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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.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Another Great Way to Stretch $20

You heard it hear first: the apocalypse is officially here. For the first time ever, movie houses are charging $20 for a single ticket: Four different New York City theaters are asking for an Andrew Jackson to see Shrek Forever After IMAX 3D. Not one goddamn Milk Dud thrown in either.

Fortunately the Weekly found some medicine to combat the madness: The Good Old Days prix fixe at New Monterey's Whaling Station (373-3778), which harkens back to the community institution's early years. Four courses, lots of entree choices, just $20 (before tax and tip).

It allows for a luxurious midweek meal at an affordable rate—and one that starts well at the bar with a reasonably priced beer (no point blowing the stategic savings from the GOD deal on a martini just yet) with gregarious mixologist Jeffrey and his magic tricks. (They also have some good values on the $16.95 bar menu, like a popular chateau sirlon steak sandwich or the blackened salmon sandwich, which both come with salad and fries.)

First course for the Good Old Days, which happens in the dining room: A Castroville artichoke with a tomato remoulade-aoili assist.

Next up: The coconut curry soup they call "famous." I just call it yummy. I could drink a bucket of it.

The range of options for the main course impresses—a dozen or so choices include the king salmon (above), filet mignon tips, flat iron steak and prawns scampi.

One of our group went for the beef wellington. Hard to knock that entrée play.

But I tend to steer toward the pan fried sand dabs dore with a screamin' caper lemon sauce.

A tableside-tossed Caesar closes the sequence, furnishing a fresh and happy ending for a fairy tale I'll take over Shrek any night of the week.

You Had Me at "Beer"

Seems peeps have pilsners and ports on their minds. Might be because the Monterey Beer Festival is right around the corner June 5 (preceded by a free admission pre-party June 4 at the Culinary Center of Monterey), and because Cannery Row Brewing Company is scheduled to open around two weeks after that.

Nicole Gustas of Monterey County Convention and Visitors Bureau found a way to tap the current tide of beer enthusiasm with a fun rundown of 10 Places to Get a Beer on MCCVB's worthy blog.

It would be impossible to pour out a perfect list of 10 places, of course, but the most egregious absences I see on theirs would be London Bridge Pub (372-0581) with its great live music and picturesque dockside patios and The Bulldog (658-0686) given its cheeky bartenders and classic pub energy. (Both have very solid draft lineups.) My favorite two semi-secret spots, meanwhile, are the Aquarium's beautiful marble oceanview bar in Portola Restaurant (648-4870) and scruffy, old-school and simple awesome Duffy's Tavern (372-2565) next to the Presidio.

Local craft draft obsessors Merideth Canham Nelson and Chris Nelson (above) of Carmel Valley, also known as the Beer Geeks, enjoy a beer enthusiasm that's always flowing. They have somehow figured out a way to run all over the world sucking down noteworthy beers at the source, from Washington to Wales.

Yes, they are my heroes. And their weiner dogs (beer braut dogs?) are named Porter and Stout. (And it gets better: Stout is a stud at catching frisbees.)

I like the approach the Geeks articulate on said site: "We are not trying to tell you where to visit or what beers to drink; rather we hope to inspire you to look for your own beer adventures." They do that via video and prose, pictures and descriptors. Check out their website here.

Chris says Maiden Publick House in Big Sur (667-2395) and Crown and Anchor (649-6496) make his short list of prime places-for-a-pint, though he still mourns the passing of Ol' Factory Cafe.

"Maiden has a really good beer list," he says. "Crown and Anchor's just a fun place to go and meet friends for a beer or two."

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Montrio's New Menu

Here's where I have to tell my IT guy that my keyboard no longer works because…my dripping saliva waterlogged it.

I've been studying some of the new treats they'll line up at the old fire house building starting tonight, as the Montrio family celebrates 15 years with a free open house starring its purveyors, fishermen and farmers, items from the new menu and more (scroll down for RSVP info).

These are some new menu highlights from Tony Baker (above), some of which seize inspiration from the new pizza oven. (Fear not, the oatmeal crusted brie with cumberland sauce and the pancetta wrapped prawns with pickled slaw—featuring Florida gulf white shrimp USA wild wrapped in Hobbs pancetta—are still available.)

Some new $4 small bites:
Olive caper pizzeta with shaved dry jack and crispy capers
Ratatouille risotto fritters with smoked chile aioli

$6 treats:
Prime beef skewers prime new york trim
White anchovies with garlic toast and lemon oil

Some $8 options:
Crab and artichoke stuffed cheese crepe
Taste of California cheeses from Bellwether Farms

Other eye-catchers—especially for bacon adorees like me—include (prices listed in parentheses where available):

“Piadine” flatbread topped with chicken, fresh mozzarella, roasted peppers on housemade dough ($14)

The “Bacon and egg salad” with organic local greens with apple wood smoked bacon, house dried Swank Farms tomatoes, bacon poached free range egg and smashed croutons with a sherry vinaigrette ($10)

Seared scallops served over a root vegetable puree with local peas and smoked bacon lardons

Bacon wrapped pork tenderloin stuffed with braised pork over maple parsnip puree and roasted beets

SK Cattle Co. rib eye steak with savory bread pudding, roasted shallots, mushrooms and baby spinach

Roast duck breast with sweet onion potato gallette creamy garlic and wilted spinach with cherry port reduction

Grilled wild king salmon with roasted tomatoes and potato wedges

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Delicious History: Montrio Turns 15 With a Free Party

Time flies when the food is this fun.

Somehow it seems like just the other day that a salivating Central Coast community could hardly wait to see what the newest sibling in the Rio Grill-Tarpy's Roadhouse family would cook up, and despite understandably elevated expectations, Montrio Bistro (648-8880) transcended them.

It happened by way of ambiance, people and style. There was the same crayons-and-butcher paper casual atmosphere as Rio and Tarpy's and the same superb service, but its own charismatic firehouse-brick backdrop (and now-famous potato clouds) and its own spin on the restaurant family's fresh and inventive Californian fusion fare, with a Euro bent applied where Rio schewed Southwestly and Tarpy's tilted American rustic.

The bistro burger smacked down most every patty on the Peninsula, the wine list became arguably the best in downtown Monterey and Tony Baker's ever-changing fare—including lavish lamb tenderloin, artichoke raviolis and grilled white prawns sourced from local ranches and farms—made him a regional star. But it was the small bites that were ahead of their time, and made Montrio a much-buzzed-about dynasty in the Best Appetizers category in the Weekly's annual readers poll (though many made medleys of lobster mac 'n' cheese, oatmeal baked brie and pancetta-wrapped prawns a meal on its own).

They would take other categories, though, earning Best Restaurant in Monterey, Best in Monterey County and Best Restaurant More Than 10 Years Old by our readers at various intervals.

As Montrio turns 15 this week, restaurant co-founder/owner Tony Tollner and his Montrio team are only evolving that excellence.

A new menu further focuses their local-and-sustainable instincts by spotlighting specific providers and purveyors like SK Cattle Co., a county pioneer in grass-fed beef, or Ocean Mist, whose gorgeous green-globe artichokes Baker has become the definitive master of during travels to promote the Castroville thistle. (For a dynamite arti-bisque recipe he demo'd at the recent Artichoke Festival while his daughter, Hayley, recorded the instruction on an iPhone, scroll down the blog archive.)

A free 15th anniversary party touches off the new era this Thursday, May 27, from 5:30-8:30pm. (Space is limited—RSVP by contacting Kathy Solley at Montrio by e-mail at Like now.) Attendees can sip up on new signature cocktails from celebrated bartending vet Anthony Vitacca, enjoy samples from the new lineup and meet the local farmers and fishermen who deliver Montrio's sensational seasonal ingredients.

New "artisan"-style food prep sessions with the articulate epicurean artist Baker himself—think "Cheese Please" (noon-2pm June 26) and "A Sip of Summer's Sweetness" (July 17)—also diversify the excitement for $45 a pop.

And deals like Half Price Wine Night and Dinner & A Movie with across-Calle Principal Osio Cinemas ($21.95) happen Sunday and Sunday through Thursday, respectively.

With apologies to 50 Cent, "it's time to party like it's your birthday."

Monday, May 24, 2010

Food Photo $100 Prize Winner

Apparently the prize provided more than one sort of inspiration.

Sure the $100 gift certificate to Bubba Gump's on Cannery Row (373-1884) was motivation for local foodie photogs to submit their best portrait of pork, their finest frame of frites, their most impeccable image of iceberg lettuce wedged and decorated just right. (The only rules: That the food be harvested and/or prepped in Monterey County...and shot by an amateur.)

But it seems the shrimp that Gump's dishes out—a la popcorn or dynamite, cajun or cocktail, hidden in hush puppies or steamed in beer—played at least a subliminal part too: The three best photos all involved the popular little prawns.

Second runner up A. Melina Meltzer captured a memorable crab and shrimp salad from Tarpy's Roadhouse (647-1444) set off by an electric pink edible flower. "The meal was as delicious as it looks!" she e-mails. "I took a quick snapshot to send back home and make my brother jealous, and he was.

"If you have a contest like this again, it'll be a great excuse to have great food, and whip out a camera to capture the edible works of art the local restaurants offer!"

First runner up Douglas Mueller snapped a shot of Creole beauty Malinda DeRouen (above) prepping her shrimp-friendly "Gumbo Rue," on Fat Tuesday at Lou Lou's Griddle in the Middle. While there were better strictly food photo submissions, this one won because it deployed clever framing and told an inviting story.

And grand champion Colleen Manni—yes, the manager-wine maven at Bistro Moulin (333-1200), who won't have far to walk to reach Bubba G—took first for this crusty love affair of creme fraiche, lardons, fresh spinach leaves, heirloom cherry tomatoes, yellow pear and purple tomatoes, just a touch of red chili flakes and, yes, prawns.

"I made it at the home of Gerard Bechler [of Patisserie Bechler in Pacific Grove, 375-0846]. He has an awesome outdoor pizza oven in his backyard....and he throws the best pizza parties!" she writes. "He preps all the ingredients ahead for everyone, and has the dough in little balls all ready to go. Guests take turns rolling it out and making their own special creations. Then everyone shares the delicious and creative results."

Her result took top honors for its ability to engage the imagination, to get our own creativity growling, to channel community and collaboration. And to make us hungry.

Thanks to all who participated, and for sharing their delicious results. Here's to sipping, snacking and snapping.

Who Needs a VIP Cooking Demo (or Spendy Cookbook) to Score Rick Bayless Recipes?

LinkI didn't expect to see a chef, let alone a Chicago legend, at Costco wholesale warehouse.

But there he was, grinning. Rick Bayless, Cooking for Solutions’ Educator of the Year.

OK, Bayless, chef-founder of Windy City’s Frontera Grill and Topolobampo, wasn't there in the flesh, but rather on the side of a variety box of Mexican beers promoting recipes using some of the Dos Equis and Sol that could be found inside.

And as it turns out, the VIP cooking demo he did at Monterey Bay Aquarium a few days later, on Friday, May 21, had long ago sold out and I couldn't talk the Aquarium powers that be into letting me peek in to relay some insight to the people here.

So it was nice to be able to pull two of the Midwest master of nuevo Mexican's promising recipes from said case of cerveza. They appear below. (For a longer discussion of whether sustainable chefs and the conscious food movement going Costco-style mainstream is a good thing, check out my most recent column.)

Bacon Queso Fundido with Dos Equis Ambar

Serves 6 as an appetizer

3 strips thick-sliced bacon
1 medium-size white onion, diced
2 serrano chiles or 1 large jalepeno, stemmed, seeded, and finely chopped
1/4 cup diced sun-dried tomatoes
3 tablespons Dos Equi Ambar
8 ounces Monterey Jack cheese, shredded (about 2 cups)
warm corn or flour tortillas, or tortilla chips
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
Frontera Jalepeno Cilantro Salsa

* Heat oil in 8-inch nonstick frying pan over medium heat. Add bacon and cook until crisp, 6-8 minutes. Remove bacon, cool, then crumble and set aside. Pour off all but 1 tablespoon of pan drippings.
* Add onions to pan and saute over medium-high heat until golden, about 8 minutes. Add chiles and tomatoes; cook until chiles soften, about 1 minute. Add beer and stir until liquid has evaporated, about 2 minutes.
* Reduce heat to medium-low. Sprinkle cheese evenly over vegetables. Stir constantly until just melted, about 2 minutes. Transfer immediately to warm serving dish and sprinkle with bacon and cilantro.
* Serve in warm tortillas or on tortilla chips topped with salsa.

Scallop Ceviche with Chimichurri
Serves 8 to 10 as an appetizer

6 cloves garlic, unpeeled
2-3 serrano chiles
1 bunch fresh cilantro, stems trimmed
1/2 bunch flat-leaf parsley, stems trimmed
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
1 1/2 pounds bay scallops, patted dry
1/2 cup diced, peeled seedless cucumber
2 large avocados, pitted, peeled, and diced
Frontera tortilla chips or saltine crackers

Prepare chimichurri:
* In dry skillet, roast garlic and chiles over medium hear until soft and blackened in spots, about 10 minutes for chiles and 15 minutes for garlic. Cool then peel garlic. Puree garlic, chiles, cilantro, parsley, oil, and 2 teaspoons salt in blender or food processor. Refrigerate several hours.
* Pour lime juice over scallops in glass bowl. Refrigerate, covered, until scallops are "done " to your liking, (cut one in half and taste), usually 1-1 1/2 hours. Strain off lime juice and reserve. Add 1/2 cup of chimichurri, cucumber, and avocado to scallops and stir. Taste, adding reserved lime juice, remaining chimichurri, and salt as desired.
* Serve in small bowls or stemmed glasses accompanied by tortilla chips or saltines crackers.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Paul Hawken on the Power of Taste

California native Paul Hawken is the guy heads of state talk to when they must weave economic development with industrial ecology and environmental policy.

He writes in arresting ways about the most important things—The Next Economy, Growing a Business, The Ecology of Commerce and Blessed Unrest were best sellers, but his most recent, Natural Capitalism: Creating the Next Industrial Revolution with Amory Lovins, is described as required reading by some of the world's brightest minds.

He thinks through lens of philosophy and health and science and mortality and humanity. And, as the journalists, food providers and sustainable souls who shared the room with him at yesterday discovered, he speaks lyrically, vividly, poetically.

"Tastebuds are a teacher, a kindness, a guide. They guided us here today," he said. "They can heal us, heal the earth, heal how we farm."

His remarks, which led off the Sustainability Institute (the academic component of Cooking for Solutions), still have those present buzzing about them.

Here are some kernels I was able to scratch down:

"We tend to look at foodie events as other and indulgent, a niche idea, a niche movement. I’d like to counter that. We human beings have been chasing food since we got here. For 50,000 years, there was a spice trade all the way around the world. Visitation by Columbus was in search of spices. It was tantamount to gold. He found extraordinary edible landscape. He came from a continent where famine and disease was constant to one where, from Patagonia to Bering Straight, the natives were well fed. Was he surprised.

"There were 2,000 variety of corn, which today is the largest source of calories in world. He found vanilla, strawberries, zuccini, cranberries…and an endless variety of beans."

"Taste isn’t a sense, it’s common sense—how we evolved, an expression of our genetic needs."

"It seems like our culture is rediscovering our mouths, things that are to be enjoyed, tasted, not what Michael Pollan calls 'food like substances.' But corporations got there way before you. Studied senses, and they've been engineering food for years and years and years—in way to create few intense flavors that become pivot points…The Wall Street Journal had a story about McDonald's selling happy meals with a doll that was really popular at the time. They knew young girls going into puberty don’t want fatty foods, that they were losing the girls, and they wanted to get them more addicted to fatty foods. That was exactly what was happening. They had an understanding of mouth feel."

"Some chefs are almost autistic in taste. They taste things we cannot. We read poetry because people write things we cannot but we recognize them once they are there. These chefs are extrodinary, they can sip bouillabaisse, tell you where thing came from, whether the oil is virgin or extra virgin, whether it's mandarin zest—they know things that would go right past us. They write recipes the way poets write verse. We go to their theaters now. We go there as part of our evolution."

"Farmers and chefs and fishermen folk are not mere workers or artisans, yeomen of boats and farms providing pleasure with labor, this is a movement about reclaiming land, our place, our culture…How we let our biology end up in hands of Nestle and General Mills I'll leave in hands of cultural historian; [let's focus] on how to take back integrity of land, and sea, take back ownership of mouths, take back tsastebuds too."

"We want to create biological and social capital, not for those who steal future, but those who heal the future."

"Without farms with dandelions, heirlooms and minors lettuce, without those who understand relationship betweenwatersheds and soils, unless master those, we live in world with no memory, no faithfulness, and we do not honor our past."

"Taste unfolds because of interaction of water molecules—in this case saliva. When you kiss, you taste, when you put a raspberry in your mouth you kiss food. It's an orgy of exchanging bodily fluids with salmon and sorrel and soft cheeses."

"I hope every time you eat is an offering, is a toast to these remarkable people reimagining what it means to be a human being, do it by enticing us back to a world we have lost, of social interchange, about collective humanity we share."

"Stand up to raw and cancerous insults from mouths and guns and checkbooks of obese corporations, we who seek to protect this earth and all its denizens, actively seeking to love this world."

"Treasure the enormity of the simplest thing…"

"Small things done with love, small things lovingly done, are always within our reach. [That is the blessing of] exquisitely grown and prepared food—it's a model for everything we do in this life. If plutocrats did things as lovingly as chefs, it would be a very different world. We pay people who give the most of their lives the least. Today and throughout the weekend the least we can do is offer them our utter gratitude and amazement. Our unvarnished oath that we will take their offering and multiply them in world and never take them for granted."

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Monterey as Center of the Universe

Rick Bayless will be in Monterey for Cooking for Solutions tomorrow. Last night he cooked dinner at the White House (prepping his Mexican-inspired excellence for no less than guest of honor Mexican President Felipe Calderon.)

This morning the Washington Post's Juliet Eilperin broke news that the EPA is demanding a less toxic dispersant from BP. About an hour ago she leaned over and told Aquarium chair Julie Packard and communications chief Ken Peterson precisely that, offering them some good news on a heavy topic that is front-of-mind at Cooking for Solutions' Sustainability Institute, the wonky-policy-science side of the celebration of eating habits that are healthy for the land, sea and the eater herself.

Paul Hawken, author of Taste of the Future and Natural Capitalism: Creating the Next Industrial Revolution (which Bill Clinton called it one of the five most important books in the world today), already blew minds with his opening remarks. I'll have highlights from that talk, the institute's panels and over the next few days.

And maybe or word or two on the tastes from the nightly parties.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

One of the Better Things to Do With 20 Bones

It might be the best $20 a local wine drinker can spend: An Andrew Jackson for the Santa Lucia Highlands Tasting at Zeph’s One Stop (757-3947) in Salinas. There’s one 5:30pm Thursday, May 20.

, Hahn, Tondre, Pessagno, Paraiso, De Tierra, Puma Road, Joyce, Las Alturas, Mer Soleil, Aiena, Morgan and Manzoni are among the wonders.

That's a good amount of great grape juice in one place.

Excitement Brewing

Duvel from Belgium. Goose Island from Chicago. Port Brewing from San Diego. Magic Hat from Vermont. Ninkas from Oregon. Speakeasy from San Francisco. Unibroue from Canada.

Yes, the Monterey Beer Festival cometh, June 5, at the Monterey Fairgrounds ($35).
But behind it rises a local cerveza sensation with a gravitational pull strong enough to grab 250-plus for a job fair last week—Cannery Row Brewing Company—and the fair didn't even pour a lowsy drop of beer.

The final “draft” of the CRBC beer manifesto-menu I’m looking is 19 pages and 7,540 words long, or more than twice the length of this week’s cover story, topped by five house labels—including a Madame’s Flora Bavarian, “a light, approachable beer, with a hazy opalescent appearance and soft, gentle texture” named for the brothel that once lived next door. (The place is scheduled to open by the U.S. Open golf championship mid-June.)

Now sources tell me a beer marriage to rival the one that happened on the very lawns at last year’s Beer Fest—one between the festival itself and the folks at CRBC—isn’t out of the question.

I asked David Bernahl (above), co-founder of CRBC parent company Coastal Luxury Management (whose superchef Mark Ayers is already “in the lab” testing menu items), and beer festival chief Jeff Moses about the romantic overtures.

“CLM is always looking at countless opportunities year round that would benefit from our infrastructure and network of partners,” Bernahl says, “to make those brands more special and valuable. No formal offer has been made, but we’re like-minded people.”

Moses offers a version of the same thought. “You never know,” he says.

• • •

Speaking of the man leading people to pilsners and ports, Moses poses an interesting question in an e-mail, with title capitalization for effect. "Is Beer the Next New Celebrity?"

He goes on: "The Fame Makers (the Media) are looking for a new child to raise, folowing the line up of (famous) siblings that are now all grown up."

His "List of the Now Famous":
1) Movie Stars
2) Musician
2) Athletes
3) TV Actors
4) Wine
5) Chefs

"Is Beer Next? American now has the most diverse selection of beers in the world: 1,500 U.S. Breweries are producing over 100 styles of beers. And 3,000 breweries in Europe produce beer."

It's enough to elicit a giggle—but the guy's got a point. And it's enough to make a man thirsty.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Bigger Heart of the Artichoke Festival

The first time I went to the Artichoke Festival a couple of years back, despite the sautéed artichokes, fried artichoke hearts, artichoke burritos, and grilled artichokes, it still felt like Castroville’s annual adoration of its flagship thistle—even with the waves of live music and the parade, the hot rods and the bounce houses—was missing some ingredients.

After this weekend, I no longer feel that way.

BoldSkateboading ramped up the excitement with free-wheeling talents on loan from the Marina Skate Team and support from team sponsors On the Beach Surf Shop and OTB owner Kelly Sorensen. The Castroville Skate Park was a hive of activity, hosting a multifaceted competition and a range of challenges and demos while Sorensen lent helmets, a DJ boomed music and Marina Recreation Director Terry Siegrist beamed at how magnetic his program has become for a group of kids that doesn't have many incentives remotely as potent to keep them on point—the team took the state skate title this year, besting more than 15 other teams from around California.

The wine-tasting pavilion has aged nicely, filling in more wineries like Bargetto and Otter Cove, from the indomitable Richard Oh (pictured above fielding a live radio interview), who in addition to some new releases, also poured a few fleeting Pinot pours from his up-market Oh label.

The most welcome upgrade, though, was engineered by Prunedale's Marc Jones, owner of event planning-catering-consulting outfit Tasty Solutions (277-2576) and a key food product player at this year's Pebble Beach Food & Wine. He brought in local chefs like Mary Pagan (of the Monterey Culinary Center, above) and Tony Baker (Montrio, below left), who led lively and insightful cooking demos while tolerating iffy emcees like Ray Napolitano and me.

"With a special thing like an artichoke, it made sense to take [the festival] in a cooking direction," Jones said.

Pagan and Baker both did bisques and unloaded a harvest of artichoke ideas. Pagan encouraged folks to microwave steamer bags to cook artichokes easily and accurately—and to use manufactured cream available at Smart and Final to give soups a restaurant velvet finish. Baker pointed out the stem of a 'choke stores more tender heart behind the stringy and easily discarded exterior.

In the tasting pavilion they offered gourmet renditions of artichoke dishes for free, including a smooth and savory arti-veggie soup and an artichoke risotto with rough cut bacon (above) that was artfully textured and dancing with complementary creamy and rich flavors, marking a welcome alternative to the mile-long potato chips and funnel cakes outside. (Not saying you can't still have the wonder that is a hand-dipped corn dog—I too adore them—just saying now there's a choice that wasn't around before.)

Baker starred while his young daughter recorded his performance on an iPhone. His healthy and delicious bread-thickened bisque with no cream or butter had folks lining up for a taste after his demo (above). The recipe appears below.

Finally, there were significantly more arti options in the main food arena than I remember: Think 'choke tamales and fish tacos with artichoke sauce and artichoke cupcakes. And the "ag art" was awesome. (C'mon—nopale cactus paddles for fins? Tell me you don't like that and you'd be lying.)

Same goes for an onion-headed python.

Or a seal in a lifesaver.

Here's the recipe...

Artichoke Sourdough Bisque
by Tony Baker, Montrio Bistro

Servings: 8
Portion Size: 8 fl. oz. ladles
Prep: 10 mins
Cook: 30 mins

This is a healthy and delicious soup that is simple to make and can be ready in about 40 mins. The chef does not using any cream or butter just a little olive oil. To thicken the soup instead of using a heavy roux or potatoes, I added just a slice and a half of sourdough bread to thicken 2 quarts of soup.


  • 4 extra large artichokes
  • ½ cup virgin olive oil
  • 1 yellow onion, medium
  • 1 leek
  • 1 celery stalk
  • 5 garlic cloves
  • 3½ oz sourdough bread (1 ½ slices approx)
  • 4 Sage leaves, fresh
  • 1 sprig Thyme, fresh
  • 6 cups chicken stock
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  1. Using a sharp serrated knife, trim the artichoke all the way down to the heart. Using a spoon scrape away the fuzzy choke and discard. You can also peel the stem and use that in the soup, since the stem is an extension of the heart. When your artichokes are cleaned, roughly slice.

  2. Wash and roughly chop all of the vegetables.

  3. Heat the oil in a large thick-bottomed pan.

  4. Sweat (to sauté without color) the artichokes, onion, leek, garlic, celery and thyme, until tender.

  5. Add the chicken stock, vegetable stock could also be used.

  6. Gently simmer the soup for 20 Mins.

  7. Add the roughly chopped sourdough bread and sage.

  8. Simmer for a further 3-5 mins

  9. In small batches, puree the soup using either a blender, food processor or immersion blender. A conventional blender should produce a nice smooth creamy soup.

  10. Place all of the soup into a clean saucepan, reheat, check-seasoning (use caution when using canned or packaged broth as they can contain a lot of sodium) Season with fresh ground black pepper.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Brand New Bargains at Bahama Billy's

Meatloaf sliders and neatly stacked baby back ribs zoom from the kitchen. The heated patio, even on an overcast day, is well-populated. Both dining rooms bring a little buzz. In one, Gino administers a lively bar where empty stools are hard to come by.

It's 5pm Thursday, and Bahama Billy's (626-0430) is bumping. I came down to talk to owner Anthony Momo about the rumored sale of the Barnyard standby, but found much of my attention attracted by the brand-spankety new "Island Time" happy hour menu and the "Locals Sunset Menu," both 3-6pm daily and both introduced just yesterday. I tapped the crab cake from the happy hour menu, which also slaps down the loaf sliders with guava gravy ($5), sesame crusted rare tuna ($6), sweet potato fries with mango chutney and habañero aioli ($3), fried coconut prawns with pineapple salsa and island tartar ($5) among nine choices. At $3.50, the cake, which comes with a little baby arugula salad and a zing of lemon aioli, is a steal.

I also reeled in a surprisingly sizeable bahama fish taco with cilantro slaw, habañero aioli, jack cheese and a nice piece of fried Alaskan pollock for $4.

The Island Time lineup also rallies some libations, including draft Fat Tire, Pilsner Urquell and Blue Moon for $2.50, a range of reds and whites by the glass for $3-$6 and tall mojitos (like the one pictured above), margaritas, bahama mamas (with coconut rum, banana, pineapple and orange juices and dark rum) and miserable bastards (spiced rum, 151, pineapple and OJ) for $5.

The Sunset Menu, meanwhile, delivers three courses and calypso bread for $15.95. Round 1: crab mango bisque or bahama green salad. Round 2: meatloaf, fish and chips with island slaw, Billy's rib rack with garlic fries, a Hawaiian pulled pork plate with sticky rice, chipotle chicken pasta with applewood bacon, a jerk chicken rice boel, hoisin salmon with sticky rice or blackened mahi mahi. Round 3: an "Arctic sundae" with kona coffee chips, chocolate sauce and fresh cream.

Momo acknowleged a potential sale has been discussed, but that everybody "is putting the carriage before the horse" and stressed that any shifts wouldn't happen for more than a month and a half at the very, very least.

You could say the sale's on island time.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Goin Off

Suzanne Goin has worked monster double shifts at Michelin three star restaurants in France. She starred at Chez Panisse and Olives, delivering big-flavor menu items at some of the biggest restaurants on the continent. Now she steers three of L.A.'s hottest restaurants in Lucques, A.O.C. and Tavern, drawing James Beard nominations as she goes. And she does it all with exacting attention to the sources of her food stuffs, which earned her Chef of the Year from Cooking for Solutions, happening May 21-22 at Monterey Bay Aquarium.

In short, she knows her cheffing, so when she speaks, listening is wise. Here's some nuggets.

On her earliest food influences: "Growing up, my dad loved to cook, loved to eat, and though my mom was a very good cook, she cooked every day, and didn’t neccesarily love it. He would cook on weekends, it could still be fun, a hobby thing. That was always a big part of our lives, where are we going out to eat, what are we going to cook?

"And we'd sit as a family and eat. It shouldn’t be an odd thing [like it is today], that time at the table. The food is the thing that gets you gathering around. They were really into food, too. Dad was real Francophile. French was the best."

On her first connection with supreme ingredients: "I went to Providence to go to college and worked at Al Forno. That was the first time I saw really delicious restaurant food that was not French. It was Italian-based, but vegetable driven, and they were also into the local thing. We'd drive to one town on the shore, 45 minutes, to get tomatoes, because there were no farmers markets."

On the not-so-simple simple things: "I love simplicity, but it can sometimes be too plain. It’s nice to take really great ingredients and honor them, but you should be able to dress them up and make it even better—a little added ingredient, or a sauce, should take it to another level."

On life at Chez Panisse: "We'd change menu every day—which is much more common now, but 15 years ago, it wasn't. We'd literally say, 'What is he growing today?' and sometimes it was 20 cases of artichokes. What are we going to do with that? That's how it was—the restaurant has a connection with the farm, whatever he sells, we buy, and cook. On the fourth day—we've already done roasted artichoke bisque, artichoke pizza, what do we do now? That’s what pushes you.

"Learning to work within that restriction was a challenge at first, now I need that restriction, and it's how I decide what to cook on a Sunday: What’s growing? What does everybody have?"

On the restaurant life in France: "You'd work 7am through lunch then clean the kitchen and have a one hour break. Then I came back to Boston, and someone was complaining about working six days in a row, maybe 30 hours total. It was like, You have no idea. I wouldn’t want to go back and do it all over but I'm really glad I had that experience."

For those in the market for another helping of genius chef insights, I'll post more morsels—including thoughts on how to eat healthily for the planet and your constitution while saving money—in the coming days. I also came across some great tips for parent-cooks and a bunch of riveting recipes while marinating my questions for her.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Bike for Free Food and Adventures in Crab

This Thursday, May 13, is a great day for bellies on bicycles, in part because it's the 16th Annual Monterey County Bike Week's Bike to Work/School Day. (The simple-but-beautiful motto is money: "Healthier. Greener. Cheaper. Smarter." And tough to deny.)

From 7-9am that means free breakfast—a mixed medley of fresh fruit, pastries, bagels, muffins, orange juice, coffee and tea—at a bunch of strategically placed pitstops around town:

Recreational Equipment, Inc, 8th Street and Beach Range Road, Marina
Joselyn's Bicycles, 398 E. Franklin Street, Monterey
Light and Motion, 300 Cannery Row, on the Coastal Trail, Monterey
The Haute Enchilada Café & Gallery, 7902-A Moss Landing Road, Moss Landing
CycleAware, 2000 Sunset Dr., a quarter mile before Asilomar State Beach, Pacific Grove
HSBC, 1441 Schilling Place, Salinas
Salinas Valley Memorial Healthcare System, 450 East Romie Lane, Salinas
Embassy Suites, 1441 Canyon Del Rey, Seaside

Schools are getting into it too. Bike to School food is going around at:

Aromas Elementary School, Aromas
La Mesa Elementary School, Monterey
Monterey Bay Charter School, Pacific Grove
Kammann Elementary School, McKinnon Elementary School, Frank Paul, Mission Park, New Republic, Bardin and Oasis Charter Elementary School, Salinas
Frank Ledesma Elementary School, Soledad

Meanwhile, all Thursdays mean food deals all over the county thanks to HER Helmet Thursdays, where an army of hotels, entertainment/educational venues and restaurants kick down discounts for those rolling vehicles with kickstands (or just spokes).

Just a smattering of spots: National Steinbeck Center in Salinas, the Cannery Row IMAX, MY Museum, Doris Day’s Cypress Inn, Scheid Winery, Wickets at Bernardus, Taqueria del Mar. There are literally hundreds, with restaurants very well represented.

Learn more at Bicycling Monterey.

I actually biked to Moss Landing with local artist-athlete Amanda Burkman the other day. (The distance remains a career high; the whole pastoral artichoke field feel is neat, but the two-hour-plus-round-trip trek ain't for everyone.)

We had time and ample wobbly leg motivation for a little pause, so it was into the sun-splashed, flowering patio at Haute Enchilada Café (633-5843) for us, which is only open Friday and Saturday, but packs 'em in on nice days. The crab taco was the perfect light bite. Words get in the way with this baby—fresh, spiced right by a mellow and smoky house salsa, wow. Actually worth the $6ish tag.

Besides, we knew we were in a good spot when we spied Didiere Dutertre and Colleen Manni, the (engaged) talented duo behind Bistro Moulin (333-1200). They're celebrating their third birthday next month with $3 champagne and $3 frites (with homemade aioli) for the entire month. Just ask for it (and perhaps tell them happy b-day).

More incredible crab action: Dangerous Catch Captain Johnathan Hillstrand (above left) from the F/V Time Bandit (above right)—the guy that braves graveyard-cold winds and murderous seas on Discovery Channel—will be docked Domenico's (372-3655) on Fisherman's Wharf 5-6:30pm Friday, May 14, signing copies of the portrait pictured.

A three course meal of soup or salad, Alaskan king crab or Alaskan salmon, and an individual sized baked Alaskan for dessert will honor the occasion (at $50 plus tax and tip). All dinners will include signed photo and mini meet-'n'-greet with the cap'n. Should be enough time to ask him why he's such a badass. (Overflow will go to neighboring Café Fina.)

Captain Johnathan will also sign an additional 100 photos during his Friday visit that Domenico's on the Wharf will give to its first 100 diners after 4pm Saturday, May 15.

Another crustacean encore is occuring in Carmel. It's there that Chef Christopher Caul's thoughts are drifting east. The seasonal smile on the native New Yorker's face, though, isn't going anywhere. I'll let him tell you why.

"Mid May is when [soft shell crab season] starts and we will receive them from the East Coast three times a week through the end of September," the main man at Christopher's on Lincoln (626-8000) wrote in an e-mail. "I like to bread them in panko crumbs, fry them crispy and serve them on a bed of jicama slaw that also has red and yellow peppers, carrots, red onion and baby arugula, lemon-lime and a little extra virgin olive oil. Then they are topped with a black bean and avocado salsa. Yummy!"

He continued from there (and later told me the crab's just $14.75 a la carte/as an appetizer). "We also get a few requests for more of a classic recipe, with just a little lemon caper butter," he said. "They go great with the Cima Collina SB we are serving by the glass."

In a word: Crackin'.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Wine Down Wednesdays Winding Down

The very cool offseason winery spotlight series at Tarpy's Roadhouse (647-1444) is down to its last few 5-7pm humpdays. Last week it was the good juice from Joyce being poured as part of the triple threat evening: 1) Free tastings happen in the fireplace room; 2) a special prixe fixe menu is just $21.95 (and paired glasses of Joyce at half price), and 3) bottles of the featured label that Tarpy's carries are available at a 50 percent discount.

The next two wineries featured before the series takes the summer off: Neyers (today, Wednesday, May 12) and Joullian (May 19).

If you get there early (or on a different day of the week), that only means more tasting sensations at next door Ventana Vineyards (372-7415). Elizabeth (above) took local chef-Weekly contributor Michael Whalen and me through some Sauv Blanc, Gewurtztraminer, Tempranillo and Granache and a Rubystone Rhine blend. The star, undoubtably, was the new Le Mistral. It's a must sip.

And some of the deals at this point in the year are silly. I walked with a case of 2006 "Gold Stripe" Chardonnary for $50, or about $4 a bottle. There aren't many left.