Thursday, October 25, 2012
The mysterious, dark and unmarked wine bottle came as a thank you for schlepping tables, chairs and boxes between venues at Big Sur Food & Wine 2011. The event volunteer who gave it to me will remain unnamed, as will the winemaker who created it.
The rosé's skunky nose and unique green tint quickly hint its potency goes beyond fermented grapes. Its taste was a trip, too: Different than most every rosé’s, it wasn’t destined for any conventional awards—a little heavy on the herbal tones, you might say—but it was still good.
It was also sneaky dangerous: You want to limit yourself to one glass—maybe even a half-glass—or at least wait a half hour before evaluating the merits of a second dose.
Like selling foie gras (see Feast story), making wine with medicinal qualities is illegal. This qualifies the rare juice as a dark art.
But there are a range of deliciously daring arts in play as BSFW (667-0800, www.bigsurfoodandwine.org) enters its fourth year next weekend, Nov. 1-4: Glorious post-rain wild mushrooms foraged from sacred-secret spots on forbidden State Parks land (expect chanterelles and porcinis at everything from Friday’s Wine and Swine, $90, to Saturday’s grand public tasting, $75); secret caches of foie gras; mysteriously inspiring tastings like “Pinots and Their Muse” ($50); trips to very secret and exclusive properties (the three Magic Mystery Tours, starting at $170); and enough deliriously good wine made purely from grapes – Duckhorn, ROAR and Siduri among nearly 70 worthy winemakers – to help all find their inner skinny-dipping Gary Pisoni.
Those unfamiliar with the South Coast can turn to Jack Kerouac to better understand how mystery and danger can make yummy things better.
“The more ups and downs, the more joy,” he writes in Big Sur. “The greater the fear, the greater the happiness.”
Two asterisks there. One: There will be shuttles arriving from the Peninsula for $12 to cut out that unneeded element of danger. And two: Big Sur’s boldness is only a logical byproduct for a community that sits on a cliff that seemingly could, with the right combo of fire and flood, wash away on any given day. This is literally and figuratively life on the edge, which is where the most interesting ideas emerge – “Hikes With Stemware”?! (happening twice Saturday, $125) – and which breeds the sort of self-reliance that leads its residents to live off the grid, to sell cheese without FDA fuss, to tell the sheriff they’ll skip the mandatory evacuations, and to start illegal (and smart) controlled burns to save their own homes. Oh – and that on-the-edge fragility inspires locals to live rather fully, too.
The independent thinking and wild spirit – plus pristine local ingredients and more and more transplanted chef talent – has bred some increasingly epic foodie outposts, and an increasingly epic BSFW. (Jacob Pilarski, for one, is abandoning his sous chef post at Manresa to join Sierra Mar next month; but not before his Exec Chef David Kinch co-hosts fancy BSFW dinners with Sierra Mar Chef John Cox Nov. 2 and 3.)
Resident chefs like pioneering Big Sur Bakery’s Phil Wojtowicz (whose menus have merited national attention), Esalen’s Phillip Burrus (who proves how much food heals every day) and Deetjen’s Domingo Santamaria (who changes lives with his brunch every week) share the plate with standout Peninsula and regional chefs like Jerry Regester (C Restaurant), Matt Bolton (Pacific’s Edge), Greg Lopez (Hyatt Seattle) and Cal Stamenov (Bernardus) – and that’s just the Gateway to Big Sur gala ($160) at Hyatt Carmel Highlands Thursday, Nov. 1, with 15 Cy Yontzes and Kent Torreys all told.
Sierra Mar Chef Cox – he of the eight-course-taste-of-Big-Sur-menu-to-be – anchors Post Ranch Inn’s debut as the grand public tasting host. The set-in-the-field situation also features Lokal’s Brendan Jones, Aqua Terra’s Dory Ford and Hitching Post’s Frank Ostini, among a dozen others. Events like the Pinot WalkAbout ($48), with 30 inspired Pinot producers in the immaculate Post Ranch kitchen garden, will prove revelations. The sit-down Dinner with Friends – thanks to collaborators like Stamenov, Ben Spungin (also Bernardus), Pablo Mellin (Spanish Bay) and Arturo Moscoso (Campo Reno) is so good we had to share it with people who couldn’t swing the $155 sticker: Visit the food blog to log your loving testimonial to Big Sur and earn a very good shot at a free pair of passes.
With Halloween in the air – and the South Coast’s penchant for exotic garb – you can anticipate some attendees and crafty personality-plus participating chefs will don costumes of wigs and Wagyu, or perhaps pickles and prosciutto. Just the Todds alone – Champagne of Happy Girl Kitchen and Fisher of United States of Food – are freaky enough to kick off a spontaneous costume party on a Highway 1 turnout.
Other things to expect: One, a big chunk of cash for community nonprofits.
Two, a familial feel that evokes the camaraderie of Masters of Food and Wines gone by.
Three, that just about everyone will be wearing a costume that comes with a unique and high-quality foodie festival – a mask of sorts, one of those hard-to-shake looks that’s a lightly giddy mix of discovery and satisfaction.
“You might say year four’s going to be over the top,” founder Toby Rowland-Jones says.
You might also say that taking the community’s tastebuds south to go over the top – and getting everyone to put on the happy mask – can be considered a budding Big Sur art form itself.
• Over the next three days I’ll try more than 70 types of fried chicken (try to try?), venture into the belly of a massive South County winemaker and help judge the Bacon, Blues and Brews chef showdown. Follow along @MontereyMCA on Twitter.
• Next Thursday, Nov. 1, The Independent Marketplace is back in Sand City with Dia de los Muertos flavor – Big SurCus fire, oyster-wine pairings, mixology, Mariquita Farms, with Big Sur Land Trust benefiting. There will be a new $5 cover to help balance what’s been a net-loss monthly event. Get the downlow at www.mcweekly.com/edible.
• Salinas gets its first Peet’s Coffee & Tea at 1740 N. Main St. on Monday, Oct. 29.
• Chef Brian Overhauser will star at several BSFW events (see story, left), but not before hosting a harvest party ($75) with Wrath Winery (678-2212) inspired by the famed La Paulée de Meursault in Burgundy; 1pm Saturday, Oct. 27, Boekenoogen, Hahn, Pelerin, and Wrath serve a Chardonnay and a Pinot Noir with the farm-to-table tastes.
• Chef Thomas Snyder of Esteban (375-0176) has a new 16-item breakfast menu 7-10am daily (until 11am weekends), starring fun stuff like lemon-and-ricotta pancakes ($7.50), a French toast with almond honey butter and bananas fosters compote ($8.75) and a Spanish Benedict with Tasso ham, cilantro-and-cheddar biscuit and piquillo hollandaise ($11.50). His paella-on-the-patio party, meanwhile, runs 1-3pm Saturday, Oct. 27 ($75) with tutorials, tapas, drinks and a paella pan included.
• Tapas hub Mundaka (624-7400) is, um, en fuego. Frayne Padgham has the cocktail program pumping, there’s music nearly nightly, and owner Gabe Georis and Chef Brandon Miller’s recent rampage through Spain – GG reports the rhythm was three-hour lunch, five-hour stroll, four-hour dinner, then debrief over wine – has the menu stacked with exuberant new flavors, from the Catalan-style sausage with butter beans ($8.50) to the grilled squid with ink aioli ($10.50).
• A promising Halloween party ($75) – on foodie and freakiness frequencies – hits Hotel 1110 (655-0515) Wednesday, Oct. 31, as Cachagua General’s Mike Jones collaborates with Kim Weston on spooky snacks and black vodka-Champagne punch and star photog Romand Loranc shows arresting pics. I’ve done both 1110 pop-ups and they inspire from the plate to the rooftop.
• Osio Cinemas has new digital projection power (see p. 15), which reminds me of a bargain: The Montrio Bistro-Osio dinner-and-a-movie deal, where $21.95 gets a flick tik plus a choice of an app (including things like calamari, salad or baked brie) and an entrée (short rib, fried chicken or butternut squash ravioli) from Tony Baker. Do it on Sunday and bottles of wine are half price. Call Montrio (648-8880) to roll.
• “Big Sur is the California that men dreamed of years ago,” Henry Miller once said. “This is the face of the earth as the Creator intended it to look.”