Thursday, January 13, 2000
If there''s one thing the Y2K buzz was good for, it''s all the data that got safely stored away on cute, color-coded, safely archived disks. Looking back through the 52 stories that appeared on this page in 1999, it''s clear that if there''s one thing the restaurant business can never be accused of, it''s being a bore. Love it, hate it, soar on its wings, crash in its horrors--it''s a business best embarked on by the lion-hearted.
The year 1999 was the best of times, and the worst of times--depending on what hand you happened to be dealt. For some, it was a matter of throwing in the cards. Looking back at the top-notch makeover that became Bijan''s, Hamid Borna''s long-sought dream, we can only shake our heads and wonder why it lasted only six months.
More major upsets. Zig Zag. Extremely gifted chef, ultra-cool concept. Too cool for Carmel, the capital of warm, cozy and intimate? The silver lining in this one is that Chef Wendy Little will be wowing us in the soon-to-open Corkscrew Cafe, another Georis family production (of Casanova fame), right next door to the Georis Winery''s Carmel Valley Village tasting room, in the spot formerly occupied by Thai Bistro II. After a major renovation, the new Corkscrew will emphasize American regional comfort food.
In case you weren''t paying attention, a colony of oenophiles has landed and they''re taking over Carmel Valley. (Yay!) Biggest news in the Valley by far was the opening last summer of Bernardus Lodge. A destination luxury resort dedicated to a voluptuous food and wine experience, it''s set amidst a newly planted vineyard and gardens. Owners have their sights set on becoming a culinary education center, besides. Executive Chef Cal Stamenov and Wines Director Mark Jensen are two more feathers in the resort''s multi-feathered cap.
The exodus of Stamenov and Jensen from the Highlands Inn--as well as GM David Fink--spelled big changes at the landmark resort and site of the annual Masters of Food and Wine event. Everyone asked the question: Will the show go on? A resounding "yes!" was the reply, as new General Manager Ulrich Samietz, Chef du Cuisine Philip Baker and Wines Director Peter Hiers entered the scene without skipping a beat. They''ve invited a few of their friends, including Jacques Pepin, Charlie Trotter and Jean-Louis Palladin, to this year''s Masters event Feb. 23-27, not to mention wineries such as Chateau Mouton-Rothschild, Williams & Selyem, and a couple dozen more. Who was worried?
There were other riddles of 1999. Big on both personality and talent, Lisa Magadini left Pebble Beach Lodge and its Club XIX to resurface at Stonepine Resort, but not for long. (Lisa, where are you now?)
Then there was the rumor that Sylvia Medina and Paulo Kautz would actually sell Taste Cafe and Bistro, their nine-year old success story. Shock of shocks, it turned out to be true! But all is well--they put the new owners through a three-month test drive. Smart move, smooth transition, and Taste lives on. Look for Sylvia and Paulo at their new place, Cafe Rustica, soon to open in Carmel Valley Village.
Other true life-inspiring stories of the restaurant kind: A dry cleaner''s undergoes an amazing incarnation to become one of Salinas'' hottest new downtown eateries, as Clayton Cleaners begets Pajaro Street Grill. Also re-invented and renovated, El Migueleno Restaurant becomes T''Pearl, under the same ownership. But that''s not all Salinas can crow about: Risen (literally) from the ashes is Zeph''s One-Stop, part coffeehouse, part deli/restaurant/rotisserie/juice bar and upscale bottle shop. Zeph''s is big-city slick.
In 1999, new and improved eating options were epidemic on the Peninsula. The Clock Garden becomes Cafe Abrego, Bread Soup becomes The Wild Plum, Savor Monterey brings hoagies to town, The Forge in the Forest does the wild thing with a brand new menu and ownership. Cypress Grove says adios to fine dining and morphs into an honest-to-God tap room. The Sardine Factory turns 31!
When you put the food business under a microscope, it is revealed as an amazingly vital, tumultuous, living, breathing, dying-only-to-be-reborn entity. A chimera made of hard-core reality, it''s a show that keeps us all on the edge of our seats.