Thursday, April 9, 2009
I ’d wondered why the guy was glowing. But as he poured our group great glasses of wine from Beaujolais and Valdepeñas, in upscale paisano glasses, on a 1,600-pound slab of rescued Big Sur, for as little as $5 a healthy pour, my diagnosis took shape. After a couple of tapas at the thick redwood bar – $2 per halibut-and-potato-stuffed pepper or chicken paté on baguette – and rollicking rounds of Spanish tortillas and sunchoke soup, paella and papas, rich Marcona almonds and thin lamb chops, I had it a little more figured out.
It was a few days earlier, just hours before Mundaka’s official opening night, when I first spotted it. Much of the beautifully appointed joint looked scattered. But where I anticipated urgency on proprietor Gabe Georis’ face, there was only this genuine glow. The happy calm gave me pause, then made sense: Any stress was secondary, really – the long-time Casanova GM finally had his own project, his own arena to play in.
My first visit confirmed that, but revealed more key reasons he can relax a millimeter more than most new restaurant owners: He’s got an ace in the kitchen in Brandon Miller (just try the paella), a queen helping overlook the front house in wife Mandy, knightly support from his father and brother (Gaston and Nico), and great help from guys like our server Constantine (ask him about the porron). Plus the young epicurean king has personally assembled a wine list that succeeds in its ambitious goal of presenting mostly French and Spanish choices that “taste better than they cost.”
The little Carmel place on San Carlos between Ocean and Seventh was pumping on a Wednesday. Glowing, really. 624-7400, www.mundakacarmel.com.
Finally made it over to Cima Collina’s tasting room in Carmel (620-0645) across the street from Mundaka. Unsurprisingly, grape guru Annette Hoff’s small-lot wines are aging as well as she predicted when I first visited the tiny Marina warehouse winery. We left lifted by Jane Beery’s easy manner and tastes of the 2005 Tondre Grapefield and 2005 Hilltop Estate Pinot Noirs in particular (six tasters are $5) – and toting two bottle of the balanced and best-selling Howlin’ Good Red ($20/bottle), a special Merlot-Cab-Petite Syrah blend that benefits the SPCA, which has already cleared $5,000-plus.
Foodie Fantasyland ain’t far off. As of press time, we are just a week from Pebble Beach Food & Wine (see story, pg. 39). 622-7770, www.pebblebeachfoodandwine.com.
New restaurant in an area short on selection: Ryan Ranch is rejoicing because Laguna Seca Golf Ranch now houses open-to-the-public Balesteri’s (373-3701). Frank and Susie are thinking health conscious (rice oil for the fried items and minimal salt for all) and sustainable (anti-antibiotic meat, sustainable seafood) for breakfast and lunch, seven days a week.
A landmark’s changing hands in the Slice-of-Heaven-by-the-Sea. David and Kathleen Fink’s sale of Bouchée Bistro and Wine Merchants (626-7880) to André Lemaire will be effective in about a week. Between now and the close of sale April 18, the Finks invite all to enjoy a special three-course $35 prix fixe farewell dinner menu. André’s Bouchée is set to open April 24 without any major changes. The Finks are off to focus on Hotel Luca, a 20-room inn with spa, and a 90-seat restaurant called Cantinetta Piero in Yountville, the heart of the Napa Valley (opening this fall).
The “Tour de Force” is back at Portola Restaurant. Waves of top-shelf local chefs, precision-sourced ingredients, and paired wines normally reserved for wish lists collaborate to create one mind-blowing menu. Tony Baker, Ted Walter, William Bennett, Colin Moody, Benjamin Brown, Estevan Jimenez and Dory Ford all contribute courses. Thursday, April 23, $200, 648-4870. (For those thinking more tour de thrift than tour de force, Monday, April 20 is another community free day celebrating a quarter century of Aquarium excellence – stop by the restaurant while you’re there and you won’t regret it.)
Inspiring to see The Monterey County Hospitality Association actively play its part as a local leader in education and protecting the hospitality industry by hosting a workshop about gangs. Last Tuesday, Monterey County Joint Gang Task Force Cmdr. Bob Eggers and probation officer Chris Plummer coached the assembled hospo pros on how to help employees cope with gang presence in their neighborhoods and identify gang activity in the community.
Saturday, April 25, will be the biggest annual Chalone Appellation Pinnacles Wine Festival yet. Nineteen winemakers (Testarossa, Roessler, Woodward-Graff and 16 more) hors d’oeuvres prepared by many of Monterey County’s finest (from spots like Sierra Mar, Marinus and Christopher’s) and Hog Island oysters. $50-$60, 678-2400, www.pinnacleswinefestival.com
Ventana Inn & Spa was just tabbed one of the “Top 79 Spas” in the U.S., Mexico, Caribbean and Canada by Condé Nast Traveler magazine, and one of only 20 facilities in the “Hotel Spas” category. Suerte.