October 3, 2011
It never fails: Get chefs and restaurant owners on the horn and things get interesting—and it gets hard to focus on anything other than really good food.
My normally steady diet of communication with restaurant types has accelerated of late because we are gathering information for our second annual Wine & Dine: The Ultimate Guide, an index of hundreds of local signature dishes recommended by Monterey County chefs and vintners...
...like the Los Mariachis Carne Asada at Baja Cantina (625-2252) and its tender pieces of New York strip marinated in achiote chili peppers and cilantro, served with mole, green salad, grilled vegetables and whipped sweet potatoes.
Or the crab ravioli with scallops at Flaherty's (625-1500), with homemade shells stuffed with fresh Chesapeake Bay blue crab and grilled day-boat scallops in a lobster-sherry cream sauce, all crowned with caviar.
Or the Spanish-style paella at Sea Harvest (728-8686) in Moss Landing, sauteed with saffron, white wine, butter, chili flakes, green onions, bell peppers, mussels, clams, scallops, prawns and catch of day like salmon or squid, served in a big bowl with a view of the dock.
But back to some of the interesting things I've learned just this afternoon alone:
The forces of nacho and burger have come together in one super weapon. Downtown Monterey's Lallapalooza (645-9036), as part of a menu shift towards a little more casual fare, has developed a monster: On top of a Niman Ranch patty go tortilla chips, Mexican rice, sweet corn, cheddar, queso fresca, spicy avocado, pickled jalapeños, lettuce, tomatoes and ranchero salsa all somehow pile onto house-baked soft foccacia-like bun.
The only thing that might rival that kind of firepower—bacon-wrapped meatloaf—is also a signature dish several blocks away. The peeps at Peter B's BrewPub (649-2699) take a blend of ground chuck, Italian sausage and spices, bundle it in applewood smoked bacon and roast until crispy on the outside and add mushroom gravy, fresh mashed potatoes and mixed vegetables to pair with a housebrewed Legend of Laguna IPA.
Allegro's is changing the gourmet pizza game. Barnyard Shopping Village pillar Allegro's Pizzeria (626-5454) has done more than add a wine bar with rotating local standouts to taste in red and white flights ($5/three tastes, which is waived with purchase of a bottle) and bottles at retail (not restaurant) prices. They've also added a take and bake at half price ($10-$13) of the cooked cousins, which means some solid one-stop options.
"Everyone who is picking up is taking a bottle of wine," owner Gino Abraham says. "You can get a good bottle of wine and dinner and it’s inexpensive."
Sales are up 500 percent, he adds, insisting the only problem is that he and his fresh-out-of-Cal-Poly-viticultural-department son Paul are seeing is disgruntled wineries feeling the prices are too low.
So far they've featured Talbott Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, Bernardus Marinus, Joyce Syrah, Morgan Pinot Noir, Pessagno Pinot Noir, Galante Cabernet and Sauvignon Blanc, Sofia Riesling, Silvestri Chardonnay, Chateau Julian Pinot Gris and Chardonnay, De Tierra Pinot Gris, Sheid Chardonnay, Pelerine Syrah, McIntyre Chardonnay and Paraiso Riesling for $17 to $29.
And while we're talking Wine & Dine, two more notes:
If you run a restaurant or a winery and want to update your signature dish—or you weren't in the glossy last time and want to be—contact me immediately at email@example.com and I'll do my best to get it in.
If you want to win lunch, take on the challenge I threw out when I referenced the special pub in print a couple of weeks back (read on below to see what that was). Nobody's vanquished it yet:
We are talking caramelized day boat sea scallops with fingerling potatoes. Fluffy spinach dumplings in a dreamy Parmesan cream sauce. Sixteen-ounce single bone-in prime short rib cooked for four hours in stout beer and homemade veal stock. Flopping-fresh catch of the day crusted with pistachios and grilled, drenched in tomatillo-avocado sauce and served with organic quinoa and plantains stuffed with Cotija cheese. Yes, we are talking about some of the best grub between Pajaro and Pebble Beach, as gathered for the first time in the Best of Monterey Bay Wine & Dine guide, which debuted last year with a list of such signature dishes, recommended directly by local chefs, and bundled with a catalog of local signature wines. My copy still sits within arm’s reach. I’ve used it just about every week this year... The glossy special pub hits streets Oct. 20 as an insert in the Fall 2011 Wine & Dine. Bonus: The first person to email me the names of three of the four restaurants whose new signature specialties are listed above gets lunch on me.