Thursday, October 22, 2009
So it begins.
The first ever Monterey Restaurant Week starts today and runs until Oct. 29. That means ambitious epicures better get to grinding: With 30 very worthy restaurants rolling out special “here’s what we do best” menus at modest price points, a complete circuit would require visits to four or five top spots every day.
Maybe a little Carmel Valley-Carmel-Big Sur crawl is in the cards – one could drift from Will’s Fargo to Wickets to Basil to Bistro Beaujolais to Pacific’s Edge for delicious instance. (On Friday or Saturday, Beaujolais brings a bonus: live guitar and keyboards from Martin Sheers on the patio.) Or a Downtown Dining three-play of Rio Grill-Tarpy’s Roadhouse-Montrio Bistro with a little Fresh Cream-Fandango finish.
The evidence that many people are going to eat well for reasonable rates is accumulating at www.montereybayrestaurantweek.com – as is the saliva on my bib as I see L’ Escargot’s coq au vin coming, or prime beef short ribs with chanterelles from one Mr. Mark Ayers, or tamarind prawn with garlic noodles and mango won tons from An Choi.
Ray Napolitano’s helping relay the promising possibilities as only his crazy ass can at the website – “Next year I hope the organizers of this event include a weight loss program afterwards,” he writes. Saw him at the Friday launch of the new spirit Ohzone in downtown Monterey – and hey, the locally conceived and produced grape-distilled hooch is as smooth, light and versatile as advertised.
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Romney “Nani” Steele grew up scrambling through Big Sur’s brambles, beaches and creeks as a native granddaughter of Nepenthe founders Lolly and Bill Fassett, but fortunately for those who like good food, she also spent some serious time in the kitchen. Now the author-chef is sharing some 60-plus secrets she mastered along the way with My Nepenthe: Bohemian Tales of Food, Family and Big Sur, including the adored “ambrosia burger,” the Nepenthe cheese pie and some of the most tempting pancakes I’ve ever seen – along with an overflowing chest of anecdotal treasures befitting the longtime epicenter of Big Sur eccentricity Henry Miller once haunted late into the night (until Lolly’d ask how he’d like his eggs).
“A very special book,” says Michael Pollan, “about a very place.” It’s also a fun book ($35) about some fun folks with enough beautiful pictures and local history to qualify it as required reading at Pacific Valley School. Fittingly, there’s a party planned at Nepenthe (667-2345) 1-6pm Saturday, Oct. 24, to celebrate the debut. Check www.mynepenthebook.com for more on the book and its insights on crunchy coleslaw, sage stuffing, the ’70s counter culture and Sur celebrity scene.
(BTW: Steele’s cousin, Big Sur multidimensional artist-muse-icon Erin Lee Gafill, still lives on the premises where they grew up together. Gafill has long distinguished herself with her bold, uplifting landscapes – and her blogs are evocative too. Earlier this year, she compiled them in Drinking From a Cold Stream. Talented family.)
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In Vermont, they’re piling a 350-dish potluck into the town commons (and banging out a 350-minute drum circle and doing 350 yoga sun salutations). In other spots people in packs of 350 are “carrotmobbing” – or joycotting – places that practice sustainable cheffing and dropping supportive coin. In Monterey, three mutantly massive pumpkins will be carved “3,” “5” and “0.”
All told groups in more than 160 countries are planning nearly 4,000 similarly stylish actions for International Day of Climate Action – art installations, group scuba dives among them – to help bring attention to the number 350.
Here’s the idea: A team of scientists led by NASA’s James Hansen published a series of papers showing that we need to cut the amount of carbon in the atmosphere from its current 387 parts per million to 350 or less if we wish to “maintain a planet similar to that on which civilization developed.” (Hint: That’s probably wise.) That recent recognition, combined with the assembly of world leaders for the Kyoto-updating Climate Conference in Copenhagen in December, make now the time to activate awareness.
Most of the actions aren’t food-focused, but given the amount of energy that goes into our meals, food habits are a great way to play a part in reducing our temp-raising tax on the planet – whether with a “meatless Monday” routine or a reaffirmed farmers market fidelity.
Locally, two gatherings are getting into it. From 2-6pm Saturday, Oct. 24, the MIIS Environmental Task Force and Our Green Thumb are bringing on pumpkin pie-eating contests, relay races, face painting and baked goods for a celebratory Fall Festival in the MIIS Community Garden (near Van Buren and Franklin streets in Monterey) to cap a week-long letter to pen 350 letters to Congress encourage 350ppm legislation. And carve the 350 pumpkins. All’s free, (919) 624-4847.
Out east, Return of the Natives is pulling heroic people together 10am-1pm at Natividad Creek Park to sow 350 native seeds and pack up 350-plus pounds of litter and debris. Wholesome snacks, water, tools and – hopefully – sunshine provided. For more information please check http://watershed.csumb.edu/ron or call 582-3686.
Speaking of the environment-food link, the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s break-through State of Seafood report came out in concert with their 25th birthday Tuesday, Oct. 20. In patented MBA style, they hit us with rip-your-heart-out reality and a healthy amount of hope, all rigorously rooted in science.
It’s ugly out there – 40-plus percent of our oceans are greatly affected by our activities, with less-than-savory results (read: jellyfish tacos) – but more people than ever are paying attention (there’s been an tidal swell in the understanding of “sustainable seafood”). For more check out Kera Abraham’s piece on pg. 13.
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There was something familiar about the synchronized rowing of violin bows, the thunder Max Bragado-Darman summoned from the deep drums, the way that the torrents and feathers of wind and reed instrument plied the subtleties of the Ansel Adams images above, making them at turns bigger, softer or crisper.
But it was my first symphony in forever, an original Dave and Chris Brubeck collaboration commissioned by a selection of symphonies led by our very own Monterey Symphony. The familiarity didn’t fit.
Then I got it – Bernardus, last Thursday, seventh annual wine dinner. Ten servers dropping roasted capon leg at once, the conductor’s touch Cal Stamenov gave the petrale sole fennel sauce, the interplay of wines – created by Winemaker Dean DeKorth, selected by Wine Director Mark Jensen and born of vineyards like Rosella’s and Griva – with veal rib-eye and pink apple panna cotta.
That’s how it goes when the greats collaborate, I guess: senses engage and art forms interact in ways that create a sum of some very special somethings that’s far greater than the individual elements.
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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.
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Here’s a three-course menu of good times with generous heartbeats.
The third annual Harvest Moon Festival celebrates, in a big way, the Kinship Center’s 25th year of big-hearted work changing Monterey County youngsters lives by creating, preserving and supporting foster, adoptive and relative families for kids who need them – 6-10:30pm Saturday, Oct. 24 at the center’s scenic Salinas Valley spot.
A bow to the many hospitality people donating their talents and treats for the elevated evening, including wines from Ventana, Scheid, Hahn, Paraiso, Morgan; martinis from Southern Wine and Spirits; hand-crafted beers from Monterey Beer Fest’s Jeff Moses; strolling sumptuousness from standout chefs Mark Ayers, Ted Walter, Rich Pepe, Kurt Grasing, Mary Pagan, Terry Teplitzky, and Sharan Farahmand; music from The Wild Turkeys; auction acceleration from Pete DeVries and emcee action from Karina Rusk emcees. $125, 455-9965.
On Cannery Row the compassionate people at Blue Fin are aligning DJs and dollars to help pick up victims of Typhoon Ondoy. The Tomorrow Comes Today benefit features DJ Toto, DJ Neato and DJ Khosmo and runs 8pm-2am Friday, Oct. 23; all non-perishable foods, towels, blankets, clothes and checks for Philippine National Red Cross are encouraged. 224-5818.
And out in the valley, eight chefs sizzle, smoke and roast wild boar, elk, duck, pheasant, salmon, quail, and abalone by way of Annual Wild Game Barbecue at Los Laureles Lodge that boosts Carmel River Steelhead Association 1-4pm Sunday, Oct. 25. The Cachagua Playboys provide the playlist. $40, 624-8497.
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Just a week until the Quintessa/Flowers Wineries Dinner at Stillwater Bar & Grill Thursday, Oct. 29. Pebble hasn’t tapped the cove-cradled venue and its exclusive views of the 17th-18th holes for a special event in years, and the top wineries and guest host represent a rarer opportunity. Agustin Huneeus leads an evening of butter-poached Maine lobster, Sonoma duck breast and Dungeness and avocado mousse to pair with the powerhouse wines. $195, 625-8524… Here comes Monterey Vintners & Growers Association’s Great Wine Escape Weekend Nov. 13-15. Napa, eat your vines out… Hula’s (655-4852) has a creative take on the happy hour 10pm-midnight Fridays and Saturdays – a limited menu includes sashimi ahi wontons, coconut shrimp and sweet potato fries at lower prices and drink specials like $5 mai tais. Also, New Monterey munchers: They’re open for lunch Fridays (only) for that end-of-week treat – with happy hour drink deals on tap… ’Night now.