Saturday, September 8, 2012

Edible Events {Edible Monterey Bay, Fall 2012}

 A Pop-Up Brunch and Hike at Ventana Inn & Spa
Photo and Story by Camilla M. Mann

Edible Monterey Bay’s third pop-up brought me to the Ventana Inn and Spa for a hike and a brunch. Gathering in front of The Restaurant at Ventana, our group of culinary adventurers chatted amicably before heading out, led by long-time Big Sur resident and owner of Big Sur Guides. Part naturalist and part local historian, Stephen Copeland regaled us with stories of Hatfield and McCoy-style feuds between Big Sur landowners and reminisced about Lolly Fassett who started the Nepenthe Restaurant after nurturing the local community nightly with her roasted chicken and stuffing.

As we wound along the trails, Copeland discussed how younger redwood trees create tight rings around their parents. He explained how the Native Americans viewed the redwood rings as sacred, circles of life. At one point, our group stood in the center of one of these circles. Surrounded by sixteen giants, we inhaled the citrusy scent from the duff beneath our shoes, listening to the energetic chirps of the wood sparrow.

With stomachs rumbling, Kara Stout, Ventana’s Food and Beverage Head, guided us to an arbor embraced by gnarled honeysuckle vines whose heady scent is stronger than you would expect from such wiry blossoms.

First task: select one of their unique libations. There was the de rigueur bellini and ubiquitous mimosa, but it was the more innovative offerings that intrigued me. I vacillated between the St. Germain Royal – Roederer Brut with St. Germain elderflower liqueur, and a lime wheel – and the Hair of the Dog Punsch – lemon-infused Zaya rum with spiced black tea. 

I opted for the latter; punsch – with its seemingly errant ‘s’ –  is not actually a typo. It derives from a northern European spelling of this cocktail that is served hot. Though I was initially reluctant to order it because rum cocktails are notoriously syrupy, the name was irresistible. The concoction was spicy and slightly bitter, a vivid contrast to the chilled, effervescent St. Germain that I sampled by sneaking a sip from my friend’s champagne flute.

Clinking our glasses amid celebratory toasts, we considered the entrée offerings. Chef Truman Jones had fashioned a generous menu with everything from chicken enchiladas to a classic Caesar salad and homemade granola to a Big Sur burger.

Eggs benedict is my favorite, so the choice was simple. Toasted English muffins were topped with steamed spinach and pillows of perfectly poached eggs. The applewood smoked pork loin was crispy enough to lend texture to the mouthfeel yet soft enough to complement the silky eggs. And I was grateful that the hollandaise sauce added lemony flavor without drowning the dish.

While I didn’t taste any of the other entrées, our table lined with empty plates indicate that all were delectable.

Table chatter ran the gamut from local food events to recipes or culinary processes. We imagined how we could use the sprigs of California sage that Copeland had plucked for us. I’m considering a roasted chicken with stuffing in Lolly Fassett’s honor. Leeks, celery, rye bread, California sage, and lots of butter.

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