Thursday, July 23, 2009
An early indication of what we were up against arrived alongside pristine pieces of big-eye tuna: Three carefully crafted, supremely fresh and wholly diverse sauces, painted on the plate with artistic precision.
The sashimi soared with each – the electric-orange piment d’espelette, the yuzu lime emulsion, the unique pesto-esque product freshly ground from the adjacent garden’s goodness. Every detail delivered across several senses.
From there the supreme ingredients and brilliant arrangements only exploded further: multiple-exclamation-point-worthy black morels in black truffle oil, grilled peaches with Moroccan spices and Hudson Valley foie gras, tender alder-grilled Sonoma duck, Colorado lamb in red wine-bacon jus, artisanal cheeses, white peach sorbet and dense chocolate cake… The unfettered excellence lasted hours, delivered and described with seamless timing and grace. Marinus? More like Maximus, mighty champion in the ring of local fine dining.
The magic Cal Stamenov’s Carmel Valley kitchen conjured under the guidance of Chef de Cuisine Greg Frey was amplified by the deft deference of wine director Mark Jensen. Wine Spectator’s current issue announces his sparkling cellar re-earned the Grand Award – making Marinus Monterey County’s lone rep on that lofty list – and he deployed it beautifully (hello there ’98 Schloss Schonborn “Hocheimer Domdecheney” Riesling Spatlese, ’04 Isosceles Meritage, ’05 Estate Parsonage Syrah and ’07 Roar Pinot Noir).
My wingman, Weekly wine/surf writer and moonlighting Marinus sommelier Paul Wetterau, later declared it the best meal he’s had. The tour de force also provided ample evidence that Weekly readers get it right when they name the spot the county’s best restaurant in our annual Best Of poll, as they have repeatedly.
The glorious pairings are a product of a rare pairing in itself: Stamenov and Jensen have worked together 15 years now, five at Pacific’s Edge, and 10 at Bernardus, which celebrates a decade in its luxurious lifespan next month.
Next Thursday, July 30, Stamenov welcomes the Gregarious Garys squared – Gary Franscioni of Roar Wines and Gary Pisoni of Pisoni Vineyards – for what they’re calling “a celebration of terroir,” which includes a welcome on the Wickets Terrace, five courses, and super wines from the gifted G.G. grape guys, who transformed the Santa Lucia Highlands from scenic cow pasture to consecrated wine country. $135 plus tax and gratuity, 658-3550.
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Over on Cannery Row, Kera Abraham has the scoop – the squirt? – on a new froyo spot.
Owners and Toro Park locals (and three-time parents) Jamie and Stewart Roth bring a green and (surprisingly) healthy ethic to Myo Yogurt: Most of the yogurts are non-fat, and all of them contain live probiotic cultures. Wise patrons can pair the plain tart with daily-refreshed Watsonville-sourced fruit and granola for an intestinally friendly breakfast. “We want people to be the master of their own yogurt,” Jamie says.
The doors have been open for only six weeks, but business has been smooth; already the Roths are looking into expansions in Carmel and Salinas. The official huzzah is slated for 5:30pm Aug. 4.
When I went I narrowed eight frozen flavors to four mini-squirts each of choco, vanilla, cheesecake and coffee. Then more than 40 toppings unearthed my 20-years-buried Willie Wonka fantasies: 12 trays of crumbled candies; brownies and yellow cake and cookie doughballs; eight kinds of fruit; eight syrups. Along the wall, dispensers excreted cereals, nuts, and seven kinds of candy chips.
I dished out a spoonful of Andie’s Candies, then added a pinch of Twix, and Snickers, and cheesecake balls, and coconut mochi. At just over 9 ounces my candy mound totaled $4.10; a 20 percent locals discount whittled that down to $3.30. Of course I couldn’t eat it all, but the gratification was sweet while it lasted. [KA]
When I saluted The Mucky Duck’s Jean Barnes for winning the Salinas Rodeo California Crown Royal Cocktail Contest with the Rodeo Clown, I said he did it with a savvy black currant blend. I was wrong: “He” is a “she.” Barnes was forgiving of my gaffe, and – as I learned when I stopped in for a clown – she has something deliciously dangerous (serious punch disguised by the tasty treatment) in the risky rodeo clown/freestyle bullfighting spirit of things. My bullfighting buddy Andy Burrell – who I saw backflip over a 1,000-plus-pound charging piece of beef at the rodeo Friday – would approve… Tene Shake was hoping his new $20-and-under menu would spark a buzz around Lattitudes at Lovers Point (658-0880) – as opposed to the Molotov cocktail that singed the joint last week. Here’s what he said on both fronts when I called to check in, after stopping by earlier this summer to munch a tasty blackened tilapia sandwich ($12.99 with salad or fries) from their deep roster of new options (including Oriental Sunset salad, Tene’s kickin corn and crab chowder, and the Cuban pork and Caribbean jerk chicken sandwiches, $5.99-$11.99).
On the fire: “We haven’t had any incidents before – it’s very random.” On the menu: “I feel we accomplished an affordable menu with really interesting items. I couldn’t stomach the fact if we were gonna do cheaper prices, we’d do frozen chain type stuff. It had to be good and fresh – there to meet locals’ needs.” Hot.