Monterey, On the Road

There's a prevailing thought: If the view is good, the food is not

Last month, the Monterey County Convention & Vistors Bureau was in Seattle to debunk that myth. 

The plan? Take two chefs and an accomplished sommalier, invite a group of Seattle meeting planners for luminaries like Google, Starbucks, Amazon, and Boeing, add local celebrity chef Tom Douglas in the mix...and you've got an evening to remember. 

But first. Let's talk about Monterey County, one of my favorite travel destinations. When the traffic gods are with you, it's roughly a 3 hour drive from LA or San Francisco. Take Highway 101 for the jaw dropping views and you'll be in 'vacation mode' long before arrive. Even better if someone else does the driving so you can take in the rocky cliffs, and Pacific Ocean crashing against the bluff below. 

Until recently, food was not the reason you went to Monterey. But that is changing, in a big way. In a move that reverberated across the national food scene, Jason Franey, the lauded chef of Canlis Restaurant (with more James Beard nominations than I can count) left for Monterey. While Canlis conducts a nation-wide search to replace him, Jason has taken the helm at Restaurant 1833, whose parent company also includes the prestigous Pebble Beach Food & Wine Classic. No doubt, 1833 will be a destination-worthy restaurant in the coming months. 

Lured by year-round California produce out of the Salinas Valley, a day boat fishing industry where 'catch of the day' means something, and a world class wine region with in reach, no wonder chefs are making the move to Monterey. And with that, a renewed focus on a dining scene to match those enviable views.

Enter chefs Matt Glazer of Big Sur Roadhouse and Jeffrey Weiss of Jeninni Kitchen + Wine Bar.

Matt's style is deeply rooted in New Orleans, and Italy, thanks to a stint working there. With those influences comes a culinary sensibility that includes bold flavors, but enough restraint to let the ingredients shine. 

On his visit to Seattle, he prepared two dishes showcasing that famous Monterey bounty. The first, a shrimp ceviche, made with spot prawns transported live. "We nearly missed the flight! The boat arrived with our prawns...40 minutes from departure." 

With his second dish, Pacific-harvested albacore tuna, confit in local rice bran oil, as opposed to the Italian tradition of olive oil. A hush fell over the room when this dish was served. The woman seated next to me, let out an unguarded moan. I know exactly what she meant. Rustic yet refined, it was simple perfection. In the days that followed, this dish much on my mind. I had just been schooled, and made a mental note. "I want to cook like that.

Catching up with Matt before dinner, I asked him about the Monterey food scene. "For a long time, Monterey was a strategic spot in our national defense, with a military focus. That has shifted. There's the Monterey Institute of Studies and with it, a large academic faculty and student base. The city's demographic is younger, vibrant and exciting."

"And the food?"

"Classics are always classics, and that's great. You'll always be able to get fried calamari, but there's a hot new food market. The collard greens on my menu come from a farm 10 minutes away. And you can't get fresher seafood. For the past two years, we've had a drought in California. That stresses out the grapes, which deepens the flavor. The local wines being produced are world class."

Blending New Oreleans with a California twist, Matt tells me, "My entire opening menu was written at the top of a mountain overlooking the ocean with humpback whales, and New Orleans music on my iPod." 

Adding another perspective to the mix, chef Jeffrey Weiss is at the helm of Jeninni Kitchen + Wine Bar. Southern Mediterranean-focused, his menu draws on inspiration from Spain, Morocco, and the Middle East.  Training under James Beard award-winning chefs José Andrés, April Bloomfield, and Spanish-based chefs Daní Garcia and Adolfo Muñoz, Weiss melds his many influences into an opinionated culinary point. Author of the 460 page, Charcuteria of Spain, released earlier this year, his first dish, reflected a synthesis of Spain and Monterey. A delicate smoked trout and artichoke terrine, showcased lush fish, artichoke, Meyer lemon, and Cypress Grove's goat milk fromage blanc. Yeah. That's a 'take no prisoner' kind of dish. 

Throwing down the guantlet, Weiss' second dish was a dessert marvel billed as a "Lebanese Yogurt Cake with Pomegranate and Pistachio." Call it a 'cake' if you will, but it bears little resemblance to what we commonly know as cake. As part of the evening events, chefs demonstrated how to make a recipe. This dish owes it's custard-like texture to 8 eggs and the barest amount of flour (50 grams) give it a sliceable structure. The finishing touch? Topped with a swirl of pomegranate molasses and a dusting of pomegranate seeds and pistachios. 

A night like this, in the presence of two great chefs, elevates the concept of "local." Two decidedly different culinary influences, drawing on the bounty of the Pacific. The result is memorable, intriguing and frankly, I want more. Monterey in 2015? For a dining destination? Yes!

On with the photos.... 

But first, a quick note. My camera was acting up and I was able to get images from Seattle photographer, Eva Claire Mrak Blumberg. Hat tip to Eva and her generous use of these photos. Okay, photos. Here we go! 

 Opening cocktails centered around this ice sculpture. Perched atop are 3 different chilled appetizers, with others being passed and served.


 Those fresh of the boat and flown to Seattle spot prawns, used in a ceviche with white soy-cured roe and shiso. 


Tea-smoked trout with finger lime segments and a strip of scallion

Chef Jeffrey Weiss serving up his smoked trout and artichoke terrine. 

  A closer look at that terrine, and my favorite dish of the night.

Cocktail time.
 Iron Chef winner Tom Douglas and Monterey CVB Vice President of Sales, Scott Wilson.

 Chef mingle.

Event planner from Liberty Mutual and Dan Newman

 Sommalier Ted Glennon 

 This looks promising! 

 Sommalier-selected wines for the evening, brought up from Monterey. 

Chef Matt Glazer demonstrating his pasta dish. His black food-grade gloves are new to me.

And here we all are. Seats are facing Top Stove Society demo kitchen (there's a prep space behind us and an open dry storage/pantry off camera to the right. While it's difficult to see the cooking demonstration, those camera monitors come in handy.
Ready to slice some fish? Herschell Taghap from Hot Stove Society.

 During the cooking demo, Chef Weiss and crew plate the next course.

All hands on deck!

Course has been plated and served, with a moment before the next step. Chef Jeffrey Weiss and Matt Glazer.
Hot Stove Society Director, Bridget Charters, prepared a stuffed and salt-crusted baked fish for Chef Tom Douglas.
Once the fish has cooked, Bridget breaks through the salt crust, and the fish is prepared for presentation.
Serving the fish is a little tricky, portioning it (working around the bones) and serving it table side.

Chef Jeffrey Weiss between courses.
Check out this row of ovens! This is the prep area opposite the demonstration station. Chef Matt Glazer preps his next dish.  

 Chef Tom Douglas prepares duck for service. 

 Between courses. Sommalier Ted Glennon.

And the final dish of the night. Chef Matt Glazer plates a trio of desserts: mini portions of Tom Douglas' famous coconut cream pie, a luscious quinelle of chocolate sorbet, and Chef Weiss' Lebanese cake with pomegranate and pistachio.'s a wrap! Sommalier Ted Glennon, Hot Stove Society's Jon Price, and Bridget Charters, Monterey chefs Matt Glazer and Jeffrey Weiss, and Hot Stove's Herschell Taghap

In Celebration of the Tomato

Tomatoes, like grapes, benefit from suffering, as though depriving them of what they seem to need most provokes a deeper search through their own rooted resources. - Paul Bertoli, Cooking by Hand 

I've got Chef Paul Bertoli's essay on my mind as I trek to the 4th Annual Tomato Festival at Cedarbrook Lodge. In the waning days of summer, Cedarbrook throws a fabulous ode to heirloom tomatoes on the back lawn. While I've yet to dine or stay at the lodge, I've kept a close eye on their Executive Chef, Mark Bodinet who's hosting the event. An alumn of Thomas Keller's French Laundry, Bodinet took took top honors at Lamb Jam both years I judged the event. 

A celebration of tomatoes in the hands of some fabulous chefs? I'm in! Arriving before the crowds, I had a chance to chat with the chefs and picked up some terrific tips along the way. Let's check it out...

A cause for celebration! Let's Whole Foods prices, I bet there's over a $1,000 in heirloom tomatoes here.

Pike Brewing Company, one of the pioneers of the microbrew movement, is the first tent I spot. It's always a good time when you see these folks! 

Family-owned Pike Brewery's Space Needle IPA is made with five varieties of Washington State Yakima Valley Hops. Its "golden color with floral notes and assertive hop character" was a perfect quencher for the unseasonably warm day. 

Kicking off the event: James Beard Award-wining chef Holly Smith with a Pike Brewery michelada. Holly, chef-owner of Cafe Juanita, nabbed the Best Chef Northwest award in 2008, and in 2012 was nominated for James Beard's Outstanding Chef in the US. 

 My favorite dish of the day: Cafe Janita's Pappa al Pomodoro. Exquisite simplicity, made with heirloom tomatoes, bread, and olive oil. 

Bar Sajor restaurant in the house! Chef de Cuisine, Edouardo Jordan, served Beef Tongue Pastrami with Tomato Vierge, Sunflower Seeds, and Leek Jam. Jordan is known for his "edible oddities." Noted.

Bar Sajor's Beef Tongue Pastrami

Heading to the Copperleaf table with a flat of still-in-the-dirt microgreens.

Copperleaf' Restaurant featured Heirloom Tomato Foccacia served with a trio of sauce options: Green Tomato, Ratatouille, or Garlic Cream. Love the slate-on-wine-box presentation. 

Who could resist this? Joel  Handshuh, Copperleaf's Chef de Cusine.

Going in for a closer look at those layers: Smoked Tomato Panna Cotta, Parmesan Mousse, a dollop of Basil Cream, and a dusting of Olive Nougatine and Microgreens. 

"Chef, tell me about that olive nougatine. How do you make it?"
"We dehydrate olives for two days, then grind them up. Next, we make a caramel and add the ground (dehydrated) olives. Pour the caramel on a silpat until it dries like toffee, and crush it for a garnish." The result? An intriguing sweet, salty, crunch. 

Trace at the W Hotel, represented by Laura Jacques Hardy and Executive Chef Stephen Ariell.  Impressive chefs have come from Seattle's W Hotel--including James Beard Award-winners Jonathan Sundstrom (Lark) and Maria Hines (Tilth, Golden Beetle, Agrodolce). Then came an extensive remodel, a name change for the restaurant, and a new chef. The remodel was a disappointment, but the chef? One to watch.

An Eclair with Heirloom Tomato Jam and Kurtwood Farm's Dina's Cheese. And then there's the dish that stretched my mind and made me think of tomatoes in a new light: Tomato Sorbet Served in a Hollowed Orange w/ Basil Buds and Flaked Salt. Amazing! 

Serving the tomato sorbet. Each guest got a slice, topped with flaked sea salt and 'basil buds.'

"Chef, what did you do with the orange flesh?"

"Used it for something else. For this dish, all I wanted was the rind."

At the helm of Barking Frog restaurant on the Woodinville wine trail, Executive Chef Bobby Moore.

Stunning heirlooms, no?

Chef Bobby Moore and Barking Frog's sous chef, Chris Smith

Chris Smith was the mastermind behind this dish from Barking Frog. Here we have a Compressed Watermelon, Balsamic 'Paper', Burrata Foam, and Micro Basil.

"Chef, what is 'balsamic paper'?"
Chris Smith explained:  "It's made with all-natural gellan gum.*  First, you puree the gellan gum and balsamic. Bring it to a boil so the gelatin properties kick in. Let it set until it becomes like jello. Then you put it in a blender and turn it back into a liquid. This breaks up the gell into super small pieces so you can spread it out. And then you, dehydrate it." Voila! Balsamic paper.

* Seaweed-based gellan gum is used as a stabilizer, emulsifier, thickener, and gelling agent. 

 West Seattle's Blackboard Bistro owners: Chef Jacob Weigner and his wife, Ginger Weigner.

Blackboard Bistro's Yogurt Cilantro Flan w/ Curried Tomato, Crispy Lentils with Sun Dried Tomato and Greens.

"Chef! What's the story about those crispy lentils?"
"At some point, everything ends up in the deep fryer!"

An eye-catching presentation, no? This is Semiahmoo Resort's Heirloom Tomato Push Pop with Blueberry, Espelette, Aspic (consume w/ gelatin), and Fresh Mozzarella. 

A closer look at those layers: Mozzarella, Heirloom Tomatoes, Blueberries, Heirloom Tomatoes, and another layer of Mozzarella topped with Espelette.
"Chef, blueberries and tomatoes? What's the story?"

In  a heavy French accent, Semiahmoo's Culinary Director, Eric Truglas offers, "What grows together, goes together, no?' Truglas adds, "You get tartness from the tomato and sweetness from the blueberry." He's right. It's surprising how well they go together.

Here we see another play on Chef Truglas' blueberry/tomato theme: Heirloom Tomato and Watermelon Skewers with a Blueberry Vinaigrette. 

Semiahmoo is a seaside resort situated this side of the Canadian border. With four restaurants on the property, they went all out for Tomato Fest. Here we have what Chef Truglas calls the "Porterhouse of Tomatoes." It's a skinned and cored Heirloom Tomato, Stuffed with Halibut Rillettes, and White Anchovy Vinaigrette. 

 Chef de Cuisine Martin Woods takes a moment to tell me about this garnish. This is a sprouted popcorn shoot. It adds a beguiling sweet and bitter component to the dish. I also like the visual appeal. Striking, no?

A peek inside: Heirloom Tomato, Halibut Rillettes, Sprouted Popcorn Shoot, and Microgreens

Garnishes: micro and sprouted 

Tomatoes transported stuffed side up, then inverted for presentation. Beautiful array of heirloom tomato colors, eh?

Good times with the chefs of Semiahmoo: Eric Truglas (Culinary Director), Martin Woods (Chef de Cuisine), Kevin Benner (Sous Chef) 

And at the center of the Tomato Festival is a terrific side-by-side tasting of over 20 varieties of heirloom tomatoes. A perfect end to a late summer celebration of tomatoes!