Thursday, October 28, 2010
The Phillies and the Yankees aren’t going to the World Series, but the Giants are. Warriors coaches and star players aren’t warring with one another. The Niners, fathers of the West Coast Offense, can’t complete two passes in a row. And the Raiders just slapped 59 points on Denver.
Then, right when you thought the local sports scene couldn’t get more surreal, The Future of Sportsbars has arrived with the just-completed Knuckles (372-1234) makeover at the Hyatt Monterey.
The upgrade includes the introduction of a “Table Tender,” which appears at one table and provides two taps for patrons to self-dispense. Hyatt’s hype calls it the first of its kind in the state.
The rest of the place looks slicker and sleeker – note the year 2075 bar – but might have lost a little of its local soul with the exodus of the area memorabilia. The 24 flat-screen HD TVs, including an 84-incher, will help folks cope.
So will the free popcorn and peanuts holdovers – and Sierra Nevada drafts from 10 taps. There’s also a league of new menu items like locally harvested clam steamers cooked with garlic, lemon, white wine and butter ($11); wild boar ribs dry rubbed and slow roasted ($10); and a new Knuckler sandwich – shaved beef rib eye, slow-roasted pork, fried egg, avocado, fried onions, portobello mushroom and a three-cheese sauce on a sourdough bun with Gilroy garlic fries ($16.50). For good measure, chase that with a Guinness and vanilla ice cream float ($8), maybe on a Toss Up Tuesday, when a coin flip decides if you win your dinner (food only). This new sports world ain’t so bad – and will only get better once we figure out what to do with Mike Singletary.
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Some folks might balk at the sight of a Jordanian dude prepping their sushi. Those folks would likely miss out on the superior Sakana Sushi (375-7375) experience, where owner-chef Fadi Nimri often steps in for his main chef, as he did the night we came in to celebrate a birth-to-be.
The spot recently opened in the high-ceiling spot next to the Golden State Theatre. It’s a nice size for a handful of tables, including some window two-tops.
We sat at the cute little five-seat sushi bar so we could talk with Nimri and see the rolls come together with jewel-like pieces of yellowtail and salmon from Monterey Fish Company.
As Nimri schooled us on how fish is treated on the boat – he says sashimi grade is bled on deck to provide a purer cut – we happily grazed on the results.
Like most California sushi dens, specialty rolls, or maki, proliferate here. Take the appropriately prodigious Godzilla ($15.95), with tempura shrimp, avocado, salmon and cucumber, which is all fried, sauced and crowned with tiny slices of green onion, or the surprisingly righteous Rio Roll ($11.95), with eel, avocado, mango, macadamia nuts and a touch of tare sauce. (Of note: each special roll comes with miso soup or a simple salad.) We also liked the Falling Stars ($9.95), a plate of spherical fish cakes.
Given the dearth of Seafood Watch-friendly sushi spots around here – coincidentally, October is National Seafood Month (hit the blog for a list of local restaurants that honor the Watch) – it’s nice to see many maki options here go vegetarian. There’s the big “Arti-san Roll” ($9.95), for instance, which brings artichoke hearts, goat cheese and sesame seeds to the taste equation. While the ever-hospitable Nimri rolled up more maki, we suggested that a lot of conscious eaters would flock to the first sustainable sushi spot anywhere near here.
A little family history helps put the welcoming mood here in perspective. Nimri’s brothers are involved in two of the genuinely friendliest restaurants between Point Reyes and Pismo, International Cuisine in Pacific Grove (formerly Chili Great Chili, 646-0447) and Dametra Cafe in Carmel (622-7766).
“Our family just likes to take care of customers,” says oldest brother Faris Nimri, who pulls off his own cross-cultural wonders at International Cuisine. “To be honest, it’s not like we’re faking it – it comes naturally, we like people, like the industry and there are a lot of nice people we have as customers.”
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Five words, foodie freaks: Big Sur Food and Wine. You will not regret or forget this. Get to the website before your next meal and grab a ticket to Nov. 4’s blockbuster opener at Hyatt Carmel Highlands, Nov. 6’s grand tasting (just $60, $40 for Sur folks) or a wine dinner before they go poof, www.bigsurfoodandwine.org… Last year the debut Monterey Bay Restaurant Week gave locals a taste of a range of restaurants by way of fun prix fixe menus. Year two hits Nov. 11-17. Andre’s Bouchee, Rio Grill, Basil, Jacks and Lalla Grill are among the early signers-on. Visit the blog for a list… Grub bloodhound Kera Abraham reports that the best in show at the Wild Game Barbecue included “cowboy-style” sea bass by chef Horace Mercurio and oak-grilled Sicilian-style albacore by Rose Di Girolamo. Taste their creations at Coffee Mia Brew Bar in Marina (384-0148) and Carmel Valley Fish House (659-4671), respectively… Flaherty’s (624-0311) now has a full bar… Cute and cozy as a kitten, Bistro Moulin (333-1200) is doing a special Halloween night with costumes and prizes… “On Halloween,” Rodney Dangerfield once said, “parents send their kids out looking like me.”