Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Il Grillo Delights in Carmel {Edible Monterey Bay}

June 23, 2015 – this piece went live on the Edible Monterey Bay blog. Read it there.

Il Grillo Delights in Carmel
Story and Photos by Camilla M. Mann

June 23, 2015 – Late last week, Il Grillo—the cricket in Italian—opened its doors and called friends and family to preview what is to come from the new restaurant owned by Emanuele and Anna Bartolini, of Carmel’s wildly popular La Balena. Friday evening, we answered the cricket’s call and headed over to enjoy the summer evening on Il Grillo’s patio and taste some of the dishes that will be on the menu.

As we settled into the cozy table and chatted with the couple next to us, Anna brought us glasses of
red wine to start and showed us the impromptu menu for the evening. Chef Brad Briske had handwritten his offerings on a thick piece of white cardboard. There were five carpaccio plates from which to choose. Carpaccio dishes are Italian appetizers featuring pounded or thinly sliced or meats and fish topped with a sauce or garnish.

“I thought the idea for Il Grillo was casual dining,” I joked with her, as I eyed the tantalizing and seemingly complicated combinations.

The handwritten list read: Octopus with squid ink-chickpea flan, chili oil, lemon, herbs. Yellowfin tuna, cucumber puttanesca, chili oil, olive, anchovy, capers. House-cured bresaola, gorgonzola-mascarpone terrine, walnuts, balsamic. Beef tenderloin, shaved porcini, parmesan, arugula, lemon, olive oil. Porchetta, pardon pepper, anchovy, capers, Spring onions, watercress, anchovy aioli.

“This is Brad-casual,” Anna countered. Fair enough, after all he was voted Edible Monterey Bay’s local hero as best chef in 2014.

We ordered one of each. Then we re-ordered the octopus plate later in the evening. The first time we asked for it without the squid ink-chickpea flan because my younger son is sensitive to chickpeas. But we ordered it as written the second time because I couldn’t resist getting the dish the way Briske intended.

 A good carpaccio practically melts in your mouth with each bite exploding with flavor. Each plate offered various textures and tastes that simultaneously complemented and contrasted. Imagine the creaminess of a gorgonzola-mascarpone terrine combined with the saltiness of bresaola topped with the nutty tannins of walnuts and the agrodolce of a reduced balsamic. We jokingly argued about which plate was the best and, truth be told, we could not come to a consensus. Briske nailed them all.

Briske will be at the helm for both Il Grillo and La Balena. Between pounding beef tenderloin and plating his beef carpaccio, Briske spoke excitedly about the addition: “Because La Balena will be closed for lunch during the week now, I’ll be able to do my butchering there in the afternoons.”

Although we didn’t sample it, the second part of Il Grillo’s menu is a collection of Briske’s homemade fresh pastas with mix-and-match sauces, for eating there and for take-out.

Il Grillo opens to the public on Thursday, June 25 with lunches and a special five-night Dinner Launch Series. The menu includes an appetizer, pasta, dessert and a glass of house wine for $40. Reservations for the tiny dining room are available online at www.ilgrillocarmel.com

Next week, they’ll add an Italian-style breakfast—in the form of coffee and pastries made by Emily Garcia, formerly of Emi’s Biscotteria in Pacific Grove—beginning at 8am. Then, starting on Monday, June 29, days and hours will be Monday through Friday 8am to 9pm; Saturday dinner from 4pm to 9pm. Closed on Sundays.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Flavor Meets Aethetics in Your Backyard {Edible Monterey Bay}

May 19, 2015 – this piece went live on the Edible Monterey Bay blog. Read it there.

Flavor Meets Aethetics in Your Backyard
Story and Photos by Camilla M. Mann

May 19, 2015 – Sharing some crazy pastry wizard techniques, executive pastry chef Ron Mendoza of Aubergine in Carmel and EMB’s Pastry Chef of the Year defined fine dining and convinced us we need to switch to metric measurements at the fifth installment of the In Your Backyard series sponsored by Edible Monterey Bay and Holman Ranch.

“Making pastries requires technique,” Mendoza said. “You manipulate ingredients to make something out of nothing.” Mendoza demonstrated a microwave sponge cake that was pioneered by Albert AdriĆ  of El Bulli in Spain. Instead of using a whisk or a leavening agent, Mendoza used nitrous oxide—in a whipped cream charger—to aerate the cake batter. He popped the batter into the microwave for forty seconds and out came a nicely risen, airy cake. We ooooed and ahhhed, Mendoza laughed: “Oh, good! I never know if you’ll see it as a trendy parlor trick or as a brilliant dessert.” 

Discussing the science of baking, we learned that the butter and sugar were the flavor, eggs provide the rise, and the flour is what sets the eggs. An attendee commented that Mendoza’s recipes were metric. He took the opportunity to exhort us to switch to metric measurements. “Sixty grams of flour is sixty grams of flour no matter if you’re using almond flour or cake flour. Metric is more consistent,” he explained.

The conversation moved to Aubergine and the experience of fine dining. With only nine tables, Mendoza strives to make creative pastries that inspire awe. “It’s a balance of flavor and aesthetics.”

His cake was infused with green tea, making a verdant sponge that he broke into craggy pieces to resemble moss. In this dessert, he mirrored our environment, plating a speculoos cookie butter-covered ice cream rock with the mossy cake pieces. He secured the rock to the plate with a dollop of lemon curd and dusted the entire thing with a mixture of green tea and shiso powder. Nasturtium and radish blossoms added some floral flair.

A portion of the evening’s proceeds benefitted Everyone’s Harvest, co-founded by Iris Peppard who launched the organization as part of her capstone project from California State University Monterey Bay (CSUMB) for her degree in Integrated Studies with an emphasis on Community Organizing. The vision: every community needs access to reasonably priced fresh, organic produce in weekly community setting.

Over the past thirteen years, Everyone’s Harvest has grown to include two year-round markets—in Pacific Grove and Marina—and two seasonal markets in Salinas. More than half of Everyone’s Harvest Certified Farmers’ Markets farmers are certified organic and come from within a 100-mile radius of Monterey County. Everyone’s Harvest is piloting partnerships between healthcare providers and farmers’ markets through its Fresh Produce Prescription Program. In the spirit of collaboration, the markets offer free space to other nonprofits organizations, community groups, and government entities for public outreach. Additionally, the nonprofit manages five community projects in its mission to give more people access to fresh, local, affordable food.

There is only one more In Your Backyard event before the series finale, a picnic on July 15th at the historic Holman Ranch. Attendees will enjoy spectacular views, Holman Ranch wines, music, and food while supporting six worthy causes—Ag Against Hunger, Everyone’s Harvest, Food Bank of Monterey County, MEarth, Nancy’s Project, and Seafood Watch.

On June 16th, executive chef Ken MacDonald from Edgars at Quail Lodge in Carmel Valley and Serendipity Farms’ Jamie Collins will guide people from garden to table, sharing how to plant your garden with your menus in mind and offering tips for cooking your bounty.

To reserve your tickets, call the Holman tasting room at 831.659.2640 or email info@holmanranch.com. Tickets are $10 for wine club members and $25 for others; seating is very limited.

The Holman tasting room is located at 19 East Carmel Valley Rd. in Carmel Valley Village.

For information on the entire In Your Backyard program, go to www.ediblemontereybay.com and click on the events tab.