March 19, 2012
No amount of wind, rain or hail could dampen the mood inside the cozy confines of Happy Girl Kitchen as they unfurled their second pop-up dinner two-step this year. Saturday night's meat-free bounty—collaborating chef Matt Millea calls it "Veggiepalooza"—brought in a full house to benefit the Big Sur Land Trust.
Chef John Madriaga of Spruce Restaurant in San Francisco prepared prodigious portions of Mariquita Farms produce that paired nicely with all-organic Heller Estate Vineyards wines including its Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon.
The result was a night of surprisingly filling and unsurprisingly delicious veggie offerings among a diverse group of diners.
A well-loved Happy Girl staple opened the meal—carrots, cabbage, radishes and more pickled and served alongside Big Sur Bakery sourdough with butter and Monterey sea salt. The beloved bread would satiate grain cravings throughout the night.
Lightly blanched young fennel was served sans frills, just a couple grains of sea salt and it was ready to be enjoyed in proper bunny rabbit fashion. The light black licorice flavor was simple, but superb.
One of the more intricate delicacies of the night came in a seaweed sheath. Kholrabi and brown butter with perfectly spicy calcot onions worked well rolled together in wakame.
Pungent mizuna greens dominated this beet and warm peanut salad—seems our table missed out on the orange vinaigrette dressing other tables raved about. Fortunately the warmth of the peanuts contrasted well with the cool greens and thick sliced beets, though the mizuna came on strong.
There was no lack of color this night—in the food or the characters present. The mauve hue of the cauliflower porridge with turnips was as entertaining as Mariquita Farms owner Andy Griffin's muses about college philosophy studies involving hash bowls and Friedrich Hegel.
Warm drizzles of condensed milk flavored with "a little love" rained down on a parsnip galette, bringing the meal to a close and offsetting the cold spring rain that soaked Pacific Grove. I agreed with the town's former mayor, Dan Cort, when he punned about how filling the meal had been, considering the lack of carne: "I can't eat anymore," he said, "I've definitely hit the lettuce curtain."