Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Trailside Café Carmel Valley is a Post-Hike Haven {Edible Monterey Bay}

October 21, 2014 – this piece went live on the Edible Monterey Bay blog. Read it there.

Trailside Café Carmel Valley is a Post-Hike Haven
Story by Camilla M. Mann
Photos courtesy Sean Allen, Trailside Café 

October 21, 2014 – The new Trailside Café and Beer Garden in Carmel Valley Village is nearly complete and owner Sean Allen hopes to open within the next week. While scoping out possible locations for his second Trailside Café, Sean stood on the deck of the old Toast Café and he found himself staring at the fire watchtower in Garland Ranch Regional Park atop a crest in the neighboring Santa Lucia Mountains.

He realized that this new location retained the relevance of the name—Trailside Café—and he set out to secure the space and transform it into a post-hike haven. After months of renovation, Trailside Café Carmel Valley has the look of a bucolic cabin. The motif continues inside with rough-hewn beams, a redwood bar, and rustic lanterns. And a wood-burning stove divides the main restaurant space from the bar. It’s a comfortable space with a casual feel. It’ll be the ideal place to kick off your boots after a day on the trails in Garland Ranch Regional Park. Meandering through thick chaparral, maple-filled canyons, and ascending to spectacular vistas of the entire valley can work up an appetite. Alternatively, if you’re looking for a pre-hike meal to bolster your adventures, the new Trailside Café is the answer.

Trailside Café Carmel Valley plans to open from 7:30am to 9:00pm, 7 days a week. Their breakfast menu will mirror the original Trailside Café and Coffeehouse on Cannery Row with everything from their overstuffed breakfast burrito to their delectable benedicts; the lunch offerings merge seamlessly into the evening hours as well, including pasta dishes, hearty burgers, and fish-and-chips. Allen plans to add some small plates that can be devoured both in the dining room and at the bar. Sports lovers can enjoy their favorite events on a trio of screens in the bar area.

The mural behind the taps is a topographic map by a local artist.

In a village dotted with wine tasting rooms, Trailside Café Carmel Valley is a welcome addition to the neighborhood for beer-lovers. Allen will have thirteen beers on tap, comprised of rotating taps from up and down the California coast as well as a three-door cooler with chilled bottles ready to enjoy. He’ll be pouring selections from Carmel Valley Brewing, Peter B’s, Drake’s Brewing Company, and North Coast Brewing, including their Scrimshaw Pilsner and Old Rasputin on nitro. I have to admit the heart of this beer-loving gal fluttered a little at mention of Old Rasputin. While I love a good stout, Old Rasputin on nitro softens the standard high-octane edges of the beer with a waterfall of bubbles that yield a thick creamy head. It’s fantastically robust and simultaneously silky smooth.

Not to worry, if you’re not an ardent beer fan, Allen has a selection of California wines – some local, some from slightly further afield – ready for pouring as well. And, after your meal, there are sweet treats for every palate in the family.

While Trailside Café Carmel Valley will carry some of its Cannery Row history with it, it will be a stand-alone family-friendly spot poised to win the hearts of locals, beer-lovers, avid hikers, and anyone in search of a filling, home-cooked meal. I, for one, can’t wait to hit the trails in Garland and find my way to the new Trailside.

Trailside Café and Beer Garden • 3 Del Fino Place, Carmel Valley • 831.659.8500

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Dining Room Table as a Nexus for Change for #foodday2014

October 20, 2014 – this piece went live on the Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution website. Read it there...or here.

The Dining Room Table as a Nexus for Change
Story by Camilla M. Mann
One of my 'Eat a Rainbow' students making pumpkin-potato gnocchi

“Raise kids with fearless palates.” That is scribbled into a journal from before I was a mom.

Idealistic? Sure.

Achievable? Definitely.

At first, I just focused on my family. Then I expanded my goal to our small circle of friends. I put zucchini into chocolate cakes at birthday parties. I created a menu dedicated to the enigmatic and oft-hated eggplant. I pushed my friends’ palates and they still returned to my dining room table for more.

A good friend once asserted that he did not eat – and I quote – purple dirt circles. He meant beets. I accepted the challenge and cooked an entire dinner around those purple dirt circles, inviting him, his family, and a few other friends to my table. We ate roasted beet soup; I baked beetroot dinner rolls; we slathered beet-apple chutney on roasted leg of lamb; and ended with a spiced beet mousse for dessert.

Can you guess what happened next? He grudgingly admitted that he liked beets. He finally called them beets, too. And now, several years later, I have witnessed him spooning beets willingly onto his own salad on more than one occasion.

“More people would like vegetables if they ate them at your dining room table,” my husband Jake says. I realized that I could use the dining room table as a nexus for change: if you introduce kids to real foods and you invite them to cook it with you, they will eat it. And if you make the learning fun, they will love it.

October 24th is this year’s designated Food Day. Food Day and the FoodDay.org organization is all about inspiring both healthier diets for eaters and healthier food policies for our planet. It’s the culmination of a movement that aims to help people eat foods that are healthy, affordable, and sustainably produced. It’s also a time to focus on cutting back on processed, packaged foods every day of the year. It’s about awareness. It can be a celebration of accomplishments and a reassessment of what you can do to eat better.

This year Food Day falls in the middle of a six-week Friday afternoon elective class that I teach to a dozen 5th through 7th graders at a school on the Monterey Peninsula on California’s central coast. This session’s theme is ‘Eat a Rainbow.’ We have talked about the benefits of eating foods in every color of the rainbow. We’ve covered red, orange, yellow, and green so far. And we’ve made everything from pumpkin gnocchi to saffron-vanilla bean lemonade and from green beans with gremolata to roasted beets salad.

On Food Day, my students and I will be preparing two to three dishes that involve blue and purple foods. Think eggplant, blueberries, and purple yams!

My goal is not only to cook with my students, getting them to – perhaps – try foods that they haven’t eaten before, but to inspire them take our recipes home and cook for their own families. At the end of the session, they take home a book with all of the recipes we cooked during the six weeks. When I went to one of my student’s houses for dinner, he excitedly showed me the two recipe books from the two classes he’s taken with me. They had a prominent place in his mom’s kitchen along with her other cookbooks. I was surprised. She explained, “When he wants to share something from them, I know where they are.”

I was excited to be selected as a volunteer ambassador for Jamie Oliver Food Revolution Day. That extended the scope of my goal from simply raising my own kids to have fearless palates to helping push the palates of other people’s kids. While revamping the standard American diet is laudable, raising the next generation to make healthier food choices is a necessity – for their health and the health of our planet. It starts at the dining room table.

About the author: Camilla is the Food Revolution ambassador for Monterey, California. Read about her Food Revolution and culinary food on her blog Culinary Adventures with Camilla.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Commonwealth Wednesdays Debut in Carmel {Edible Monterey Bay}

October 14, 2014 – this piece went live on the Edible Monterey Bay blog. Read it there.

Commonwealth Wednesdays Debut in Carmel
story by Camilla M. Mann, photo courtesy Lauren De Vine

October 14, 2014 – A weekly showcase for local food pioneers called Commonwealth Wednesdays debuts tomorrow at Carmel Belle and the very first event features the seasonal elixirs, shrubs and mixers of beverage artisan Lauren De Vine.

‘Commonwealth’ means ‘founded for the common well-being’ and, in this case, owners Jay and Chloe Dolata, Chef Kyle Odell, and the rest of the Carmel Belle team aim to connect local food pioneers with the community, for the good of all.

The Dolatas make an effort to operate as a community-minded business, purchasing products from local purveyors and farmers. Taking local sourcing a step further, Commonwealth Wednesdays will allow them to connect those people directly to the community. Once a week, Carmel Belle will host local food pioneers to highlight their products, share samples, give a demonstration, and—most importantly—meet the locals.

First up: Lauren De Vine the creative force behind Lauren De Vine Beverages. Lauren will be sharing her spirit-bases for making mocktails, cocktails, and soda. While she has experience taking businesses from concept to fruition, it has always been with other people’s ideas including Barmel and a skin care line. This will be the first public demo of her very own recently launched brand. “My intention,” she says, “is to take the mystery out of a good cocktail.”

At 5:00pm, Lauren will explain how she plans to change the beverage industry and show how you can be the life of the party with one of her signature cocktails or sodas. Then, from 5:30pm – 6:30pm, Lauren will provide samples of her produce-driven, spirit-bases. She didn’t want to divulge too much about the three flavors ahead of the Commonwealth Wednesday, but I can reveal that they capture the essence of the late summer season and each has multiple intriguing layers of flavor.

Lauren’s spirit-bases are handcrafted using the best locally grown organic ingredients. She defines local as starting as close to her as possible and moving outward, as needed, to source her fruits and herbs. Lauren mentions that she loves working with Jamie Collins of Serendipity because the farm is close and they share a mindset about food production and sustainability.

She relishes being part of the food community in Monterey and will be starting a weekend CSA to get feedback on different flavors before she launches on a larger scale in spring 2015. Her idea is for CSA members to pick up six small-scale spirit bases along with instructions for turning those into celebratory libations by mixing in alcohol or soda water.

“We use organic, fresh ingredients in our products and they can all be delicious without adding liquor. Nearly all of them would only require a bit of soda water and ice to be fully realized and enjoyed,” she adds. Carmel Belle will be the first of the pick-up locations.

Alongside Lauren’s demonstration, Chef Kyle will be creating a couple of small plates for the evening in addition to the regular Dinner Belle menu. Looking ahead, Commonwealth Wednesday will showcase farmer Jamie Collins of Serendipity Farms on October 22. Future events will feature local food pioneers from Kai Lee Ice Creamery and Tomatero Farm, among others. Those sound like beneficial evenings for all.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Playground for the Palate at MY Museum Dinner

This post went live on Edible Monterey Bay's blog. You may read it: there. Or here...

Playground for the Palate at MY Museum Dinner
Story and Photos by Camilla M. Mann

September 22, 2014 – Set high above Carmel Valley on Hawk Ridge, this past weekend’s MY Spectacular Dinner—a fundraising event benefiting Monterey County Youth Museum (MY Museum)—was a delight for all the senses. Breathtaking views abounded; the scent of lavender, garden roses, and citrus trees wafted from the gardens onto the terraces; delectable bites and wines seemed never-ending; and laughter punctuated conversations with old and new friends alike.

A trio of local chefs presented dishes that mirrored the museum’s identity. While MY Museum is a playground for the mind, the chefs’ dishes were a playground for the palate – creative, colorful, and delicious.

Executive chef Jason Giles, of Portola Hotel & Spa, opened the evening with an hors d’oeuvres course that combined salty and sweet in almost every morsel. It took tremendous willpower to not grab a piece of his Candied Bacon in Cayenne Dark Chocolate Sauce each time the platters passed. Thin slices of filet were marinated in soy, skewered, and grilled on a piece of sugar cane. Chicken mousseline was piped into edible cones made from sun-dried tomatoes. And creamy Laura Chenel chevre was blended with herbs, spooned into crisped phyllo shells, and drizzled with a white balsamic reduction. Scheid Vineyards provided the pairings for this first course. Their 2011 Estate Chardonnay leads with tropical fruit notes and finishes with hints of vanilla; their 2011 Estate Pinot Noir started with bright berry aromas and lingered with delicate floral and spice. Both wines provided elegant, subtle flavor foils to Giles’ vibrant bites.

Kicking off the seated portion of the evening, Hahn Estate executive chef Dyon Foster served a duet of dishes featuring tomatoes from Swank Farms for the second course. On the plate his Heirloom Tomato Salad sat atop a verdant puree of artichoke heart and asparagus. In the bowl, his Garden Fresh Gazpacho was dotted with a truffled balsamic glaze. Foster discussed the wine he paired with the dishes: Hahn’s 2012 Noir Blanc. “It’s a white wine for red wine drinkers,” he said.

Executive chef Tony Baker, of Montrio Bistro, was up next, preparing the entrée course. He presented Braised Prime Short Rib on a bed of potato-parsnip puree, topped with shaved Brussels sprouts and fresh chervil. This was also paired with wine from Hahn Estate: Smith & Hook 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon. With its regal purple hue and robust flavors, this wine perfectly complemented Baker’s hearty beef offering.

Sugar Mountain Bakery, a sweets boutique based in Salinas, capped off the evening with a trio of sweets, including a lemon cake topped with Swiss meringue buttercream and a candied lemon curl; a fresh berry tart with cream cheese filling; and a raspberry mousse in a chocolate shell.

As the festivities drew to a close, Lauren Cohen, executive director of MY Museum, addressed the crowd and closed with one final appeal—donors who contributed to the museum would receive a bottle of Hawk Ridge wine made from the vineyard we were overlooking at the start of the evening. I happily contributed to MY Museum and clutched my new bottle of wine possessively as we climbed back into the shuttle to take us down the mountain.

Shining the spotlight on talented local chefs and vintners—all for a worthy cause —MY Spectacular Dinner was a spectacular evening for philanthropists, foodies, and wine connoisseurs alike.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Feathers in Flight {Ventana Wildlife Society}

On September 6th, my family and I attended Ventana Wildlife Society's annual fundraising event. As usual, I had my camera in tow and they ended up using some of my photos after the event. Sweet.

Click to read more about the organization and their mission: Ventana Wildlife Society.

These are the photos they used...


And these are a few of my favorites...

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Book Review: Nick and Tesla's Super-Cyborg Gadget Glove

Note: we did receive a complimentary copy of Nick and Tesla's Super-Cyborg Gadget Glove for the purposes of reviewing in. The opinions expressed are 100% accurate and 100% ours.

The new Nick and Tesla book - Super-Cyborg Gadget Glove - is the fourth in the series. And it is a fantastic novel. It is officially released on October 7, 2014.

I have read all of the books....more than once. Usually I read the book to myself first. Then I do some of the experiments. Then I read the book again, outloud, to my little brother. He could read them by himself, but I don't want to share my copy!

I liked all the experiments you can do at home by yourself. In the book, the mystery (story) is linked to science as four kids create a gadget glove to solve a mystery and save a museum. The gadget glove was a glove improved with electronics. Those functions were used to solve the mystery. What are some of the things the glove can do? It can blink a L.E.D., sound an alarm, record voice, and track fluorescent ink. 

I really enjoyed that Nikola Tesla was in the story and the mystery. This book explained a lot, from the past books, including Nick and Tesla’s name. 

With the great humor, mystery, and experiments, Nick and Tesla’s Super-Cyborg Gadget Glove is one of my favorite books, but I am not sure it's my favorite of the four. I really liked the first and the third books. But this one is still worth reading and reading again!

Monday, August 25, 2014

At the Pop-Up Breakfast - Scotts Valley Farmers Market

Most of the time, my story-telling is with a pen and a lens. On rare occasion, I get a chance to "relax" and just do one or the other. Maybe it's an interview where the interviewee is providing the photos or a photo essay where I don't have to bother taking notes to write a piece later.

This weekend, I was invited up to the Pop-Up Breakfast at the Scotts Valley Famers' Market. And I just had to shoot some photos. I wanted to share a few of my favorites.

In the Market
This was one of the most photogenic farmers' markets I've encountered. Absolutely stunning.

In the Kitchen
What a truly delightful breakfast, prepared by Chef Heidi Schletch, of Feel Good Foods and Plumline Farm, and her team dazzled us with dishes cooked with produce and goods from the market purveyors. It was amazing.

In the Dining Room
I love that diners bring their own plates and utensils. The eclectic napkins, mugs, and glasses are festive and fun.

On the Plates
Beautiful food just tastes better, doesn't it?!? This definitely fits the bill.

Just for Fun
Not for the assignment - for sure - just for me! It was a great date with my Love...love mixing work and kid-free fun.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Queen of Quince Takes Her Show on the Road {Edible Monterey Bay}

August 5, 2014 – this piece went live on the Edible Monterey Bay website. Read it there.

Queen of Quince Takes Her Show on the Road
story by Camilla M. Mann, photos courtesy Barbara Ghazarian

Have you ever seen a quince? If not, you’re not alone. It’s classified as a rare fruit after all.

Quince is a paradox. Its shape is voluptuous; its aroma, reminiscent of guava, pineapple, pear, and vanilla; is heavenly. While it appears soft with its layer of fine fuzz, raw, it’s rock-hard and formidable. If you make the mistake of putting a piece on your tongue, you won’t soon forget its mouth-puckering astringency. It may be the only fruit that can’t be eaten raw.

But once you cook quince, its flesh softens and turns pink. Some people assert that quince tastes like roses smell. I think it’s even more exotic than that.

This week, Pacific Grove author and quincephile Barbara Ghazarian will deliver the keynote address at the 2014 Festival of Fruit, an annual conference held in historic Edgefield, Oregon. The conference is co-hosted by the California Rare Fruit Growers (CRFG), the Home Orchard Society (HOS) and the National Association of Fruit Explorers (NAFEX). And this year—2014—they have declared the Year is the Quince.

As she prepared to leave for Oregon, Ghazarian—the self-proclaimed Queen of Quince—made time to chat with me about her beloved quince. Ghazarian explained her fascination with the fruit, “Quince came from Armenia.” Passionate about sharing her Armenian ancestry with others, her first cookbook, published in 2004, Simply Armenian: Naturally Healthy Ethnic Cooking Made Easy, shared over 150 Armenian recipes with home-cooks. “But besides quince coming from Armenia, I just love the taste. I love the color change,” she said.

I had met Ghazarian a few years ago when she did a cooking presentation at the Holman Ranch Tasting Room in Carmel Valley. It was then that she fanned the flames of my budding crush on this ancient, rare fruit. I’ll admit the color change is intriguing.

Ghazarian’s background in molecular biology from Wellesley College showed as she explained how the fruit’s phenolic compounds—anthroxanthins and anthrocyanins—transform when heated. “Through poaching,” she described, “quince transforms into succulent, salmon-colored wedges that retain their shape.”

It is precisely those wedges that Ghazarian credits with making quince accessible to this generation of cooks and diners. “Through poaching quince, I’ve made it into an ingredient,” she adding, mentioning a savory sidedish of stuffed cauliflower and quince. My mouth began to water

Quince was revered in times past. In ancient Greece, brides were often given quince as a token of fruitfulness. During Medieval times, the French prepared a kind of marmalade called cotignac. In fact, the word ‘marmalade’ derives from the Portuguese word for quince—marmelo. It’s no coincidence that the primary use for quince has been to help marmalades, jams, and jellies to set. The fruit contains a large amount of pectin.

“The nail in poor quince’s coffin,” Ghazarian said, “was Knox.” Boxed gelatin quickly hijacked the role that pectin-rich quince had played in preserving fruits.

Since the 2009 printing of her second cookbook Simply Quince, quince has been enjoying a revival. It’s a cookbook dedicated to revealing quince’s versatility. Her recipes include an array of savory-sweet stews, exotic mains, unique condiments, trendsetting salads, and spectacular pastries. But, more than sharing recipes, Ghazarian sees her work as demystifying quince, inspiring people, returning quince to the table in whatever form. “I’m a benevolent queen,” she joked.

She mentioned a few people and companies doing interesting things with quince. San Carlos Quince, out of Eugene, Oregon, makes organic quince paste and quince butter. Vermont Quince has quince-ginger-lime chutney and quince-infused vinegars. And, locally, Randall Grahm, of Bonny Doon Vineyard in Santa Cruz, produces a French-style hard cider called ¿Querry? —made with two kinds of pears, four kinds of apples, and two kinds of quince.

Here on the central coast, quince season begins next month and continues until mid-November. Growers in the Central Valley have a longer season and will have quince through February. I can’t wait to start seeing those yellow, bulbous fruits appear in the markets. I’m already scheming about what I’m going to make.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Glorious Details at the Googie {Edible Monterey Bay}

July 29, 2014 – this piece went live on the Edible Monterey Bay website. Read it there.

Glorious Details at the Googie
story by Camilla M. Mann, photos courtesy Googie Grill

Break out the poodle skirts! Fifties-style Googie Grill, the Monterey Bay area’s newest retro restaurant, is set to open next week near the busy intersection of Del Monte Ave. and Canyon del Rey in Seaside. Those nostalgic for comfort food, drive-ins and diners, as well as architecture buffs, will enjoy the homespun breakfasts and lunches; dinner service will follow in a couple of weeks.

Have you heard the saying – the devil is in the details? The phrase popped into my head when I visited Googie Grill. It means that even the tiniest components are crucial to the grand design. At every turn, there are carefully curated details to note at this soon-to-open eatery, elements that complement the architecture of the original building, commemorate their family, honor their community, and celebrate local food producers.

Veteran restaurateur Jack Hakim—who has previously owned Scandia and The Avenue in Carmel and has worked in several of the peninsula’s finest dining establishments, such as The Sardine Factory, Pacific’s Edge and The Lodge at Pebble Beach—has spent the past year transforming his vintage 1950s building into a unique restaurant. Hakim credits Wendell Montes for helping navigate the City’s Board of Architectural Review and says that the project couldn’t have come to fruition without the assistance of Duke Kelso Construction, Glenn Warner Architecture, and many others.

“This,” he reveals, gesturing broadly around the newly renovated space, “all of this is for them…for the girls, my daughters, Jennifer and Lisa.”

His daughters—Jennifer Kadosh and Lisa Allen—designed the interior and created the menu. Kadosh selected colors, upholstery, and other particulars to ensure that the renovations matched her father’s vision of paying homage to the structure of the building.

“The building inspired Dad,” Kadosh recounts. “The structure, the columns, the glass all got me researching Googie architecture.” Googie architecture features modern materials and geometric shapes. “We wanted to create a restaurant around the style,” Kadosh continued.

But the characteristic angled walls of Googie design are not visible from the outside. Hakim confirmed, “To see the Googie, you have to step inside the Googie.”

 Allen crafted the menu items, pairing dishes with names that are meaningful to their family. For instance, there’s the Querida Corned Beef Hash named for their mom. And all of the granddaughters have dishes bearing their names: Bella’s Breakfast Sandwich; Olivia’s Old-Fashioned Oatmeal; Queen Ava’s Benedict; Savannah’s Biscuits and Gravy; and Hailey’s Comet, a hearty combination platter of two pancakes, two eggs, and two meats.

Hakim characterizes the Googie food offerings as American comfort food with a twist to make it modern. “Comfort food is making a comeback,” he asserts. “When economic times are tough, people like to eat comfort food.” Googie’s versions will be high-quality made with fresh ingredients, including Glaum eggs from Aptos and ACME beans from Seaside’s local coffee powerhouse.

You’ll find traditional breakfast foods along with hot sandwiches and exotic sandwiches. Kadosh mentions Frikadeller, traditional Danish meatballs, that they’ve included on the menu to honor a lifelong friend of Hakim. “The menu reflects our tastes and style—and my dad’s experiences,” Kadosh said.

Googie Grill’s menu items will fall in the $8-$18 range. Beer and wine will be poured during lunch and dinner service.

Ray Kreik will manage operations along with Kadosh and Hakim’s former Scandia chef, Tedulo Pinto, will man the kitchen.

Local artist Dan Herron has created a colorful multiple-paneled mural that borders the top edge of the dining room. The paintings depict iconic central California spots from Big Sur’s Bixby Bridge to San Francisco’s Golden Gate. There’s even Herron’s Googie with a classic 50s ride parked in front. So, when you step into the dining room, be sure to look up.

Hakim, Kadosh, and Allen aim to have the Googie attract locals, tourists, students, and workers alike. “Anyone interested in fresh, delicious comfort food can find something they’ll love here.”

Googie Grill – 1520 Del Monte Blvd. Seaside – www.googiegrill.com

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Dinner Belle is Ringing {Edible Monterey Bay}

June 17, 2014 – this piece went live on the Edible Monterey Bay website. Read it there.

The Dinner Belle is Ringing
Story and Photos by Camilla M. Mann

Carmel Belle, a longtime breakfast and lunch favorite for locals, officially opened for dinner this week. Now, from 4 pm to 7 pm, Sundays through Thursdays, The Dinner Belle is filling a casual dining niche with good, unpretentious organic food. “Customers have always asked us to do dinner,” owner Jay Dolata explains. In recent years Carmel Belle opened its doors for a pop-up dinner series organized by Post Ranch Inn’s Yulanda Santos. She transformed the space into an impromptu ramen house for one dinner and sold karaage, Japanese fried chicken, for another. The two-seating dinners were always a hit and always sold-out. So, they knew that the dinner concept would be popular. “It’s something we’ve always wanted to do but never had the time for until recently,” says Jay.

Yulanda was also the person who introduced Jay to chef Kyle Odell who is running the kitchen for The Dinner Belle. Though Kyle has a pedigree in fine dining—his previous posts were at Parallel 37 in San Francisco’s Ritz Carlton and Michelin-rated Commis in Oakland—he aims to show that “joy can be found in honest, simple food.”

Jay underscores that sentiment. “You can count on getting approachable, casual food without the formality of tableside service. You can come in your flip-flops and sweats or come dressed up in heels.”

That philosophy has earned them a loyal following with the breakfast and lunch crowds. After visiting for their inaugural dinner, this weekend, I am confident that their fan-base will embrace the evening offerings as well.

When talking to Kyle about possible selections, he shares that the menu will be fresh, tasty, limited, and thoughtful. He mentioned meatloaf. “Imagine food that’s made with lots of love and happiness,” he urged. “Think mom’s meatloaf. But it’ll be the best meatloaf that you’ve ever had.”

Jay agreed, “I like to keep it simple, letting the flavors of the food shine. It’s not about complicated recipes or special techniques.”

Diners will have the choice of two entrees, two soups, two or three side dishes, and one or two sweets on a rotating two-week cycle.

On Sunday, my family and I went to The Dinner Belle for their inaugural dinner and an unfussy Fathers’ Day celebration. Jay and his wife and business partner, Chloe, manned the counters while Kyle was busy in the kitchen.

We feasted on the best oven-baked chicken I’ve ever had. The buttermilk-marinated Mary’s organic chicken (4 drumsticks per platter at $13) was tender and juicy; the outside crust was crisped and intriguingly spiced. Piquillos (2 peppers in the bowl for $10)—diminutive, sweet peppers—were roasted and stuffed with red quinoa, cucumbers, tomatoes, and herbs.

The broccoli de cicco ($7 a platter)—a sweet heirloom variety of broccoli—was chargrilled, slightly piquant and earthy, served with vinaigrette and toasted hazelnuts. The caprese salad ($10 a plate) featured heirloom tomatoes, garden fresh basil and olive oil from McEvoy Ranch in Marin County. And the field green salad showcased two of summer’s stone fruit darlings—pluots and white peaches from the farmers’ market.

We dug spoons into bowls of thick black bean soup ($7 a bowl, $4.50 a cup) topped with dollops of sour cream.

And for dessert, we shared fresh-baked cookies, cheesecake flan ($5 per slice)—a charming marriage of cheesecake’s creaminess and flan’s sweetness—and washed it all down with potent coffee drinks made with Mr. Espresso beans.

The Dinner Belle idea: order at the counter, eat there, or grab and go. Diners, both locals and visitors, can eat without the pressure or price of a sit-down restaurant.

I definitely see The Dinner Belle in my future—when I want to pick up something fresh and tasty on my way home from work, but don’t want to eat pizza or burgers.

Carmel Belle – San Carlos St. Carmel – www.carmelbelle.com