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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.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

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.