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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.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Things You Should Love

1. Three geniuses, one dinner.

They don't make many tasting experiences like this.

Chef Cal Stamenov is the creator of the Zagat-wowing "California natural" ambrosia at Bernardus Lodge’s signature restaurant Marinus, where he handpicks gems from the garden to combine with what his foragers and sources give him to craft things like black morels in black truffle oil. (Check out a recent experience in his rarified epicurean atmosphere here.)

Gary Franscioni
of Roar Wines grows grapes so glorious he can charge as much for Pinot poundage as anyone in the world. Really.

And Gary Pisoni of Pisoni Vineyards & Winery, who partners with Franscioni with Garys' Vineyard, is larger than life. Together they made Santa Lucia's rep what it is in the wine world (namely: more revered by the sip).

Thursday, July 29, a 6:30pm welcome reception unwraps on Wickets Terracebefore the 7pm dinner—sounds like Eden for a summer evening. $135, 658-3550

This sucker will sell out. Five courses plus at least five wines multiplied these three heroes equals exponential excellence.

2. Farmers markets flying all over the place.

This month is MPC Farmers Market's last as a Thursday operation. Starting in August the freshness descends upon the lower parking lot on quieter Fridays to allow a surge of recessionary junior college students desperately needed parking on busier Thursday. More than 50 vendors—including fresh oyster shuckers and boutique sourkraut experts—will also appear at different hours from now on, with an earlier 10am-2pm slot. Info at

In Pacific Grove, the much debated shift of the city's certified market is finally happening. Central Avenue supplants Lighthouse as the street to be on. Starting this Monday, vendors began setting up between Forest and Fountain avenue. The market will still run 4-7pm. More at Everyone's Harvest website.

3. More pizza.

With Croce's Pizza and Croce's East Coast Eatery evaporating at the start of the year, downtown Monterey faced a sudden hole—one exaggerated come late night—when the pair of places was among the only viable options. Fortunately the hole has been filled.

The Scarface posters and Godfather slices are gone, but nice brick walls, archways and counters and friendly folks are in place at Bellagio Pizzeria (643-9500).

They had slices of cheese, pepperoni and meatlover's when a colleague and I stopped by to uptick our body sugar after giving blood at the Old Monterey Farmers Market, where the Bloodmobile parks every second Tuesday.

Their meatlover's enjoys salami, pepperoni and two types of sausage and is admittedly similar to the Godfather, but not quite on par—it could use a little more sauce. The Frank's Red Hot in the tall bottle and the seasonings come in handy.

Staffers on hand seemed more enthusiastic about baking a fresh to-order pizza than the slices, and the specialty pies ($7.99/7-inch to $27.99/18-inch with four other sizes in between) include attractions like garlic chicken combination, Tuscan veggie and a "Pisa" with mozzarella, spinach, garlic, feta, artichokes, tomatoes on a garlic/olive oil base.

There is an all-you-can-eat pizza-and-salad bar for $7.99 come lunchtime ($4.95/kids; $3.99 without salad), and perhaps most importantly, late night hours that help the drunk club monkeys sober up and the taxi drivers feed their families: the joint's open until 4am Thursday through Saturday (and 3am otherwise).

4. Seaside grub.

The inaugural Taste of Seaside hits 6-8:30pm this Friday, July 23, at the Seaside City Center.

Ventana Vineyard
, Schied Vineyard, Baywood Cellars and more wineries lubricate while ACME Coffee energizes and community classics including Turtle Bay Taqueria, Angelina’s Bakery, Pho King, Orient Express, Del Monte Cafe, Saigon Noodle, Kahn's Kabob House, Fishwife and Harumi—fresh seafood! tacos! noodles! sushi! pho!—all fill small plates with flavor for $25 that directly benefits Seaside Police Activities League.

(The International Flavors of Marina happens a day earlier. More on that here.)

5. Summertime rooftops.

The Inn at Del Monte's Wednesday dusk happy hour rocks on buoyed by bay views, DJ Sparkinsky beats, free homemade Mediterranean snacks, a fun crowd and $5 drinks.

Learn more by checking out a recent post on the sunset scene here.

6. Free lunch.

Yes, you read that right. Buy one lunch or breakfast and get one free with a printable coupon on Monterey Cookhouse's (642-9900) website. Meanwhile happy hour specials 4-6pm every day of the week: Draft beer and well cocktails run $3, hot dog and beer is $5.95, and a damn good 1/2 pound all natural hamburger with fries and a beer for $10, and by the glass wine secials.

7. Life at Esteban.

The terms were simple: Quick nibble and sipper, somewhere strategically located between Seaside and P.G. So was the answer, accordingly: Esteban (375-0176).

We lingered on the elegant patio over the complimentary (and warm) flatbread with housemade hummus, a little oil and balsamic and a robust, deep purple olive tapenade, tasting the Valencia (whiskey, raspberry and ginger beer, $8 in a pint glass), the Vega Sindora Chardonnay ($7), the seafood stew (fresh but disappointingly bland, $9, pictured below) and the spanish sausage with peppers and mashed potatoes (dynamic and delicious, $9).

Now they've got a wine dinner coming:

6:30pm Wednesday, July 28, $55, Anglim winery from Paso Robles. "Look for dishes like duck confit with peaches," Chef Thomas Snyder writes, "stuffed calamari with squid ink sauce, crab salad and leg of lamb."