Thursday, February 18, 2010
Witch’s butter works as a natural health tonic, and a cousin of the elphin saddle ’shroom can be used to make rocket fuel. Both can be found in the redwoods of Big Sur near things like false turkey tail, destroying angel, witch’s hats, sticky caps, candy caps and waxy caps – but that barely hints at the magic mushroom adventures that await Feb. 26-28.
There’s a redwoods-born reason for that: The South Coast’s cleverest chefs will focus not on these bizarre jewels but on the gold standard, the chanterelle, as part of the only festival of its kind and one capitalizing on the chanterelle fungus among us swelling to as big as a pound and a half after recent rains. Their names are far more entertaining than the exotic sounding forest spores because of the possibilities their talents present: We’re talking the principals at Peppoli and PigWizard, Dory Ford of Ventana and Matt Millea of Sierra Mar, the finest from proud places like Esalen and Nepenthe, guys like Big Sur Bakery’s Phil Wojtowicz and River Inn’s Charles LaGreca – and there’s more top cooks where they came from.
Meanwhile, Fungus Federation geniuses like Phil Carpenter lead hikes and talks; Morgan, Hahn, Galante, Heller, Talbott, J.Lohr and Firestone Walker Brewing pour tastes; knuckleheads like Ray Napolitano, Gabe Georis and myself judge; and the Big Sur Community Gardens Project (667-0800) benefits.
The chanterelles are adorable enough that they had past organizer Jack Ellwanger chanting love poetry during the inaugural edition, while now-organizer Toby Rowland Jones walked around in a giant mushroom hat. “For all the great things about Big Sur,” went the poem, “there is nothing more great/ than the lowest we can be/ ‘cause the chanterelle/ raises us to our highest art/ by bringing us to our knees.”
The kick-off and cook-off are great values at $20 and $45. 667-0800, www.tastebigsur.com
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Bill Murray told a man they call Lump, “The crowd loves you like I do.” George Lopez asked some older African-American men to step back from the ropes before a shot from the rough, saying, “The last thing I want to do is kill a Temptation.” Kelly Slater name-dropped late, local surf singularity Pete Davi.
Such is life at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, where the surreality has been the reigning reality so long a certain logic emerges from its absurdity.
For instance: Tom Dreesen told hundreds that “Kenny G weighs 120 and hits it 320,” eventual young back-to-back champ Dustin Johnson played like Jack Nicklaus and Kenny G compared himself to… Jack Nicklaus. “It’s really hard to hold a note for 45 minutes,” he told me, describing an effort that set a world record, “just like Nicklaus winning 18 majors.” (Tap http://blog.montereycountyweekly.com/ for more such moments logged from the fairways.)
Thankfully, strange AT&T moments were edible: Stillwater Bar & Grill (625-8524) chefs descended upon the Tony Romos, Andy Garcias and Josh Duhamels of the 3M Charity Shoot-out with ahi tuna wonton crisps and some kind of mango seafood ceviche chutney in the middle of the 17th fairway. (Chris Berman stuffed his grill aggressively.) The night before Francesca Randazzo of still-new Francesca Fresh in Ryan Ranch (656-0500) threw together the most impressive craft-your-own-pizza spread I’ve ever seen in California Commissioner of Real Estate Jeff Davi’s Corral de Tierra kitchen as part of the Fight for Five charity golf tourney post-party: fresh crab, tiny popcorn shrimp, pesto, proscuitto, capers, and 68 (yes) other options blanketed surfaces in two rooms. And at Clambake for a Cure two nights later, Jerry Regester of the C Restaurant (375-4800) and Todd Fisher of The Kitchen (394-4500), among others, did obscenely indulgent things with the little snappers. These two slung a Chardonnay steamed-clam take on traditional chowder with créme fraiche and truffle grilled bread, and tempura clams on the half shell with killer wasabi cream, respectively.
Two numbers to leave you with on this front: tourney higher-up Ollie Nutt estimates the tourney raised upwards of $6 million for local charities. And there’s fewer than 360 days until the next AT&T.
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The man brought us rabbit meatloaf wrapped in rabbit bacon – and rabbit fried, sauteed, stewed and from a terrine ($22). He furnished his infamous duck confit ($14.50) and his feared roasted bone marrow bruschetti – with chanterelles, parsley and garlic ($8.50).
Of course any fear is foolish, because that man is Mike Jones, part visionary, part myth, all informed attitude. A Monday night visit to the Cachagua General Store only reminded our birthday crew (seated in the backyard by the bocce ball) that it’s the best delicious deal worth driving an hour to on a Monday night anywhere, buoyed by the twisting roads and country setting and the chance to bring your own vino and have it summarily corked and evaluated by loquacious Lee Lightfoot. And yes, the marrow is greasy greatness, the rabbit righteous game.
When a guy is so adorably psycho over food sourcing that he once smashed a customer’s plate in half after the dude doubted the professed origin of his halibut – with the fish’s backbone, no less, before calling the fuzz and reporting a trespasser – his advice is worth noting. So it was that Jones led me to Seaside’s Garcia Taqueria (394-7294), which he calls his favorite taco shop in town. Coincidentally, it lives quietly and authentically in the shadow of my top spot, Mi Tierra (394-8113).
Garcia proved worth a visit – both for its funky feel (or lack thereof: the seats are hard and the jukebox blares cumbia at irregular intervals) and its extreme value. Itinerant Weekly contributor Jessica Lyons and I had four tacos and an excellent milanesa torta – all luxuriated by a smoky house salsa – for less than $10. A huge horchata was $2 more. Jones says he goes there for the aforementioned feel and the al pastor (“I mean, three bucks for three… GTFOH,” he e-mails – though they’re $1.39). I liked the al pastor, but Mi Tierra still earns my nod for best spit-roasted pork on the Peninsula. More good news: Mi Tierra opens early (8am) in the back corner of the iconic orange market, serving hour-appropriate fare like chorizo y huevo tortas and jamon y huevo burritos. You can now order by phone as well.
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Online foodie forum Opinionated About Dining recently published its rankings for the top 30 restaurants in the land, reportedly based on input from about 1,900 respondents. Monterey County repped rightly, with Marinus (658-3595) and Aubergine (624-8578) landing on the list.
Number 1 (French Laundry in Yountville) and number 2 (Per Se in Manhattan) hail from the kitchen of Thomas Keller, one of the advisory board members at Pebble Beach Food & Wine, fast arriving this April 8-11 (622-7770), and the chef honored by the Aquarium’s Cooking For Solutions a year ago for his sustainable tendencies.
2010’s Chef of the Year is Suzanne Goin from Lucques in Los Angeles; Rick Bayless, from Chicago’s Frontera Grill earned Educator of the Year; and Guy Fieri, star of the Food Network’s Diners, Drive-ins and Dives will help host a CFS lineup that is coming together wonderfully. The tastiest conscious cuisine event in the sea runs May 20-22; call 647-6886 – the main events sell out with the reliability of the tides.
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Mundaka shall rocka once more. Music permit in its grip, the tapas-by-the-sea place to be has Nico Georis on the ivories every Wednesday (7:30-9:30pm) and one Hanif Wondir on the wheels of steel every Thursday starting around 9pm. Meanwhile Chef Brandon Miller’s added some savory stuff for spring – including a fresh Hawaiian tuna salad with an egg that I’m told “takes 40 minutes to poach to perfection” ($6) and a house cured charcuterie plate with duck, ham, air dried beef, pork lomo and house made spicy chorizo ($13). And owner Gabe Georis and wife Mandy have added a miniature restauranteur to the family with newborn Luke. The man who delivered the epidural, outdoor adventurist doc Jef Field, sat next to me at the Cachagua Roadhouse dinner and even had a bite of bone marrow… CASA of Monterey County’s Lighting The Way “A Celebration of Child Advocacy” is Saturday, Feb. 20, at the Hyatt Regency Monterey: Mark Ayers’ mouthwatering menu, wine by Scheid, sounds by Dennis Murphy and 17 of his closest big band buddies, superhuman cause, $225, 455-6800… Fishwife-Turtle Bay’s New Millennium Scholarship for graduating Monterey Peninsula high school seniors who are long on talent but short on tuition is again up for grabs. More at 375-7108; deadline to drop off the application at Fishwife is March 19. Grab a tilapia salad with the green cashew sauce while there… Seaside stay-at-home mother-of-two Jennifer McChrystal just had a recipe published in Dinners on a Dime: More than 200 recipes for delicious, budget-friendly, family meals (Gooseberry Patch). With kids wailing in the background, she told me the secret: her grandma’s recipe, handed down from a father who received them in gift packages while stationed in Vietnam. Sounds darn simple: In short, cut butter into flour, brown it and pour egg-lemon-sugar mix on and bake for 25 minutes. Her favorite local place to eat out with the kids: MYO Yogurt on Cannery Row (375-FROYO)… Sincerely yours, bye.