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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, January 6, 2011

A Look Back at 2010: Most Missed Departures

Plenty of restaurants famously fold up their tableclothes every year, let alone in years when disposable income is in the garbage disposal.

Monterey County saw a typical wave of turnover in certain spots that can't seem to retain any venture, like the Mucky Duck-adjacent space when Karma Cafe came and went (in the wake of a flopped sushi joint and a surrendering French outpost)—though the most recent occupant, Cabo Blue Taco Shack, makes a mean and authentic torta (more on that soon).

This list, the first of several looking-back rankings, isn't so much interested in identifying those flash-in-the-sauce-pan spots, but honoring longer and more dearly held operations that bid us adieu in '10.

7. Rancho Cellars and Cepage Deli
This Carmel Crossroads standby didn't evaporate for lack of traffic or the acidic economy, but because the building’s owners sold. Jacques Melac and chef-wife Janet, who ran the Cepages Deli within the store, “don’t know how the wine business is going to make it through the next two years,” so they weren't too stressed about taking a break. Just months later, Janet is cheffing fabulously at Fifi's and Jacques is helping run the show at Cannery Row Brewing Company before he jumps ship for Pacific's Edge.

6. Lattitudes
Tene Shake had a prime tourist spot, but he also made it attractive for locals with various discounts, a strong happy hour and regular lounge music. Anytime you can eat tasty crab rangoons and sip an alcoholic milkshake overlooking the Pacific—at reasonable prices—it's a win, which gives this Lovers Point loss its place on the list.

5. Amarin Thai
Though this sucker sat on arguably the most trafficked corner of the county—across from the Aquarium—shockingly few folks knew its killer coconut soups even existed. Nothing insanely mind-blowing, but above-average Southeast Asian in a cute storefront with good people in a strategic location. Alas.

4. Monterey County Herald local food coverage
People understandably think that I'd be stoked that the Herald's beheaded its food coverage. Not so much. There is so much good stuff that deserves attention there's no way we at the Weekly can spotlight it all. Plus, Mike Hale and Melissa Snyder of "He Said She Said" are insightful, intuitive writers. My colleague and longtime local food critic Ray Napolitano may have put it best: "It doesn't seem very sensible," he said at the time. "My guess is that is a good barometer that, financially, the paper is in deep sh*t. In a community like this where there are more resturants per capita than almost anywhere, to not have a connection between the local daily and the restaurants is really a sad and mournful day."

3. Zocalo
One of the most consistent and popular Mexican restaurants in Pacific Grove said adios, as did its Salinas branch. The good news: Much of the staff is back in P.G. with Mando's, though the results are hit and miss, as new Weekly food writer Ulia Zettie details in this week's review.

2. Clementine's Kitchen
This one hurts. Every time I needed something useful and fun for a friend who likes food and cooking, I could be found finding my way here. They had it all: mustards, wines, trippy tools you never knew you couldn't live without. Practical things with personality, interpreted by a classy and good-humored staff that might even have a wine tasting going on while you shop. Last visit there I tracked down an imported Chianti, a jar of sun-dried tomatoes in delicious oil and a elegant little kitchen contraption that diced, scooped and chopped—all for maybe $25. They also did cooking classes in a little demo kitchen and always brightened your day with their sunny disposition.

1. Tastes Like Chicken Ranch
Speaking of pain, this is a stinger with big-picture revelations. TLC's free-range chickens and pigs delivered amazing eggs and bacon, but more importantly, their small family farm did everything right, asked their customers to pay for it, then paid for it themselves. Their ultimate failure speaks to the flaws with a system that cultivates big, nasty factory farms but demands ultimately way too much from the little guys for them to have a real chance at profit, let alone a reasonable quality of life. Owner Jim Dunlop, an ALBA alum, wasn't shy about pointing out the land-access and meat-processing problems with said system, as I detailed with a post this fall.