Search This Blog

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, August 31, 2010

1833 Restaurant Update

I was in the neighborhood the other day, so I stuck my head in over at Hartnell to see how things are coming together at Restaurant 1833 in the old Stokes Adobe.

Restaurants chief Gary Obligacion was his usual ebullience despite what he described as a steady diet of “curveballs” in getting the place ready.

“Every time we do anything,” he grinned, “we find something that we have to replace.”

It was a surreal thing seeing its gradual reinvention in action—like seeing Grandma get a massive makeover. The outside’s no longer pink, the piles of cement in the driveway testify to how much has been excavated from the kitchen's unexpected trenches. The kitchen is another impressive animal already, with the oven moving into the back, a couple of walls coming down to open up communication and work space, and smoothed floors. Obligacion adds that Chef Tim Mosblech has consulted constantly.

“The kitchen’s built for speed,” Obligacion says.

Nearby, the bar is coming together beautifully. Though the original lift-off date has come and gone, and despite the fact that CLM co-owners Rob Weakley and David Bernahl would like “to see it open yesterday,” from the looks of it, the explosive opening week is still weeks away.

Nibble more things 1833 by checking out a recent post on the opening.

Holy Delish Dishes Batman: Michelin Star Chefs Coming This Way Quickly

A super-powered dinner has materialized suddenly—and from a look at the lineup the tickets might go at a similar speed. The RSVP is already nigh, in fact. (Call 236-5858 now.)

The local American Institute of Wine & Food and American Red Cross tribes have aligned four of Nor Cal's most capable chefs in Charles Phan (The Slanted Door, San Francisco), Ken Frank (La Toque, Napa), Peter Armellino (The Plumed Horse, Saratoga) and Gerald Hirigoyen (Piperade, S.F.) for "An Evening to Remember" 5:30pm Saturday, Sept. 11, at the Beach and Tennis Club in Pebble Beach. The privilege runs $250, includes the champagne reception, silent auction and entertainment, and could even merit a black tie (read: that's optional). "To remember" sounds right after a look at the menu below:

Champagne Reception
Chorizo Empanadas with Pimentos de Padron (Chef Hirigoyen)
Daikon Rice Cakes (Chef Phan)
Arancini with Truffled Taleggio (Chef Lopez)
Rosti Potatoes with California Caviar and Crème Fraîche (Chef Frank)

Amuse Bouche
Seared Hudson Valley Foie Gras on Walnut Fig Bread
Strawberry Rhubarb Compote
Chef Peter Armellino

First Course
Manila Mango, Maine Lobster and Lemongrass
2006 Chateau Montelena, Riesling, Napa Valley
Chef Ken Frank, La Toque, Napa

Second Course
California Abalone Farm Abalone with Black Trumpet Mushrooms
2008 Morgan Winery, Metallico Chardonnay, Monterey County
Chef Charles Phan, The Slanted Door, San Francisco

Third Course
Roasted Squab with Moorish Spice and Braised Fennel
2005 Arrels Grenache, Priorat, Spain
Chef Gerald Hirigoyen, Piperade and Bocadillos Restaurants, San Francisco

Fourth Course
South Texas Antelope
Tarbais Beans, Saucisson and Roast Sweet Onions
2007 Paraiso Vineyards, Pinot Noir, Monterey County
Chef Peter Armellino, The Plumed Horse, Saratoga

Fifth Course
"A sweet ending"
Chef Michael Whalen, Pacific Grove

Monday, August 30, 2010

The Changing Food Face of New Orleans

Hurricane Katrina and its nasty disposition are on a lot of minds as the five-year anniversary finds its way into the many headlines.

Coincidentally, Weekly contributor and South native Stuart Thornton just penned a piece for National Geographic Education exploring how the flavors of the famous destination for epic eats that is New Orleans has shifted as new Latino populations arrived to help deal with disaster's devilish consequences.

It's a telling piece about the character of an area, but also about how much food mirrors our culture, our challenges and our resilience. In short, how it mirrors us.

Check that piece, "Multicultural Stew," by clicking here.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Two Looks at the Trader Joe's Addiction

In my mind, the only paved place that rivals the frustration of L.A.'s 405 Freeway is the Trader Joe's parking lot. The place comes more crowded than the dancefloor at Ipanema's Carioca da Gema during Carnaval, with none of the grinding side benefits.

One of the reasons I like the chain—or at least a reason that ranks just above the baby watermelons and the chocolate covered pomegranate seeds—is its heavy community-support presence, which TJ's empowers local managers to direct. (OK, I admit I have an unfettered fondness for the inventive trail mixes and clever hummus incarnations too).

A recent Fortune piece about this grocery infatuation of mine and yours packs in fascinating insights by the bunch, hitting on everything from TJ's "obsessively secretive" corporate tendencies to its gargantuan revenues—sales last year were roughly $8 million, on par with Whole Foods and more than Bed, Bath & Beyond.

Less enlightening but arguably as accurate (and at least as entertaining) arrives this video by some awesome guy with a camera phone:

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Pregnant With Promise: A Report from ALBA Breakout Fundraising Dinner

Note: It’s almost unfair to take a reporter with already superhuman observational abilities and enhance them. But that’s what the birds and the bees did to Weekly Assistant Editor Kera Abraham.

As with many pregnant women, her bundle on board has made her senses sharper, tastes more textured, flavors more intense. So who could be better to scout a special food event at Monterey Peninsula Country Club last week, a heady and promising collaboration between the small organic farms of nonprofit Agricultural and Land-based Training Association and several local chefs.

Here’s what she found out, paired with photos by Hanif Panni.

In an evening that featured dishes as elaborate as small-stem strawberry-basil pavlova with cherry balsamic, the standout tastes were the simplest.

Like garbanzos as I’ve never known them.

Jeffrey Anderson, a chef and director of culinary innovation for Safeway (yes, Safeway), put the elbow grease into the fresh green roasted beauties enhanced by just a bit of olive oil and garlic sea salt.

Garbanzos are green in their natural state, Anderson told me; it’s the freeze-drying that makes them the camel color we’ve come to expect from hummus.

Chickpeas in such a virgin state are hard to find, he said, serving up platters of them during the outdoor hors d’oeuvres round of ALBA’s benefit dinner at Monterey Peninsula Country Club in Pebble Beach on Sunday, Aug. 22. The event, which came as ALBA nears its 10th anniversary, put its $125-a-head benefits towards its work educating; leasing and partnering on microloans for small farmers in Salinas Valley; distributing organic produce; setting up local farmers markets and farm stands; and boosting food stamp/EBT programs at area farmers markets.

But back to the beans. They’re on par with fava beans in the tedious peeling department.

But oh, how they popped on the tongue, the very essence of late-summer freshness. On a patio occupied by some mighty fine appetizers, it was the humble garbanzos that attracted the most enthusiastic gaggle of nibblers.

Followed by Anderson’s scrumptious squash blossoms stuffed with goat cheese and toasted pistachios.

Not that the chilled tomato gazpacho consommé...

or line-caught Pacific tuna and avocado tartar in a black sesame cone didn’t impress.

“One of the beautiful things about working with ALBA is, you have access to these ingredients that are hard to get anywhere else,” said Dory Ford, former top chef at the Aquarium and now the owner of Aqua Terra Culinary...

as he topped mini Dungeness crab cakes with shredded beet-and-fennel relish.

He was hitting on the core essence of ALBA’s inaugural event: All fruits, vegetables and meats were sourced from within a 40-mile radius. Many of them came from ALBA’s own small farmers, several of whom spoke during dinner.

The children of ALBA berry farmers Lupe and Francisco Serrano told of how going organic “united our family,” while waiters served up MPCC chef Colin Moody’s line-caught, fennel-dusted Pacific halibut with a mild, unexpected artichoke-chevre custard.

That the halibut and line-caught tuna are green-listed “Best Choices” on the Aquarium’s Seafood Watch card is no accident: The Aquarium is a strong ALBA supporter, table mate and Seafood Watch outreach manager Sheila Bowman explained.

ALBA farmers Hector and Rosario Mora took the mike as the second course rolled out: Corral de Tierra Country Club Executive Chef William Bennett’s pan-roasted chicken breast and leg confit, heirloom summer squash and roasted tomato in natural jus. The confit, with a salty, creamy mashed potato-like consistency, had me dreaming of Thanksgiving.

Third course was even more delightful: A Potted Farmstead beef stew, served in a glass canning jar, with fall-apart-tender beef chunks steeped in a local-tomato piperade. Comfort food at once gourmet and country-kitchen hearty.

Farmer Eleazer Juarez delivered the night’s poetry as the stew made its debut. “It’s hard to be a farmer,” he said, “but I love waking up in the morning and seeing the lettuces and talking to them, talking to the soil…”

The Emerson-esque prose had tablemate Dudley, a visitor up from Laguna Beach, buzzing with inspiration. “My favorite thing is listening to the farmers,” he said. “It’s as real as it gets.”

Just at the night’s culinary climax, Ford introduced dessert. He’d been asked to work with TLC Ranch’s local eggs, with their golden-yellow yolks; and ALBA’s “beautiful, tiny” raspberries, whose smallness, he said, was the mark of a truly local berry: “You couldn’t buy it at a grocery store if you wanted to.”

The “golden raspberry egg” arrived in the center of a three-dessert platter, flanked by a chocolate terrine with salted caramel croquant and strawberry-basil pavlova with cherry balsamic.

An edible work of art: A tiny spoon allowed us to dip into the open-topped egg shell through layers of whipped cream and chilled, succulent custard, to the single golden raspberry nestled like a pearl at the bottom.

“Get down in the egg!” Dudley gushed. “There’s somethin’ goin’ on in there!”

In respect to my gestating lil’ one, I abstained on the five pours of local wines—except for one tantalizing sip of Lone Oak Vineyards’ Lucienne Pinot Noir from Santa Lucia Highlands. It tasted like the late-summer sunlight dappling the dahlias and sunflowers in the MPCC courtyard.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Peppy Patty Special That Goes Fast

I've tasted his grade AAA crock-pot jumbalaya and scouted some of the best barbecue in Texas under his direction, so when veteran Weekly contributor Stuart Thornton tells me he's got something worth chewing on, I tend to listen. He filed this report on a once-a-week winner on Calle Principal in downtown Monterey.

Like a shooting star or a rare seasonal wildflower, Café Lumiere’s patty melt specials don’t stick around for long. This past Thursday, the special sold out in just over an hour. It’s easy to understand why after biting into the hot sandwich, which includes a seasoned beef patty, caramelized onions, fresh avocado, melted Swiss cheese, grilled sourdough bread and, best of all, a tangy chipotle mayo sauce.

Café Lumiere (920-2451) is hoping to offer the melts every Thursday, and Lumiere cook Cirilo Aragon lets me in on his secret to crafting the quick-selling item.

“It’s all fresh,” he says. “It’s not frozen meat. I buy it the day before, and it makes all the difference.”

Hopefully, next week, Aragon will buy more so this tasty lunch special sticks around a bit longer.

The special, $7 with a salad, starts flying out of the kitchen at 11am.

And there are other daily specials. Friday rotates between chicken posole with quesadillas or burritos and Southeast Asian style plates like chicken curry.

My favorite hits Wednesdays with Aragon's big bowl of Vietnamese pho ($7) luxuriated with fresh bean sprouts, mint, basil and sliced peppers (it's big enough that a half orders might be advisable for $5.50). Then again, I haven't played the patty.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Awesome Indian Summer Idears

Finally, right when it looked like June Gloom might spill beyond a July to Decry and into Ugly August, the skies broke and the bizarrely lame weather went bye bye. Indian summer is here, señores and señoritas, and many are the ways to enjoy it. What follows are some outdoors/picnicky/summer-only situations very worth noting:

Maybe the best restaurant-resort west of Aspen holds its most affordable fun of the year—and maybe the best value of the summer when Bernardus does its annual garden party-anniversary 2-5pm Sunday, Aug. 29, with live music, new release Bernardus wines and hors d'oeurvres by your hero and mine, Chef Cal Stamenov. The guy routinely works magic; it just usually runs in the hundreds, not $25 like this event. 658-3515 for tickets...

The Hyatt’s (372-1234) fireside lounge-adjacent patio is a scenic place to sip cocktails and graze on snacks like wild mushroom pizzas from new chef Russell Young. On Thursdays 4-7pm through September, 15 percent of each Paws for a Cause check goes the SPCA, and mellow poochies are encouraged to chill and enjoy biscuits…

Friday, Aug. 27, there’s a special edition of the seasonal Jazz at the Plaza (624-0138) with Steve Ezzo at Carmel Plaza while Carmel Road pours its super stuff (try the Pinots) and the Salvation Army gathers gently worn jeans. The 5-7pm, $15 event even includes a little denim fashion show and appetizers to pair with the wine and free music…

Concerts on the Bay at Monterey Plaza Hotel (646-1700) brings the Money Band to cash in its charisma 5:30-9pm Friday, Aug. 27, and a special bonus comes to the seaside patios 2-8pm Saturday, Sept. 11, as English Ales, Ale Works and Carmel Brewing pour tastes for $2, Schooner’s (372-2628) does a la carte brauts, sliders and such and John Broadway Tucker plays 4-8pm. In honor of Sept. 11, all police, firemen and military get the goods half off.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s (648-4840) extended weekend hours and accompanying jazz and food (and lighter crowds) are almost over. Monterey Jazz Festival Student Combos play Aug. 28 and Sept 4; Gary Meek comes through Aug. 29; and the Monterey Bay Jazz Orchestra wraps the series Sept. 5. Free parking in Cannery Row garages after 4pm for locals with ID…

Wine, Women and Shoes at Corral de Tierra Country Club (394-5171) is 2-6pm Saturday, Aug. 28, $125 boosts Boys and Girls Club

The best excuse to picnic in the redwoods this summer closes 7:30pm Sunday, Aug. 29, as Big Sur International Short Film Festival screens its winners at Henry Miller Library (667-2574).

Summer, it seems, is just getting warmed up.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Headcheese* for Lunch (and Beer)

If you can move quickly, you've got a great lunch adventure ahead.

Supreme sausage maker PigWizard of Palo Colorado is working on his own food truck. Until then he's going to do occasional lunches at Chef Todd Fisher's The Kitchen in Sand City, a funky loft-like industrial prepping spot tucked between metalworkers and tile masons at 354 Orange Ave.

Here's what the Wiz's got going:

Stop by tomorrow for a PigWizard lunch treat. Here's what's on the menu:

Deep Fried Headcheese* Sandwich $6
w/ whole grain mustard, sauce gribiche, cornichons & romaine lettuce
Add Hot Sicilian Sausage $3

Hot Sicilian Sausage Sandwich $6
w/ shaved fennel/spring mix salad, lemon vinaigrette
Add Deep Fried Headcheese $3

Bring your own drinks! Beer encouraged highly!
11:30am to 2:00pm
Eat-in or Pick-up only, NO deliveries
Call 831 236 1844 to place an order if your in a hurry!

I say go for the fried headcheese—after all, as star chef-food writer Anthony Bourdain says, "Food…has always been an adventure."

*head cheese; headcheese
Not a cheese at all, but a sausage made from the meaty bits of the head of a calf or pig (sometimes a sheep or cow) that are seasoned, combined with a gelatinous meat broth and cooked in a mold. When cool, the sausage is unmolded and thinly sliced. It's usually eaten at room temperature. Head cheese can be purchased in delicatessens and many supermarkets. In England this sausage is referred to as
brawn, and in France it's called fromage de tête — "cheese of head."

Read More

Monday, August 23, 2010

Road Notes: Things to Learn From Lolita's Iron Chef

You know you're a hot sh** chef when you get a street corner named after you. Or maybe you figure it out when you rack up one of the most dominant Iron Chef win-loss records in Kitchen Stadium. Or when a James Beard Foundation award manifests on the mantle. Or Cooking Channel comes begging for a TV show like the one Cleveland native Michael Symon started just days ago, "Cook Like an Iron Chef."

Point is, the guy is cooking, and therefore bound to provide some inspiration. Yesterday I trickled into the trendy Tremont 'hood in Cleveland to scope what I might learn from his sourdough-like rise at Lolita, the casual bistro brother to his flagship Lola. Here's a mini menu of what I came away with:

1. Hungarian hot peppers are good stuff(ing).
Symon's team packs maximum house pork sausage into these beautiful yellow-green, smokey sweet tubes then gives 'em a heirloom-garlic sauce to sit in. The tips are as hot as any pepper I've seen a restaurant dare to serve. Serious heat. Good for the constitution.

2. People like to see some cheffing. (2b. Simple is sexy.)
The open kitchen here might be the perfect way to stoke a lively dining room. Plus the big oven bangs out creative and rustic pizzas, and entrees like lamb steak, pork chop and roasted chicken that echo Symon's m.o.: No more than several ingredients is necessary as long as they are the best in fresh and essence. The back of the menu has long trumped "farmers and artisans we love," like Indiana's La Querica, who super-selective Carmel Belle swears by for proscuitto and such.

Symon's food is "interesting and satisfying and reliant on good technique," writes Michael Ruhlman in Michael Symon's Live to Cook, "but it the end it was very simple food without pretension or self-conscious chefness."

Like the macaroni ($15)—goat cheese, rosemary and roasted chicken. Nada más needed.

The other pastas hit with similar simplicity: pappardelle with pork ragu, tomato and parmesan, or gnocci with just peas, pancetta, Swiss chard and ricotta salata.

3. Some chic-chic is still OK.
Note the Lolita martini—with Stoli Oranhj, Campari, Gran Marnier and orangecello. Not too sweet, and packing enough punch to make the $11 easier to stomach.

4. People love pizza.
Like Big Sur Bakery's principals once told me, they didn't go to culinary school to cook pizzas, but the pies pay the rent. Symon's of-the-moment included simple featured items—local tomato, anchovy, pork sausage, mushrooms—pulled off perfectly. We went for the organic egg with duck prosciutto ($13). Salty but superior.

The cured meats are also a strength here, including a head-turning "big board" piled with coppas, prosciuttos and sopressata ($18).

5. Get the good stuff.
The wild cojo salmon ($19) seared to succulence—or the side of stewed romano beans with bacon and tomato—teased a theme that you'll hear any chef worth his salt pig touch on at some point. ("If I can get better ingredients than you," Thomas Keller once told the Weekly, "I'm a better chef than you.") The theme bears repeating.

"All food is not created equal," Symon writes. "I repeat: The easiest way to improve your food is to improve the way you shop."

That would be a sign this Cleveland street corner's in good hands.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Road Notes: Cleveland Rocks (Really)

Cleveland is not for the weak of heart.

The bitter sequence their sports fans have known ad nauseum—the last second Browns collapses, the Indians' oopsies and the recent, soul-less evacuation of LeBron James—reads like a recipe for madness.

Some of its streets can feel a little empty, in a misshaped, muggy and mean-mugging kind of way.

Fittingly, then, one of its flagship eateries is a place where compromised arteries need not apply.

At Melt Bar & Grilled (216-226-3699), every sandwich is stacked and grilled and stuffed with cheese and other heart-rattling ingredients—but done so deliciously enough that a table for two necessitated a 45-minute wait.

At 11:30am. On a weekday. (I only heard later that if you get the logo tattooed on your body you get "free cuts.")

Folks flock for items like the Breakfast Burger ($9.50), with two fried eggs, crisp and thick bacon and good old American cheese on still thicker Texas toast.

And the Smokey Russian ($9), piled with smoked turkey, fresh napa vodka kraut as good as it sounds, smoked gouda and Russian dressing. At our barback's behest, we added good crispy bacon too. The Midwest never tasted so good.

The bartender pointed out that the 150-deep beer list is designed to occupy folks as the tiny kitchen takes its time to carefully assemble its super-rich sandwiches—like the Municipal Stadium Magic (locally made brauts, fresh napa vodka kraut, grilled peppers and American cheese, $9) or the Godfather (three cheese lasagna, spicy red sauce, "garlic-spiked" bread with provolone, $11)—made to order.

Other stylish distractions, like the album menus (above) and the slick design elements (below) help make the extensive wait go down easily.

Those are kitchen knives and silverware imbedded in the stained glass.

The stamped metal ceilings and intergalactic light fixtures are also pretty fly.

Walls covered in kitsch also entertain, from local sports totems like a Bernie Kosar picture or evidence of a Guy Fieri visit.

But it's the robust, unapologetic, fattening flavors that pack the place. Take the house favorite called the Big Popper—fresh jalapeños, herb cream cheese, melted cheddar all beer battered and deep fried, with a mixed berry preserve dipping sauce that makes the powdered sugar dusting on top and the savory stuff inside come together surprisingly well. (Looks like that Lake Erie swim to the lighthouse is increasingly mandatory after that sucker.)

In an unmandated exchange for a taste of the Big Popper—"Have you ever shared food with a stranger at a restaurant before?" my Cleveland-living sister (and occasional Weekly contributor) whispered—we even snacked some Parmegeddon ($10), with two potato and cheese pierogi with the napa kraut, grilled onions and never-better cheddar.

The strategy seems to be that in a land where the sports misadventures leave folks feeling empty, the food certainly won't.

Just ask the Man v. Food dude and the Travel Channel team.

Because Another Sudsy Event Doen't Suck

Monterey Plaza Hotel & Spa already enhanced the summer season with its oceanside concert series, which Special Edible nibbled on recently.

They're now upping the ante with a local beer soiree of sorts 2-8pm Saturday, Sept. 11, on the unmatched upper patio overlooking Monterey Bay's humpbacks.

English Ales, Ale Works and Carmel Brewing will pour their tastiest brews for $2 per 4-ounce pour and Schooner's (372-2628) does a la carte brauts, sliders and such.

John Broadway Tucker brings the blues rock-funk tunes 4-8pm.

And, in honor of Sept. 11, all police, firemen and military get all the goods half off.

On Fire

Beaches for bonfires

By Aaron Ely

Beaches that allow fires are becoming few and far between because our predecessors screwed it up and abused the privilege. Protect what we still have by respecting the beach and the authorities who caretake them. After all, much like the person you made out with in the sand, the morning light shows the ugly reality. Trash, broken glass, cigarette butts and sandy underwear tell the tale of a fun night, but are en eyesore to the non-vampires coming to enjoy our “pristine” coast. Remember that it’s a privilege, and one that can easily be revoked unless we do our part.

So first, rules of the beach:

1. Never cover a fire with sand. Let it burn out. Sand insulates, and coals can stay hot for hours, waiting for unsuspecting feet or paws to discover it. This isn’t the forest, leaving an unattended fire on the beach is fine. In fact it may allow the next person to reuse yours.

2. No glass. Cans are lighter, won’t break and pack down easier for hauling away.

3. Have a D.D. Rest assured that you and your vehicles have been noted by the local constabulatory and stand a very high chance of being stopped soon after departure. Nothing screams “DUI” like a carload of youth departing late from the beach.

4. Park Wisely. Carmel and Asilomar have midnight cutoffs, unless you park further away.

5. Pack your trash; don’t burn it or leave it.

6. Don’t forget a flashlight (foraging for wood, finding your lost cell phone…), lighter, a beach blanket or towel.

7. Bring wood. It’s always worth it to scavenge leftover wood from others’ fires, but don’t count on it as your only source, or you could be huddling around a sad little pile of soggy coals instead of dancing around your own bonfire.


If the wind and weather are cooperating, this one’s tough to beat. Hide up in the dunes for a private party, or down on the flats if you’re with the crew. Dogs welcome off-leash south of the creek.

Carmel Beach

Still legal, but for how long? With the 10 p.m. curfew being strictly enforced, expect a friendly visit from Carmel’s finest earlier than you expect.

Casa Verde, Monterey

Enjoy the night-lights of Monterey as seen from Seaside. Spiffy boardwalks, tables, fire rings, port-a-potties and adjacent parking make this a best bet for families or big groups. Park on the inland side of the street to avoid post-sunset tickets.

17 Mile Drive, Pebble Beach

Several locations from Moss Beach to Spyglass drive offer a motley roadside assortment of tables, trash cans, and fire rings just a few meters from 17-Mile Drive (and all the passing rental cars and tour buses). Avoiding the entrance fee can be a fun test of your verbal creativity.

Monastery Beach

At the northern boundary of Point Lobos you can roast your marshmallows just a few meters from one of the steepest offshore drops in North America. Heed the warning signs about the dangerous shorebreak, which has already claimed lives this year.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Honk If You Love Babaloo Cuban Food Truck

What can I say. I wanted Monterey County to be a part of the revolution.

As the booming boutique food truck trend delivered great grub to every big city sidewalk from Atlanta to Albuquerque to L.A.—Argentine meats! Gourmet grilled cheeses! Falafels and waffles!—I’ve been patiently looking for someone local to join the rolling repast, leaving a path of drool in my rearview mirror along the way.

So after a long hungry wait, I say this: God bless Gladys.

In other words, we have our first real foodiemobile merging into traffic. Gladys Parada has survived the unnecessarily arcane gauntlet of state and county inspections to bring her colorful 1986 Chevy P30 Stepvan and its Babaloo Cuban Cuisine to the West End Celebration this weekend.

She’ll take the truck she calls “The Duchess”—after her flamboyant Cuban mother, who is painted on the side—to local businesses and parties thereafter (she has to stick to private property).

While wearing a tropical fruit hat and grilling up sandwiches and chicken, the Caribbean native told me she was drawn to the mobile game after she left a manager position at the former Citronelle.

“I was thinking I have to do something that doesn’t kill me,” she said. “Like a lunch truck. I started reading and everyone was doing it, but not here. I thought, ‘I can’t die without trying.’”
With it she’s bringing a fresh-organic-sustainable attitude—sourcing her ingredients consciously and distributing compostable containers—and some downright tasty stuff with names inspired by I Love Lucy.

As detailed on the chalkboard sides of the truck, The McGillicuddy pictured below (named after Lucille Ricardo’s maiden moniker, $6) comes dynamic and sassy like its namesake, packing grilled organic chicken, melting muenster cheese, gobs of avocado and a tangy citrus salsa between two pieces of crusty Cuban bread baked by Palermo and grilled to order there on the spot.

The Ricky Ricardo ($6, not pictured) is a more macho version with pulled pork, Virginia ham and melted Swiss.

The Fred and Ethel sliders ($6) are two cute little fishcake sliders with tilapia or mahi mahi (from Sea Harvest for now), a clever cream sauce and a tasty tropical island slaw...

…that also accompanies the grilled chicken (above) and “Vitameatavegamin” veggie plates ($8 and $5, respectively, with pedestrian yellow rice and some serviceable beans).

Parada and her sweet wingwoman Lady also slang delicious virgin strawberry mojitos or guava drinks ($2) depending on the day.

Call 262-4150 or hit up if you’ve got at least 20 hungry monkeys ready to eat.
(The website is worth checking out for the food-porn photos alone—they're as pretty as the custom paint job on the truck.)

When I got the truck to visit the Weekly, it inspired one of the paper’s powers that be to pull me aside for commentary on my career.

“Mark,” he said, “this is the best thing you’ve ever done.”

Oh Heller Yeah

He not only makes memorable wines for Heller (659-6220), he was the only guy at the Monterey County Vitners and Growers' Winemakers Celebration earlier this month to pack along barrel-sampling action.

Good people, I give you winemaking guru Rich Tanguay. (That's him doing mandatory barrel quality control at the winemakers event.)

He's a star of the upcoming grape-stomping harvest party at the glorious Cachaugua grounds. It's coming 1-4pm Saturday, Oct. 16, with delicious al fresco treats from Bahama Billy's, tastes of new releases and all kinds of messy, squooshy, grape-stomping fun. I went last year and may make it an annual pilgrimage.

Here's the quick lowdown from a year ago:

Heaven might be a place called Heller. Or so a tribe of young oenophiles and I discovered at their annual wine stomp held at their pioneering 1,000-acre organic outpost, where the views of the Cachagua Valley are angelic.

Rich Tanguay led a lively tour of the grounds, pouring unfermented grape juice from the catwalk and pausing for word from Rep. Sam Farr (“I took this wine to the White House,” he said, “and told them they should make it their official wine.”). Dozens sloshed, hugged, giggled and jiggled in the grape tubs – there’s no feeling like having cool dark purple skins up to your knees – then rinsed in rose and lavender water before adjourning for some of Heller’s delicious new releases, Bahama Billy’s grub and plucking from a pair of Cachagua Playboys.

Smiles and sunshine blanketed the affair. Cheers to the Hellers for assembling a fun and friendly group as welcoming as the gorgeous grounds.

Estimated price—$25 for members; $30 for nonmember knuckleheads—is a solid deal.

One more heroic bit from RT appears below. He posted it on TwitFace yesterday. I give it a 9.5.

(If it's too small you can click on it and it will appear in a larger window.)

Monday, August 16, 2010

Flavor Phenomena to Flag

Styrofoam getting whacked.

Old Fisherman's Grotto took Best Chowder in Monterey County from our readers this spring; a couple of months back the old Fisherman's Wharf institution claimed the People's Choice at Monterey Wine Festival's Chowder Cook-off. But their greatest recent victory was a decision visible this Saturday: No more little Styrofoam sample cups that will outlive all of us, often breaking down so small that marine life ingests the particles and passes the poison back up the food chain.

Not only does the chowder taste better in the metal vessels; tasters must linger closer to the tempting smells coming from the Grotto kitchen while they slurp, upping the possibility they may be drawn inside for more.

That's what I'm talking about.

Avocado becoming unstoppable.

Chopstix on Fremont (899-2622) now slangs an avocado boba smoothie ($3.75). "Does it taste like drinking guacamole?" one colleague asked.

Not so much, but it does taste authentically avo. And while I certainly like a little honey (and hot sauce) with fresh avocado/tomato/onion/tropical fruit salsa on home-fried tortillas, this drink doesn't interact with the sweet so naturally...let's say it was more interesting than tasty. The cantelope came off superior for $.50 less. Yum.

Sources tell me Bagel Bakery (various locations, including Monterey [372-5242] and Sand City [392-1581]) is also advertising avocado smoothies. And they're adding boba too.

I have glimpsed the future. It's a steady showers of green fruit and gooey tapioca balls.

Pepe acting saucy.

Carmel restauranteur Rich Pepe is doing something cool with his high school buddy Joe Pantoliano of Matrix and Sopranos fame.

As Pepe writes in an e-mail, they've been teaming up for a while.

"Joey, known as Joey Pants and an Emmy Award winning actor, was my original partner in my food ventures over 20 years ago," Pepe says. "But even back in our youth, whether it was delivering newspapers or bussing tables in the high school cafeteria, we like to say we've been in business since the 60s."

Now they're starting a new venture, a response to all the requests Pepe has gotten for sauce recipes over the years. The pair is calling it the "Newman's Own" of pasta sauces—all profits will support No Kidding Me Too, Pantoliano's foundation that brings awareness to mental illness.

Buy the sauces at the Pepe and Pants website.

Here's a recipe with one of the signature sauces.

"Legend has it that Jackie O. ordered Penne alla Vodka whenever she visited Italian restaurants in America and in Europe," the intro reads, "helping make it all the rage in fashion-conscious circles by the mid 70’s. Pepe’s version is to poach large prawns in the heated vodka sauce, then serve over penne and garnish with crispy chopped pancetta and peas creating his famous 'JFK.'"

Penne alla Vodka “Jackie O” Recipe

INGREDIENTS (serves 4-6)
- 1 jar Pèpe & Pants Vodka Sauce
- ½ cup diced pancetta
- ½ cup cooked large peas
- Small bunch of pea sprouts
- Pinch of crushed red pepper (optional)
- Parmesan or Percorino cheese for grating or shaving
- Italian parsley for garnish (chopped or pulled leaves)
- Basil infused olive oil for garnish (or high quality extra-virgin olive oil)
- 1 pound penne pasta (or other cut pasta your choice)
- one shot high quality vodka (optional)
- 1 ½ pounds large prawns (optional to create the “JFK”)

Heat a large flat bottom sauté pan over medium heat. Sauté pancetta until caramelized and crispy, stirring often. Remove pancetta and hold on side. Pre-cook peas and hold on side. Add 1 jar Pèpe & Pants Vodka Sauce and heat gently on low. If adding additional vodka, add now. Add red pepper flakes if desired. If using prawns, add now and cook gently about 3 minutes.
Cook the pasta in 4 quarts of boiling salted water, approximately 8-10 minutes until firm but not overcooked. Drain lightly and add cooked pasta to sauce pan. Add one half of the crispy pancetta and peas and toss together, coating evenly.

Place pasta on a large serving platter or individual plates and top with remaining crispy pancetta and peas. Sprinkle on pea sprouts (if you can find them) or parsley, drizzle with basil-infused olive oil and add grated or shaved cheese.

And, by adding prawns and red pepper, you get the "JFK."