Thursday, May 24, 2012
Chris Shake can’t imagine life without calamari and clam chowder.
“That would be the end for me,” he says, laughing the involuntary, intense laugh of a man who hasn’t ever stopped to conceive such a state.
You can’t blame him. Some of his first sensory memories include cooking chowder in the family kitchen with his restaurant-pioneering pops Sabu no fewer than 40 years ago. Soon Baby Shake left school – in seventh grade – to cook chowder and squid at the restaurant. He has since spent years standing Fisherman’s Wharfside dishing rich and garlicky Fisherman’s Grotto (375-4604) chowder himself – and the image of him standing, chowder ready, beneath an umbrella held by a soaked busser, might be the most iconic in area advertising.
“The chowder we serve at the Grotto and Fish Hopper (372-8543) is what my dad created in the ’50s, and what we still serve,” he says. “We never tweaked it. I’m very proud of that recipe.”
As far as calamari, his recipe may not reign like the soup’s, which earns our readers’ affection annually in the Best of Monterey County poll, but Shake says that’s part of its inky identity.
“It’s prepared so many different ways – and even with fried calamari you probably won’t find two that are exactly alike,” he says. “Everyone has a favorite.”
Perhaps partly to ensure he never has to face a world without the two Monterey Bay staples, Shake has pulled in fellow shorefront restaurant owner Bob Massaro – who was integral to the Monterey Calamari Festival at the Fairgrounds way back – to organize the debut Great Monterey Clam Chowder & Calamari Festival in Custom House Plaza to smother all three days of Memorial Day Weekend with calamari sandwiches, marinated squid, fried calamari, New England – and Manhattan-style chowder and even chowder ice cream. Former Clam Chowder Cook-off Champ and Grotto Exec Chef Juan Ponce preps the soups; the wildly underrated Mo Tabib of the Hopper leads the charge on calamari sandwiches and such.
“Oh man,” Shake says. “The way Chef Mo prepares it, it’s just so tender.”
Z97.9’s Rick Stills emcees, with three bands like Red Beans & Rice, Nu-Horizon and John “Broadway” Tucker each day, then there’s calamari cleaning and other classes with help from Drummond Culinary, carnival games, a videogame trailer, and food reinforcements like fried artichokes, smoked salmon sandwiches and shrimp-crab cocktails.
While it’s unsurprising that a Shake is starting a seafood festival by the Wharf – admission is free for the 11am-7pm (6pm Monday) affair, BTW – it was a little surprising to see him bubble up last weekend among the national roster of high-cache chefs honored by the Aquarium’s 2012 Cooking for Solutions as Seafood Heroes. But it shouldn’t have been.
“He was an early and strong supporter of Seafood Watch,” Aquarium spokesman Ken Peterson says, “with high-visibility, high-volume restaurants.” (He and brother Sabu Jr. also own Fish Hopper in Hawaii.) Seafood Watch outreach chief Sheila Bowman calls his staff “well-educated,” his menu “a model.” Pocket guides come with every check (and have since 2003).
“I am in the seafood business!” he explains. “The health and diversity of the ocean’s resources is what I depend on now, and what my grandchildren will depend on in the future when they run Old Fisherman’s Grotto. My purchasing decisions have forced suppliers to search out sustainable seafood, making it possible for lower-volume restaurants to find those products at a reasonable price.”
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Truffled Amish popcorn was just the icing, er, topping on the bay scallop-curry shooter from Truckee’s Dragonfly Sushi – the kao-soi broth with asaparagus, shiitakes and cilantro pesto was incredible already. But such is life at Cooking for Solutions, which stuffs journalists and tastemakers full of head-spinning science and news around sustainable foods, then tops it with three days of chefs big-impacting the palate while treading lightly on the planet. (Visit the blog for Chef of the Year Michel Nischan’s rousing acceptance speech.)
Some of the highlights from the invite-only Sustainable Foods Institute that precedes the public gala and other gourmand gallops include word that demand for better-sourced seafood is getting loud enough that whole fisheries are asking for advice on how to heal. Seafood Watch is working to secure third-party verification techniques and 24 of the country’s top 30 seafood vendors have committed to a path to sell only sustainable seafood.
“None of us believes a seafood card alone is going to achieve sustainable oceans in the future,” Julie Packard said. “I’ve always maintained… it’s as much about starting a conversation and getting people engaged and talking about oceans as it is starting a market.”
With the keynote, author of the brand new The Ocean of Life Callum Roberts reminded the audience that “we owe our big brains to a rich seafood diet and its amino acids,” and maybe our very bipedalism to wading for shellfish. Only now, for the first time in human history, seafood ain’t so plentiful. His suggested four-part plan: 1) More marine reserves (aiming for 30 percent protected); 2) less fishing, using less destructive gear, but more catch; 3) an outright ban on fishing deeper than half mile down (it’s low on productivity, high on destructivity); and 4) a blue revolution in sustainable aquaculture (it’s a mess).
Later on May 17, a sobering stunner: small fish (foraged fish) are reeling (so to speak) like the big famous fauna in our oceans, in large part because of massive takes for fish oil and fish meal fed to farms – and if they go, they take the biggies with ’em. Thankfully, folks like Sustainable Fisheries Partnership have nourished near-broken fisheries by engaging private stakeholders, including McDonald’s, to hold suppliers accountable to smart fishing practices that won’t destroy, but will build up, the source stocks they depend on. (Don’t underestimate the power of the Filet o’ Fish.)
There’s a whole school of fish thoughts where that came from, so keep an albatross eye on forthcoming Weekly environmental coverage, which won California Newspaper Publishers Association gold for 2011. And keep making choices that give fish a fair Shake. As one oceans lobbyist put it on Friday, “Fish don’t vote.”
- Carl Yastrzemski can keep his Major League Baseball trophy. Secretariat can have his horse-racing version. I’ll take the Downtown Dining triple crown. That’s the Rio Grill (625-5436)-Montrio (648-8880)-Tarpy’s (647-1444) family of restaurants where I found myself in the last couple of weeks, diving into some of the best our area has to offer, whether you’re talking setting (Tarpy’s ranch-style stone patio, Montrio’s firehouse), cocktails (Rio’s margarita, Montrio’s old gringo among many), classics (artichokes at any of the three, Tarpy’s meatloaf) or creativity (Cy Yontz’s ceviche trio, Tony Baker’s new “back bacon bruschetta”). And they’re not sitting on their laurels: Baker just improvised a memorable lobster-bacon-fava-porcini tower for fun and Yontz is doing a beautiful brunch with things like tequila-cured salmon and chicken and waffles.
- With the foie gras ban on the horizon, Thomas Keller has added his name to a list of California chefs pledging fidelity to feeding methods that do not harm animals in any way, in an effort to offer an alternative to an all-out prohibition. “We want to create a humane market,” Rob Black, executive director of the Golden Gate Restaurant Association, told The New York Times. “Not a black market.” Locally Andree’s Bouchee is leading the foie farewells, but that’s far from the only excitement around the controversial and lively liver. Hit the blog for menus and more.
- There’s a seared foie gras with kumquat, arugula and ginger ($25) on the latest menu at 1833 Restaurant (643-1833), but the new “1833 Experience” prix fixe ($65) is what merits more than a mention (and in hindsight would’ve topped a quackless order of duck gnocchi, $22, and wild-mushroom pizza, $17). After a bacon-cheddar biscuit with maple chili butter and sea salt – which should be obligatory anyway – two choices appear across five courses, with mouthwatering wine pairings from visionary Ted Glennon for either option. One sample slalom through the menu: the revelatory thin-sliced hamachi with pickled jalapeño, then Chef Levi Mezick’s signature crispy hen egg (wrapped in prosciutto and cradled by spring asparagus), the gnocchi with parm butter and spinach, the diver sea scallops with mussels and leeks and finally Booker’s bourbon pudding with sugar cookies.
- Exciting news in Carmel Valley: Plaza Linda (659-4229) aims to move into the former Volcano Grill within two months.
- Two inspiring innovators to watch – Local Catch (345-5153) pioneering fish CSAs and WE Collective (708-8315) connecting small farms to family restaurants – are hosting a free potluck garden concert with Microtonic Harmonic at MIIS’s Green Thumb Community Garden near Van Buren and Franklin 6-8pm Thursday, May 24.
- The Maiden Publick House (667-2355) has not only expanded its bar into its extra room, but has introduced a whole new menu flush with things like shepherd’s pie ($12), Irish dip with Jameson jus, Guinness mayo and Irish cheddar ($12) and the Pfeiffer burger with a beer battered onion ring and bacon ($11 with fries or salad). The beer selection – 15 taps, 100 beers total – remains extensive.
- Monterey Beer Festival (521-7921) creeps up noon-5pm Saturday, June 9, with 70 breweries over several acres and Frank “Big Hurt” Thomas hosting. Festival tickets ($40) are already getting slurped up; remaining VIPs ($60) are even more scarce.
- Dear swirlers and sippers: If you look at no other page in this paper beside this one, make it p. 33.
- Friend-of-the-Weekly and Playboy spirits columnist Dan Dunn is doing a “Happy Hour” radio broadcast 4-5pm every Thursday on SiriusXM Stars Too (channel 104), with rebroadcasts 7pm Fridays and 2pm Saturdays.
- “A woman without a man,” feminist, author and activist Gloria Steinem once said, “is like a fish without a bicycle.”