Thursday, August 12, 2010
Truly eating locally is neither easy or cheap or simple, but it can be immensely satisfying and flavorful, as I learned when I did it for 15 days. (But man I missed Tapatío, tortillas, bread and beer.)
Thing is, on the advice of super sourcing chefs like Dory Ford, I gave myself a 150-mile range. The benefit for big-dreams, small-means Agricultural and Land-based Training Association at the sparkling Monterey Peninsula Country Club in Pebble Beach Sunday, Aug. 22, is permitting just a 40-mile perimeter for the meats and veggies going into a menu assembled by MPCC’s Colin Moody, Corral de Tierra Country Club’s William Bennett, Aquaterra’s Esteban Jimenez and the aformentioned Ford.
Do-gooding donors can await chilled tomato and watermelon gazpacho consommé; braised leek, walnut and bleu cheese canapé; Grey Goose – and Grand Marnier-compressed ALBA strawberries; and line caught Pacific tuna in ALBA avocado tartar.
And that’s just the appetizers. This thing’s five courses, with wine pairings.
ALBA might be best described as an inspired small farm incubator – in a scary big ag world – whose largely Latino alums include local standbys Organic Farm, La Milpa and Tastes Like Chicken Ranch.
(BTW: I lived for TLC bacon while local dieting; they are currently selling heritage whole and half pigs. Log deposits at the TLC website.)
“We subsidize in the beginning and that decreases over time,” ALBA Deputy Director Gary Peterson says. “That’s the point of the incubation. To generate a viable local small farm economy.”
ALBA’s chef pals rallied for what represents a coming-out of sorts for this nonprofit. “While we will uphold the dress code [at MPCC],” Peterson says, “It will be a little bit different crowd for them… we want to introduce ALBA to the community in a way we haven’t before.”
Cost is $125 per person, a portion of which is tax-deductible. If you can’t swing that, seek out ALBA alumni at local farmers markets – and the other local providers listed below in bold. If these chefs are using them, you want to be using them. Call 758-1469 for tickets.
Oh yeah – the entrees: Line caught fennel-dusted Pacific halibut, pan-roasted Hain Ranch chicken breast, and farmstead Paicines Ranch beef.
Small is beautiful. And thanks to ALBA and chefs like these, it’s getting easier.
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After practicing at CSU Monterey Bay last week, the San Francisco 49ers took 138 players and staff to Bubba Gump (373-1884) post practice.
On an insider tip alerting us to the semi-secret seating, local contractor-Niner fan Adam Serrano and I got there ahead of their reservation to secure strategic seats.
The NFC West champs-to-be were tardy so we decided to settle in. A Lt. Dan’s Pomegranate Punch for my friend ($9.95); margarita for me ($7.95) “This thing is pumped full of booze,” he said.
The Cajun shrimp ($8.99), sautéed in an addictively oily hot and spicy Cajun butter sauce with dip-ready garlic bread, seemed a must-do. Glad we did that do. (A quick note: Dishes like this speak to why the Coastal Luxury Management team gave this place careful attention before they moved Cannery Row Brewing Company here, and how it earns the respect of all the local restauranteurs, Tony Tollner included, after they neighbor them. I still haven’t discerned why the 49ers ate here, though.)
For entreés, you guessed it: shrimp. Baja shrimp tacos ($11.50) and coconut shrimp ($17.99).
Only problem: The Niners were an hour late and I had a binding meeting coming. There was only one thing to do: Order the “I’m Stuffed!” shrimp ($17.25).
Packed with crab, baked in garlic butter, and topped with Monterey jack, it’s served with jasmine rice – not Niner Jerry Rice, who was enshrined in the Hall of Fame this very weekend, telling us, “I love you fans, especially the greatest fans in pro football, the 49er fans,” as part of his induction speech.
Diane was kind enough to agree to deliver the stuffed shrimp to All-Pro Niner middle linebacker Patrick Willis with a personalized message. “Patrick Willis, this stuffed shrimp is for you, to help you stuff the run all year long.”
Seeing as it wasn’t on the luncheon menu they were served – from which insiders say there were a lot of Bubba’s Bucket of Boat Trash (deep-fried shrimp, mahi mahi, a lobster claw and fries) and Cajun-style catfish ordered – I’m thinking it was a hit on par with those he hands Rams RB Steven Jackson.
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Local free-range chef Mike Whalen recently applied for two jobs on the same day – one scheming optical engineering for NASA (at their request) and one cooking at Saratoga’s celebrated Plumed Horse restaurant.
Yes, the dude has a unique skill set – he recently worked at Michael Mina’s RN74 and also moonlights as a Weekly food writer. The meal he just made for a group of friends was similarly unique.
As he flitted about the kitchen at Le Normandie on Lighthouse in Pacific Grove during its one dark night of the week he questioned the sanity of assembling seven courses with up to 15 ingredients each, then ruminated on why he did.
It’s not to make money, as with most “underground” supper clubs, which were at one point proliferating secretly in Bay Area houses so cooks who could no longer afford (or wanted to pay) overhead could still make ends meet.
It’s a purer thing. “I love wine and food,” he said, “with friends… and I like the challenge – the practice, the pricing – I write the menu, then I figure out how to make it.”
He must love it – he traversed most every market between here and Aptos, both farmers and brick-and-mortar, before he had all the instruments to play his scribbled-menu sheet music. The lighter wine varietals he requested worked well, despite the fact that vegetables can be so fickle to pair with.
“I’m trying to create a $135 Michael Mina tasting here at an accessible price,” Whalen said.
For us it was cost – $40 for the food and a couple of the wine pairings he furnished; we also brought the varietals, finding out later that at least three of us stopped by Monterey Wine Market (646-0107), where George Edwards remains the can’t-miss master of solid values with plenty of pop, like the Manu he found me for $12.
The first order of business: a yuzu watermelon martini welcome. A summer treat for serious grown-ups (visit www.mcweekly.com/edible for the recipe).
His amuse bouche trio included a cube of watermelon holed out to cradle 10-year balsmic gastrique; cleverly crispy okra in a nicely salty crust; and the coup of the collection, a labor-intensive fava bean hummus on homemade za’atar flatbread that impressed unanimously. (Whalen said that in the Middle East the recipes for za’atar are so sacred mamas sometimes decline to give their daughters the blend: “You must learn it yourself.”)
The freshness and flavors of the first course served notice that he was serious about the whole summer menu thing. The all-vegetable lineup was by request.
The chilled vegetable and herb soup took the garden harvest flavor further. Fennel, asparagus, peas, taragon, dill, snap peas, leeks, celery, watercress, arugula and carrots all went into the soup and down our throats.
Heirlooms with fromage blanc scored top taste for a couple eaters, a testament to the power of juicy, timely local tomatoes. The zuccinni “linguini” sliced from a Japanese mandolin was clever and tasty caloric intake too. Then came the sweet pea risotto – with a mint puree and pea shoots. Succulent stuff, no meat needed.
More bounty from the fields: A garden grill crepe, with celery heart, fennel, red bell pepper, asparagus, fingerlings, sweet corn and shaved pecornio. The deliciousness shone in the details here – as in the carmelized vidalia onion soubise (or classic French onion-based sauce) and crispy fried shallots on top.
The simple dessert simply dominated. A “creamsicle” knocked folks back in their seats by way of homemade vanilla bean ice cream, orange granité and Grand Marnier. Some Pedro Ximenez (PX) Spanish sherry made it even better, reminding us that to pair with desserts you have to go even sweeter.
Along the way we peppered Whalen with questions on how the meatlover came up with so many veggie plates (“I wanted to use fava beans – what can I do with it?”) or the ice cream (with a gelato maker from Lello available on Amazon).
My query: When we doin’ this again?
Reach Whalen for events at (805) 451-6023 or email@example.com.
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Miriam’s Cafe is closed on Lighthouse. The joint represented a lot of awesome elements – the rare young female entrepreneur, a charismatic cat who cared deeply about the provenance of her products, who leveraged maximum fun from her shoebox-size spot by hosting art exhibits, a community member woven into the fabric of Lighthouse Avenue, and a regular presence at indigenous cultural events. She told me she was over the crazy dawn-to-dusk-and-beyond hours, that she was cashing out and taking a part-time gig at Whole Foods in Monterey. I sensed a lil’ need for normalcy. And contentment. In the space, she says, the new owners are planning a hot dog shop. I love me some wholesome hot dogs. But I can’t say I’m quite as excited as I would be otherwise… Car Week (see story, p. 20) means good living, food included. One of the more interesting ideas I’ve seen: bistro-style dining in the vineyard with vintage cars on display at Chateau Julien through Aug. 14, $53, 624-2600… Under new ownership (Sylvia Sharp and Tony Loeffler), Bahama Billy’s (626-0430) is debuting much of its new menu as we speak – after renewing the decor. “We brought back some old recipes, added a filet and a ribeye,” Loeffler says, “And I think the interior looks 100 percent better than before.”… “We cannot all do great things,” Mother Teresa said, “but we can do small things with great love.”