Thursday, March 25, 2010
Chef David Frappeia delivers a deftly pan-sizzled sand dab sandwich ($8.95) to a patio table overlooking a tennis match. Beyond, Castle Rock’s noble creases gaze on green hills soaking up midday rays.
So goes a glorious afternoon at Chamisal Courtside Café (484-1135), where these ingredients conspire to create what every gastronomic gumshoe seeks: A top-shelf chef working hands-on in an intimate, undiscovered outpost. Here, the good food and casual environment are all the more rarified by the fact few realize it’s open to the public. (Access to the courts, pools, gyms and sauna is $20 a day.)
While the setting and Frappeia’s chops – he did great things in a tough spot at P.G.’s Melange and gave The Grill at Ryan Ranch some fire before this – certainly merit a sunny escape from Salinas or Monterey, the CCC represents a particularly flavorful breakthrough for Los Laureles Grade residents who previously had to manage some mileage to reach a respectable restaurant.
I hear good things about his crab benedict ($12.95); the Cobb with free-range roasted chicken ($10.50) is quite good, the 6-inch sandabwich is simply superb (and a deal at $7.50 with fries), and he’s added dinner, which at the moment includes coq au vin, a 14-ounce rib-eye, handmade fetuccini and a risotto with chicken, tarragon, artichoke hearts and asiago for $12.95 to $23.95. More good news: He’s planning wine dinners as the weather warms, and a garden to further freshen his recipes.
Caviar doesn’t weigh much – which speaks to just how big year three of Pebble Beach Food and Wine (622-7770) is going to be: The Lexus Grand Tastings’ caviar bar will feature some 100 pounds of delicate exploding eggs – worth six figures – between Saturday and Sunday. “It’s so ridiculously over the top,” says co-organizer David Bernahl. “That alone will be worth the price of admission.”
And there is more mouthwatering madness where that came from – see this week’s special Step Ahead section (p. 35) for more on this year’s Pebble Beach foodie hallelujah.
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The enchiladas, stuffed with carnitas, Swiss chard, muenster-jack and Bohemia-simmered salsa, and the entomadas, piled with guajillo-marinated shrimp, spinach, pepitas and chipotle cream, and the storied Stubb’s chopped barbecue beef sandwiches on fluffy-soft buns were eye-opening. But the gooey “vanilla dream” cupcake and the quarter-pound beef dogs with pulled pork, pickles and cheddar were ready to roll.
In Texas’ capital, the textured home of South by Southwest (see cover story, p. 16), the barbecue is smokin’ and the Tex-Mex inspires dreams of a Cali-Texas tortilla throwdown, but long-established trailer treats like the ’cakes and dogs showed me what our area really needs.
Mobile food continues to be a hot (and Twitter-fed) trend in cities across the country, with everything like sidewalk-chic fried frog legs to dressed-up grilled cheeses. In Austin they pimp everything from ham-egg-and-cheese bialys to peanut-butter curry to carmelized-kimchi quesadillas. But here we only have the occasional Seaside or Salinas taco truck and a tasty Korean mobile that – alas – sticks to DLI campus.
It was enough to inspire a call to Monterey City Hall to see about rolling around, say, a wheel-barrel grill starring PigWizard sausage and garlic bread from Pavel’s Bakerei (643-2636). They routed me to the city’s “revenue office,” who told me the licensing isn’t laid-back: No street vending is permitted. If you can get a resident’s go-ahead, it’s OK on private property/front yard, but only if the neighborhood is zoned for it. And the application takes a month (download one at www.monterey.org/finance). We gotta get the mobile meals in gear. Zap any inspiration to email@example.com.
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Croce’s Pizza in Monterey did the dodo bird the other day (though the new branch in San Luis Obispo lives on), days after a manager told me all was well. The late-night demand for greasy grub isn’t going anywhere, however; only Crown and Anchor (649-6496) and The Monterey Crepe Company (375-4646) offer nearby non-Denny’s options. Cue the wheelbarrow grill… The 36th annual Chef of the Year Dinner from the local chapter of the American Culinary Federation is Saturday, March 27, at MPCC. Jacques Wilson’s being honored, as is Rhonda Simon of Pacific Harvest (purveyor of the year) and Tony Baker of Montrio Bistro (celebrated chef), $100, 333-0475… Baker’s Montrio (648-8880) – crowned Best Restaurant in Monterey by Weekly readers – now swishes half-price wine night and dinner-and-a-movie deals every Sunday. The discount on the award-winning wine is self-explanatory; a partnership with neighboring Osio Cinemas (winner for Best Movie Theater) nets a choice of appetizer, entrée, and movie ticket for $21.95… Gina Martin of Bernardus zapped this tip: Voting for the next Zagat restaurant guide is live (onwww.zagat.com) but only lasts until Sunday, March 28. Insiders, avid omnivores and amateurs can all dish sizzling opinions, which boosts our burgeoning scene and earns a free copy of the 2011 edition or a 90-day online subscription… The Restaurant at Ventana has a big name in Napa’s Far Niente Winery coming down the coast for a five-course wine pairing dinner 7pm Saturday, March 27. Pretty tasty penny at $265 per person but given these goods its limited spaces will go quickly, 667-4242… As Wild Willy Shakespeare wrote, “If music be the food of love, play on.”