Thursday, October 25, 2012

A Doggone Fun Dinner at Terry’s Restaurant + Lounge

Tonight is the last night of Monterey Bay's Restaurant Week for 2012. My piece about Terry's Restaurant + Lounge hit the Edible Monterey Bay blog today (10/25/2012): click here to read it there.

A Doggone Fun Dinner at Terry’s Restaurant + Lounge
Story and Photos by Camilla M. Mann

I called to make a reservation for Terry’s Restaurant + Lounge in Carmel’s Cypress Inn, here’s how the conversation went…

“I’d like a table for two on Sunday, please. Six o’clock, if you have any tables available.”

Will you be bringing a pet?

“Excuse me?”

A dog? Are you bringing one?

“Oh, no. Thank you.”

We have two dining rooms where we welcome dogs – with good table manners, of course – and one dining room, in the back, where no dogs are allowed and there are tablecloths. Which would you like?

“With tablecloths, please.”

Great, we’ll see you at six on Sunday.


When I met up with my friend, to head to the restaurant, he handed me one of his kid’s stuffed animals. “We have to bring a dog, right?” The hostess chuckled as we placed our pet on the table. “Does he have a name?” she joked. “No, not yet,” Brian admitted.

Cypress Inn is co-owned by screen legend Doris Day who is a huge animal advocate. She founded the Doris Day Animal Foundation, one of the largest animal welfare organizations in the world; and she wanted to put Cypress Inn on the map as the pet-friendliest inn in the country. Hence, the welcome policy for four-legged friends.

Terry’s Restaurant + Lounge, inside Cypress Inn, is named for Doris’ son Terry Melcher who designed it in what used to be office space for the hotel. He adored Morocco and incorporated many North African elements into his plans. Tragically, he lost his battle with cancer right before it opened and was never able to see his Moroccan décor and lighting in living color.

Terry’s is a charming restaurant. Brian and I were seated at a table against a Moroccan lattice screen carved of wood. The wall behind the bar is painted in the traditional Marrakech trellis pattern, a stylized quatrefoil. Ornate pendant lights throw shadows of intricate patterns through their brass cutouts. And pillows in all shapes and sizes, adorned with complex designs made from wool threads, line the benches.

Since the beginning of the 16th century – and perhaps longer – it has been important for North African girls to learn to weave or embroider. Having those skills affords women a measure of financial independence, an outlet for their creative instincts, and embroidery becomes a social event. Often women gather in the same room while each works individually on her own project. They converse, embroider, eat, and drink tea; an older woman leads prayers at the appropriate times. Think of it as a Moroccan quilting bee. The embroidered pillows at Terry’s would make any mu'allema, embroidery mistress, proud.

Not only does the atmosphere have a Moroccan flair, but the menu continues to feature Moroccan-inspired dishes in Terry’s honor. In fact, one of the new dishes on the menu was a Moroccan Kefta Tagine.

Brian and I were there to try out Terry’s Restaurant + Lounge menu for Monterey Bay’s Restaurant Week. Taking place from October 18th to 25th, Monterey Bay’s Restaurant Week offers diners the chance to try some of the area’s hot spots for a reasonable price. Participating restaurants, all around the Monterey Bay, offer prix fixe menus ranging from $25 to $45 for three courses that are illustrative of their culinary breadth and depth. Unlike many of the other restaurants, Terry’s paired each dish with a wine that was included the menu price. And most of the chosen wines were from Monterey County vintners. What a deal!

We started off with the Sand Dab Slider, another new dish, and Monterey Calamari, a perennial local favorite. The sand dab was dusted in cornmeal, pan fried, served on a grilled brioche bun with housemade tartar sauce, and paired with a Grenache Blanc from Scheid. Served with glass of Pierce Albariño, the calamari was dipped in a Moroccan-spiced tempura batter and served with a harissa aioli. Harissa is North African paste made of hot red peppers. It added a fantastic, exotic flair to the aioli.

Next up, we tried the Braised Short Ribs, served with a red wine reduction and unbelievably smooth whipped potatoes, and the Moroccan Kefta Tagine, meatballs made with lamb and beef simmered in a curry-infused tomato sauce. A mound of couscous and roasted asparagus and carrots accompanied the meatballs. The wines for our second course were a De Tierra Estate Merlot and a Pierce Tempranillo.

Our final course was dessert. We opted for the Medjool Dates – soaked in sherry, stuffed with goat cheese, honey, toasted walnuts, and lemon zest – that were served with an enthusiastic Mercat Cava that just kept bubbling and bubbling. And we ordered the Chocolate Lava Cake that was drizzled with a cabernet reduction, accompanied by a scoop of vanilla gelato, and paired with a Smith & Hook Cabernet Sauvignon. The rich, dark chocolate was refreshingly lightened by the vanilla.

At the end of the meal, the hostess came by the table to see how we had liked everything. We enjoyed the meal, delighted in the kind of conversational banter you can have with someone who has been your friend since you were fourteen, and – especially – appreciated how each dish came with its own wine pairing. That was an unexpected bonus.

Brian and I agreed on the favorite dish for the evening: the tagine. The flavors were subtle but layered. I might just have to get my hands on one of those traditional clay pots and experiment with a few Moroccan recipes.

As we were settling the bill and getting ready to leave, “We named the dog,” we announced to the hostess. “Meet Doris!” Our evening adventure at Terry’s Restaurant + Lounge was a doggone fun dinner.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Adventuring Back to 1833

Monterey Bay's Restaurant Week is in full swing and I was thrilled to get an assignment to Restaurant 1833. My article went live on Edible Monterey Bay this morning (22 October 2012). Click here to read it on their blog.

Adventuring Back to 1833
Story and Photos by Camilla M. Mann

Monterey Bay’s Restaurant Week – taking place from October 18th to 25th –  affords diners the opportunity to try some of the area’s best eats for a reasonable price. Participating restaurants, all around the Monterey Bay, offer prix fixe menus ranging from $25 to $45 for three courses that are illustrative of their culinary breadth and depth. Last night I ventured to Restaurant 1833 with a two friends and not only had an amazing dinner, but was treated to a full helping of history right along with it.

Let me set the scene. Restaurant 1833 is housed in the historic Stokes Adobe, one of the city’s oldest residences. In 1833, James Stokes, a sailor from Britain, jumped ship with several cases of medicine and fraudulently presented himself as a doctor, opening a pharmacy in the single room, tile-roofed adobe. Despite his shady beginnings, he became the personal physician to Governor José Figueroa who ended up dying under Stokes’ care. And though it seems that Governor Figueroa was not the only casualty of Stokes’ deception, the business flourished and Stokes was able to purchase the home a few years later. He even parlayed his popularity into a term as the city’s mayor. When he married a widow, whose husband had died under his care, he inherited her four children; they had two more children together and he expanded the adobe, adding on seven more rooms and a second story to the building. Years later, purportedly in response to a horrific scandal, Stokes committed suicide and his ghost is said to haunt the building.

The adobe passed through several hands before Harriett “Hattie” Gragg and her husband Mortimer purchased the property in 1890. Hattie threw lavish dinner parties and her home became a centerpiece to Monterey’s social life until she died in 1948. Her ghost is also said to wander the adobe.

Steeped in romance, nostalgia, and darkness, Restaurant 1833 pays homage to the adobe’s colorful history and the characters who shaped the home. We climbed pine board stairs, stippled by decades of use and lined with Eastlake-style spindles, to dine in Hattie’s old bedroom. She seems to watch the room and survey the guests from a sepia-colored portrait, as three ornate period chandeliers and numerous sconces bathe the room in a soft light. Along one wall, an antique armoire showcases sentimental artifacts from her residence.

Now that you can picture the setting, let me delve into the delicious meal. We started off with a shot of gazpacho and chatted with the Ted Glennon, the Beverage Director and newly anointed “Top Sommelier of 2012” by Food & Wine magazine. Ted amiably guided us to a wine selection within our budget while speaking passionately about the emerging Central Coast wine region. Ted has curated an extensive list that features wines from local vintners as well as bottles from Europe and Australia. And he has more than fifty offerings of Champagne and sparkling wine split between two cellars at the restaurant. We selected a syrah from the Crozes Hermitage appellation in the Côtes du Rhône in eastern France. Our wine was full-bodied, combining cherry and peppercorns with a creamy finish. And, as Ted promised, it paired well with all of the dishes and even evolved through the course of the meal as it aerated and moved around in our goblets.

Since there were three offerings per course for this Restaurant Week prix fixe menu – and there were three of us – we simply ordered one of each and shared every dish.

The trio of offerings in the first course included a Boston bibb salad, a vegetable soup in which floated a dollop with pistou, a Provençal pesto made without pinenuts, and a hen egg cooked into a toasted brioche nest topped with wilted arugula, crisped prosciutto, and a drizzle of truffle butter.

Silence fell on the table as we tasted and marveled at the flavors and textures of the dishes. I think I would have been content to just eat more of those dishes. But then our waiter Andreas brought out our second course: pan roasted mahi-mahi in a creamy pool with leeks, potatoes, and mussels; butternut squash topped with pecorino and candied walnuts; and – the true surprise of the evening – parmesan crusted chicken over salsify spears in a lemon-butter with cracked pepper and basil chiffonade. I write ‘surprise’ because none of us would have typically ordered it; when we eat out, we gravitate towards the more exotic, or at least something that we wouldn’t cook on our own. However the chicken had the perfect texture – moist but firm – and was deliciously complimented by the tender salsify made tangy with the citrus sauce. I had never had salsify. So I asked about it.
Salsify is a root vegetable that Andreas described as a brownish carrot. It takes on whatever flavors surround it. In this case, the salsify lent a creamy texture to the citrus in the sauce without being heavy. I am definitely going to have to track some down and experiment with it on my own.
Like all the courses, it was difficult for us to choose our favorite dessert. They were all unique and delightful. The presentation was impeccable and the combinations of flavors – chocolate + hazelnut, strawberry + lavender – were stunning. I think that my favorite was the Booker’s Butter Bourbon Pudding topped with an airy pillow of cream and a generous sprinkling of sea salt and raw cacao nibs.

And because we had read about it, we had to try the tableside absinthe preparation. Absinthe ignited the creativity of an entire generation of artists. Everyone from Vincent Van Gogh to Ernest Hemingway credited their vivid imaginations to the Green Fairy. While Restaurant 1833 offers the traditional method of serving absinthe – dripping cold water into the drink through a sugar cube – Andreas explained the adventurous Russian method. He heated the absinthe in a snifter glass over a glass of orange juice; he poured the flaming liqueur into the orange juice, trapping the vapor inside the snifter with a napkin; then, through a straw, we inhaled the vapors before finally drinking the absinthe and orange juice combination.

Our bill was delivered inside a red linen-covered volume of Victor Hugo’s dramas – including Les Burgraves and Torquemada. The French poet, novelist, and dramatist lived and wrote during the 1800s. It was a nice touch.

In fact, the entire dining experience was punctuated with nice touches. Though I was initially drawn in by the great prix fixe deal for Monterey Bay’s Restaurant Week, I’ll be returning because Restaurant 1833 has it all: local history, a festive atmosphere, fabulous food, a stellar wine list, and something truly original – an absinthe adventure. I hope you take advantage of a Restaurant Week deal, or two, to explore some of the great places around the Monterey Bay.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Book Review for Quirk Books: Pure Vanilla

I received a complimentary advance copy of Shauna Sever's new cookbook, Pure Vanilla, from Quirk Books to write a review. Never having done a cookbook review, I was more than a little nervous; I mean, really, I don't follow recipes very well. But here's what I wrote [see below]. Quirk circulated it on social media. And a friend said, "it made me want to go out and buy the book." I'd call that a success, right?

Pure Vanilla. Pure Inspiration. {Book Review}
click here for the link to my original post, on my kitchen blog: Culinary Adventures with Camilla
*Full Disclosure: I received a complimentary, advance copy of this book 
- Pure Vanilla by Shauna Sever -  
from the publishers for the purpose of reviewing it.*

When I first received the package from Quirk Books, giddy excitement washed over me as I tore open the envelope. I eagerly flipped through the pages, enthralled by Shauna Sever's prose and entranced by Leigh Beisch's photographs. I longed to reach into the pictures and pluck out a treat. 

Then I got to work, surrounded by vanilla beans and vanilla extracts, and my enthusiasm transformed into sheer panic: What was I thinking? How could I possibly agree to review a cookbook? I can't follow a recipe to save my life! I rarely read a recipe, make a grocery list, and head to the store. I am always adjusting, based on what I already have in my cupboards. I use cookbooks as a jumping off point.

But I decided that I am not alone. I am certain there are other home cooks who do as I do. We own cookbooks not necessarily to follow the recipes to the letter but for inspiration. And - for those readers - I think my review will be perfectly reasonable. For the others, the recipe followers, accept my apologies in advance.

I will never underestimate the magic of vanilla again. We use the term 'vanilla' derogatorily, to mean plain, boring, ordinary. How completely misguided! Having spent the last week scraping the caviar out of the beans, infusing syrups, steeping pods, and immersing vanilla in salts and sugars, I see vanilla for the complex, exotic, and intriguing ingredient that it is. And, as Shauna writes, "It's high time to catapult this delicious ingredient into the superstar stratosphere where she so deserves to be!"

Before launching into her original recipes, Shauna encapsulates an almost 400-year history of the vanilla bean into nine points, taking the reader from the Aztecs conquering the Totonac Indians of Mexico in 1519 to Thomas Jefferson, then the U.S. ambassador to France, carrying a bundle of beans home to Monticello in 1789. In 1841 the 12-year-old son of a slave devised a way of hand-pollinating vanilla orchids; his process is still employed today.

She details the various forms of vanilla - yes, you can get it in more than just beans and extracts - provides tasting notes, and fields FAQs: Why is vanilla so expensive? How do I store vanilla? And what is French vanilla?

Her writing is accessible, her directions clear, and her recipes inspiring.

Never having written a cookbook review, I wasn't sure how many recipes to try. I ended up preparing about a dozen of Shauna's recipes. I used her Vanilla-Citrus Marinade on salmon filets and served it atop tri-color quinoa. I revamped some leftover bread and naan using her Vanilla Bean Bread Pudding recipe. I topped a poached egg with vanilla-flecked hollandaise and her Vanilla, Brown Sugar, and Black Pepper Bacon. I floated Vanilla-Agave Marshmallows in spiced hot chocolate. And I'll be using my vanilla salt and vanilla sugar for weeks to come; I am anxiously awaiting the two month mark to uncork my vanilla extract.

But the recipe that I truly adored, for its versatility in both sweet and savory applications, was inspired by her  Golden Pear Vanilla Jam. 
Bartlett-Vanilla Bean Jam

Harken back to my warning that I use recipes as inspiration. I skipped the pectin, halved the sugar, and doubled the lemon juice.

6 Bartlett pears, cored and thinly sliced
2 C organic granulated sugar
juice from 2 lemons
zest from 2 lemons
2 vanilla beans, split lengthwise
1/4 C water

Place all of the ingredients - except the juice from 1 of the lemons - in a large flat-bottom pan. Bring it to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until the pears are tender, approximately 15 minutes. Mash the fruit with a potato masher as the pears soften. Keep simmering until the liquid has thickened to the point where a path remains if you drag a spoon through the center. Stir in the last of the lemon juice. Remove the vanilla pod.

Place the jam in sterilized jars, leaving about a 1/2" gap to the top. Gently tap the bottom of each jar on the counter to release any air bubbles. Using a damp clean towel, wipe the rims of the jars and secure the lids and rings. Process in a water bath for 10-15 minutes. Remove the containers with tongs and let cool on the counter.

You’ll hear the sound of tops popping shortly—a sign that a secure seal has been made. Or, you can refrigerate the jar without processing and use it within three weeks.

For a playful appetizer, I layered Prosciutto di Parma with creamy burrata on crisped slices of bread and spooned a dollop of bartlett-vanilla bean jam on top. Fantastic!

There you have it: I find this book to be pure inspiration. And though my review is done, I will still be cooking out of this gorgeous volume. I'm looking forward to trying her Tangy Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta and will certainly be toasting with a Vanilla Martini at some time in the near future.

If you want to learn more about vanilla and get inspired in the kitchen, check out Shauna Sever's Pure Vanilla. It's truly delicious!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Celebrating a Milestone for Edible Monterey Bay

WHAT – Celebrating a Milestone for Edible Monterey Bay
Story and Photos by Camilla M. Mann

Milestones and accomplishments deserve to be celebrated with free-flowing libations, scrumptious food, and scintillating conversations with friends old and new. And that’s exactly how the people behind Edible Monterey Bay wrapped up their first year in print.

One of seventy magazines in the Edible Communities family across the country, Edible Monterey Bay – which is locally owned and operated by Sarah Wood of Carmel Valley – encourages readers to get to know and support local growers, fishers, chefs, vintners, and food artisans in the Santa Cruz, San Benito, and Monterey Counties. Their articles and events all support their mission to celebrate the local food cultures by motivating people to get involved in their local foodshed; they inspire people to explore the land on which their food is grown, to meet who is cultivating that food, and, finally, to enjoy innovative ways in which to prepare and present that food – season by season.


Tom and Constance Broz offered up their Live Earth Farm as the venue for the first anniversary party and Tom kicked off the event with a walking tour. With glasses in hand, party guests strolled along rows of tomatoes and sunflowers and beneath trellised tunnels of apple trees while Tom shared the history of his farm that was originally owned by the Mora family from the Azores.

After apprenticing at the University of California at Santa Cruz, Tom wanted to create a connection between customers and the land in the form of a CSA, Community Supported Agriculture. The concept of community supported agriculture – where consumers purchase directly from farmers – originated in Japan in the 1960s. Called teikei, the literal meaning is “partnership” or “cooperation,” but the term has grown to mean something more along the lines of “food with a farmer’s face on it.” It connects the farmers, the consumers, and the food.

Eighteen years ago, Tom founded Live Earth Farm on one and a half acres with twenty-five CSA members, most of which were families at his son’s preschool. He had two apprentices. Today Tom has thirty apprentices and the farm occupies nearly one hundred acres on which they cultivate fifty different crops throughout the year; their membership has soared to almost seven hundred shares and they sell at six different farmers’ markets throughout the week.

Sharing a snapshot of their grueling week during the regular season, Tom detailed: “On Tuesday we box up 300 shares for our Wednesday deliveries. Then we’re at the Felton famers’ market in the afternoon. On Wednesday we deliver those shares that were boxed up on Tuesday, we sell at the downtown Santa Cruz farmers’ market in the afternoon, and we box up another 250 shares for our Thursday deliveries. On Thursday we deliver those shares, box up the remaining 150 shares, and prepare for the three weekend farmers’ markets.”  

Tom described the process of dry-farming tomatoes and grafting new varieties onto the root stock from the Mora family’s original pippin trees.

While producing organic food to feed a community is a focus of his farm, forging bonds with the community is even more important to Tom. “It’s about relationships,” he declared. Live Earth Farm offers a winter CSA, primarily to maintain his workforce year-round. Tom explained that most of his workers are husband and wife teams. By growing and sharing crops through the winter, he can ensure that at least one half of the couple will be able to work – and earn an income –  all year long.

After the tour, we returned to the shade of a colossal oak tree where we recharged our flutes and goblets with some festive libations. Kelly Dearie of Creative Cultures offered a trio of elixirs, including her Beet Kvass, a traditional probiotic drink used in Russia as a “cure all,” and Pollen Up, a seductive tonic made with bee pollen and raw, local honey. Equinox Champagne Cellars poured their potation, a sparkling wine with a toasty, aromatic quality. At another Edible Monterey Bay event I attended, Barry Jackson, Equinox’s owner and winemaker, discussed crafting his wine using the traditional French méthode champenoise, “More flavor results from the contact with the yeast.” And Kate Appel, the force behind 3 of a Kind, shared a pair of her fresh-pressed creations: an effervescent grapefruit juice infused with rosemary and an apple-ginger juice blend that danced playfully on the tongue.

Guests chatted and mingled while platters of colorful, delectable appetizers circulated. Mini polenta cups were filled with soft goat cheese and topped with farm-fresh ratatouille and herbs. Crostini were smeared with a honey-walnut crème, layered with beet and orange slices, and sprinkled with snipped chives. Pan-fried padron peppers were skewered with olives, aged cheese, and charcuterie.

On one side of the crowd, the plein air kitchen was a flurry of activity – Chef Brad Briske, of Carmel’s Casanova Restaurant, and teams of helping hands clipped stems, arranged flowers, peeled beets, layed out plates, scooped crisped grape leaves from a simmering vat of oil, and garnished trays.

On the other side, the husband and wife duo Anne and Pete Sibley – winners of the Great American Duet Sing-off on The Prairie Home Companion – plucked and strummed their bluegrass tunes on their guitar and banjo, filling the air with their distinctive folk sound.

The Sibleys just wrapped up a summer concert tour where they appeared at festivals across the country. During the dinner, Anne and Pete performed an a cappella song that they had written about community. Pete shared that while they traversed the country on their summer tour, they lived in a bus with their two young children. Everywhere they went people invited them in, enveloping them with generosity and hospitality. He said that from Catskills Mountains to the Pacific Northwest and everywhere in between, communities welcomed them with warmth and open arms.

From the Edible Monterey Bay staff, contributors, supporters, family, and friends – old and new – there were so many members of the local good food community who rallied together to make this celebration amazing. But it was the groundswell of groups providing local youth with hands-on education in sustainable food systems and the culinary arts who were in the spotlight. When the party moved inside the barn that is the centerpiece of Live Earth Farm, people took their seats at three long tables that were adorned with jelly jars filled with sunflowers, dahlias, and marigolds in rich, autumn hues.

Wines from Storrs Winery of Santa Cruz and Heller Estate Organic Vineyards of Carmel Valley lined the tables. And Chef Brad, along with students participating in Lightfoot Industries, Food What?!, and Pie Ranch, began his impressive parade of delicious courses punctuated by speakers from these watershed vocational programs.

Santa Cruz native Carmen Kubas founded Lightfoot Industries to provide entrepreneurial training for at-risk teenagers, utilizing a for-profit restaurant, retail line, and innovative curriculum to model social, environmental and fiscal responsibility. Students leave Lightfoot Industries with a strong work ethic, marketable job skills, life skills, a clear career pathway, and funding for continued education. One of Carmen’s students, who is in her second year of the program, apologized in advance for the clichés, but underscored the feeling of belonging, the sense of family, and the direction that she now has because of Lightfoot. She spoke of floating aimlessly, rudderless; now she knows that she wants to be a chef.

In 2002, Nancy Vail, along with two partners, purchased the land on California’s central coast that would become Pie Ranch. Since 2005, Pie Ranch has operated as a working farm where they “grow anything and everything that you need to make a pie” and where youth from regional high schools can participate in farm-based programs and activities. Additionally, Pie Ranch provides adult education, offering aspiring farmers a resident-apprenticeship where they can spend a full year immersed in all aspects of farm operations and marketing. 

Food What?!’s Abby Bell shared two of her students who talked about how the program has bolstered their confidence and increased their responsibility. Food What?! is a youth empowerment and food justice program that uses food – through sustainable agriculture and health – as a vehicle for growing strong, healthy, and inspired teens. They partner specifically with local, low-income and at-risk youth to grow, cook, eat, and distribute healthy, sustainably raised food and address food justice issues in the community.

Watching these groups in action, we started with an albacore crudo with fermented dry farmed tomato, tomato water “silken tofu” and balsamic granita. Chef Brad called his second course ‘Clash of the Seasons In  Brodo’ because it combined roasted winter pumpkin and summer dry farmed tomato broth, along with Pie Ranch wheat berries and shelling beans, Fogline Farm chicken, sun gold tomatoes and crispy prosciutto.

The feast continued with Serendipity Farms butter lettuces, borage dressed with a Petite Syrah vinaigrette followed by a main course of Fogline Farm chicken and pork sausages paired with smoked fingerling potatoes, a Serendipity medley of greens and winter root vegetables, and a sweet apple-pear mostarda and aioli.

As the evening began to wind down, Pie Ranch and Lightfoot Industries presented a duo of desserts featuring Fall’s darling, the apple. Apple pies and apple-cranberry crisp pies were served with steaming mugs full of strong, dark coffee.

The dinner was not just a celebration of good, local food and Edible’s first anniversary, it was also an awards banquet. Edible Monterey Bay honored its 2012 Local Heroes. Chef Tony Baker and Montrio Bistro earned “Best Chef/Restaurant”; Jamie Collins, of Serendipity Farms, and Phil Foster, of Pinnacle Organics” earned nods as “Best Farm/Farmer”; Baker’s Bacon by Chef Tony Baker took home both “Best Food Artisan” and “Best Food Retailer”; and the honor of “Best Nonprofit” was shared by GMO-Free Santa Cruz, Everyone’s Harvest, and MEarth (pronounced ME/Earth). Capping off the evening was a special award for Jim Kasson whose photo essay in the Fall 2011 issue of Edible Monterey Bay included images taken from his series “This Green Growing Land.”

There you have it: the what, the why, the where, and the who of Edible Monterey Bay’s first anniversary party. Just within earshot at my table, I was surrounded by purveyors, farmers, writers, eaters, photographers, vintners, and even a couple who is on the verge of opening their own restaurant. These people are the embodiment of Monterey Bay’s amazing, local good food movement. Echoing Tom Broz’s sentiments – it’s about relationships –  and it’s about the people. It’s an absolute pleasure to be a part of this community. Happy anniversary, Edible Monterey Bay!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

La Crème de la Crème

A Fantastic Feast at La Crème in Pacific Grove
Photos and Story by Camilla M. Mann

Posted on the Edible Monterey Bay blog today, October 2, 2012

Though I attended a concierge luncheon awhile back, chatted with Chef Jon Moser about his cooking philosophies, met Tamie Aceves, the owner of La Crème, and wrote a preview about their event for Edible Monterey Bay, nothing prepared me for the heights to which La Crème soar for this pop-up dinner. Calling it la Crème de la Crème is not an exaggeration. Last week’s feast at La Crème was beyond spectacular.

As we stepped over the threshold, Anthony Pessagno, of Pessagno Winery, welcomed guests with flutes of sparkling wine while servers circulated with tantalizing bite-sized morsels. I didn't catch the name of what they were calling this, but it was flaky dough smeared with buttery, soft cheese topped with bacon and fresh herbs. So many textures and big flavors in such a small bite!

After mingling for a bit, we settled down at lavishly laid tables and kicked off the feast with a pear and arugula salad. Warm goat cheese blanketed in bread crumbs sat atop poached pears and greens dressed with a Pedro Ximénez vinaigrette. Pedro Ximénez is a white grape varietal from the Canary Islands that is often used in Spanish sherry vinegars. A generous sprinkling of toasted hazelnuts launched this salad to out-of-this world status. This was paired with Pessagno's 2010 La Estancia Riesling from the Santa Lucia Highlands. It’s a German dry-styled Riesling and while I typically gravitate towards hearty red wines, the refreshing tartness along with notes of apricots and honey made this the perfect accompaniment to this first course.

When we had first gotten a glimpse of the menu, last week or so, we schemed about which entrées we were going to order, making sure that - between the three couples - we all would be able to taste each offering. There was no need for all those logic games - if Cam gets the duck and Jenn gets the white bass, then... - each diner received all three entrees. Oh my goodness! There was so much food. And it was all amazing.

The first entree served would have been Jake's pick: seared California white bass paired with Pessagno's 2010 La Estancia Chardonnay from the Santa Lucia Highlands. And on the plate as well - winter squash puree, young carrots, micro-greens confetti, and bacon jam. That is not a misprint. Bacon jam. Think salty + sweet. I wouldn't have a clue where to start if I were to try to replicate it. And a note on the wine: the hint of caramel and strong butter were delicious flavor-foils to the mild fish and smoky bacon jam. Wow.

Next up would have been my pick, just from the menu description: grilled duck and fig sausage paired with Pessagno's 2009 La Estancia Pinot Noir also from the Santa Lucia Highlands. This dynamite dish was a corn-lover's delight with a pool of creamy polenta, crisped polenta sticks, and sweet, fresh corn kernels. Pessagno’s Pinot Noir is bright and lively and its strawberry aroma paired well with the sweet flavor of the sausage.

The star of the evening, in my opinion, was the braised lamb shank that Chef Jon served with shelling beans, an olive relish, and a gremolata. Gremolata, a combination of chopped herbs and lemon peel, is the traditional companion to ossobucco, braised veal shanks. The salty, herby flavors of this dish were perfectly complemented with Pessagno's 2009 Idyll Times Vineyard Zinfandel made from San Benito County grapes. We’re talking big, opulent flavors for both the lamb and the zin. It was too bad we were all so full; none of us could give it a proper devouring. But, thankfully, Tamie wrapped up what we couldn't manage to eat and we all enjoyed our leftovers the following day!

We finished the evening with a fig and raspberry crostata, toasted almond crunch, and a scoop of elderflower ice cream matched with Pessagno's Late Harvest Orange Muscat. Fruity, sweet, warm, cold, soft, and crisp. This dessert had a little something for everyone.

And - lest you think this adventure was all about the food and wine - the dinner was a smash because of the people with whom we shared it. I love being surrounded by people who feel the same way about food as I do. It’s more fun that way. So, eat what’s fresh, eat what’s local, and eat what’s sustainable…as much as possible, anyway. And, hopefully, I’ll have a chance to raise a glass or two with you at the next Edible Monterey Bay event!