole dish. Rub belly with molasses and slowly roast in a 300 degree oven for about 4 hours or until well browned and tender.
Let the belly cool until firm enough to slice, cut into 4-by-4-inch squares and then slice into 1/2-inch slices.

To assemble sandwiches: Heat panini press or griddle. Spread both sides of the bread with chutney, place two slices of cheese on each side and add about four or five slices of pork belly. Close the sandwiches, brush each side with butter and cook over moderate heat until warmed through. Cut in half and serve.

Two more simple and simply spellbinding tastes also ranked among the very best all weekend. Sean O'Toole of Bardessono in Yountville deployed pata negra proscuitto on a basic slice of sourdough and whoah.

They feed the fine "black-footed" swine only chestnuts and acorns; they could feed me purely these super thin slices from the aged leg (above) and I'd be happy as a pig in you-know-what. I must've eaten five or six while O'Toole schooled me on the providence and principles of the pork.

Maybe five minutes later, another understated dose of aha! appeared from Charles Phan of The Slanted Door in San Francisco. The so-called star of nuanced Vietnamese cuisine gave a subtle tumeric-fish sauce marinade to some Alaskan halibut and, in his hands, it was magic. When I mentioned all we needed now was a warm draft beer to sip on and some tiny plastic chairs to sit on and we'd be in Hanoi, he handed me a Stella. 

Phan is the man.

Monday, April 12, 2010

More Pebble Power, from Tyler Florence to Lobster Pizza

This little pot of gold and green sat at the end of a line as long as a rainbow at Sunday's tasting. Probably had something to do with the delicious escargot hiding in these shells decorated with edible flowers and microgreens and the immaculate presentation—and something to do with the fact that the dude serving them was Tyler Florence.

That speaks to one of the strengths of PBF&W: The stars themselves enthusiastically serve, as opposed to similar events where they are often allowed to have their minions run the booth. That makes for some of the best moments for many foodies, and the a lot of the chefs are clearly energized by the interaction.

Fortunately lines were relatively rare despite the second sell-out crowd in as many days (TF's, above, was the longest), which speaks to how well the tastings are laid out and the wisdom of adding five chefs and their teams to each tasting for 2010.

The next longest line? For Maine lobster flatbread pizza by Mark Gaier and Clark Frasier of Arrows Restaurant in Maine, named number 14 of the country's top 50 by Gourmet in 2006.

That they use sustainably farmed crustacean (check out the Maine Lobster Council here) is nice. Added bonus: Gaier graduated from Carmel High.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Higher Spirits

As Paul Robertson, aka one-of-the better-sommeliers-on-the-planet-period (formerly of French Laundry and today one of only 127 master som's in existence), put it, "We think it should be Pebble Beach Wine & Food."

He's got a point. The chefs are spectacular and everpresent, but the wine is truly overwhelming. At the three-hour Grand Tastings, you could sip a nimble Storybrook Zin or test drive a Testarossa Pinot every single minute and still miss out on 80 wineries. (Not wines. Wineries, who were often pouring several tastes.)

But another alternative could work: Pebble Beach Food & Wine & Spirits & Beer. The reason is simple: Each year the event seems to pump up the presence of non-wine delights. Year one Stella seemed the only significant rep on that front, but last year, a Patron bar buzzed with activity at both Grand Tastings and spirits dominated the afterparties. This year, both Patron and Belvedere were huge sponsors, enjoyed swanky digs at the GTs and were all over the late night action downstairs at Spanish Bay (and it was again excellent to have Stella on hand to pair with, say, a head-shaking plate of spicy Vietnamese Alaskan halibut).

Moreover, one of the afternoon seminars was tabbed as "Interactive Seminar in Mixology"—and proved one of the more practical and entertaining sessions.

Would-be mixologists like those pictured at top tore fresh mint, muddled raspberries and budgeted bitters under the tutelege of Penelope Cruz-esque author-writer-cocktail queen Tracey Toomey and BAMBOO London Drink Director Ben Hehir. Tables were blanketed with tools like smashers and jiggers and superb spirits like Pyrat rum and Patron Añejo.
They taught us that Patron has a bee on its label because the buzzers arrive when agave gets matures—and how to make rock star margaritas, mojitos, juleps and "pink grapefruits," with each drink paired with appropriate fare that offered insight into how to pull off a rocking cocktail party.

Mini shrimp tacos on a triangle of freshly fried tortilla with cabbage and creme fraiche, fresh avocado and pickled jalapeños were just right with a reposado margarita we each made. That margy and a Belvedere Black Raspberry Julep were my favorites, though I missed many cut out early to check out "Gary Squared" next door with Gary Pisoni and Gary Franscioni. Here are the drink recipes. Yum yum for dum dums:

Reposado Margarita
2 ounces Patron Reposado
1 ounce Citronge
.75 ounce lime juice
barspoon of agave nectar
splash of orange juice
(Combine in cocktail shaker, shake vigorously and strain over ice and garnish with lime slice)

Belvedere Black Raspberry Julep
3 ounces Belvedere Black Raspberry
3 stalks of fresh mint
10 raspberries
1 teaspoon sugar
crushed ice
(Muddle the raspberries, sugar and leaves of mint in a rocks glass, add crushed ice and muddle more, then add crushed ice, muddle more, and pour over vodka. Stir, then garnish with a raspberry and mint leaf.)

Our table had a damn good time at the mixology gig, but I haven't seen a PBF&W crowd laugh as much as the one next door. Above, a hint why.

At one point Pisoni planted kisses on each of his fellow panelists. At another he announced, "This is the kind of stuff where you drink some on the patio and I guarantee whoever brought it will soon be making out." After sharing 2008 estate silk that goes down like a happy sigh, he invited the entire room over to his house.