The Inquisitive Traveler
The land of plenty
By Patty Burness
As you put together your 2009 travel plans, keep this in mind: Carmel and Monterey are a quick two-and-one-half hours’ drive south. Both are hidden jewels in which to hide away amidst a land of gastronomic treasures. For those with an appetite for some of the best food and wine experiences around, it’s time to get out your PDA. April hosts the Pebble Beach Food & Wine extravaganza and May celebrates the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Cooking for Solutions affair. Two unique happenings; two uniquely different experiences. Last year, my husband and I had the chance to explore both, while staying in cozy inns and enjoying the verdant region with its knockout views. Here’s a sneak peak of what’s in store.
For an over-the-top experience, Pebble Beach Food & Wine ticket holders rub shoulders with extraordinary chefs in intimate settings and grand venues. Remarkable dishes appear at each turn accompanied by acclaimed wine from over 250 wineries worldwide. And don’t forget: It all happens in Pebble Beach. The event takes full advantage of the lush surroundings and outstanding views to lure food and wine devotees who can afford the price of admission. Local charities benefit to some extent, but at press time, the amount wasn’t determined.
Whether you choose wine-pairing lunches and dinners, demos, or the Grand Tasting, you’ll salivate every step of the way. For foodies and oenophiles, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity – the food, the wine and the company are quite remarkable. The names are too numerous to mention, but you know the celebrity list. To tempt your palate, last year we savored Douglas Keane’s Thai-marinated lobster, Gary Danko’s herb-crusted roast bison, Tre Wilcox’s big-eye tuna with shitake mushroom sauce, Ming Tsai’s tea-smoked salmon with wasabi emulsion, Mark Estee’s seared beef carpaccio, and Mann’s broccolini with star anise-braised pork. Wines from Schramsburg, Inman, Heitz, Roederer, Antinori, and a host of other vintners from around the world, flowed freely.
Just a short drive from the action along the world-class 17-mile Drive sits the picture- perfect town of Carmel. Perched atop the east end of Ocean Avenue and nestled among the trees is the Carriage House Inn. Get one of the rooms on the second floor and you’ll delight under a 20 foot vaulted ceiling, warmed by a gas fireplace and surrounded by whitewashed wood and an overall sense of the French countryside. Meet other guests during the evening wine service. And enjoy a healthful breakfast in your room before you start the day.
From here, it was just a short stroll past shopping, galleries and cafes to Christopher’s. Even after our indulgent day, we wanted to sample the local scene. Located down one of the town’s many courtyards, owner and chef Christopher Caul serves up the latest from regional purveyors in a casual and intimate setting.
We passed on a specialty cocktail and went straight for the Monterey County wines, which are featured by the glass and bottle. We mixed and matched wines from Ventana, Shock Rock and Pelerin Vineyards with some of the chef’s favorites – fried green tomatoes, Dungeness crab ravioli, and rock shrimp risotto with wild mushrooms and baby artichokes.
After settling back in the Northside for a few weeks, it was time to take off for part two of our amazing food and wine adventure.
When it comes to protecting the environment (ocean, soil and water), the Monterey Bay Aquarium helps to lead the charge. The aquarium’s Seafood Watch program targets consumers, retailers and restaurateurs with the tools they need to make informed choices about sustainable seafood. Each year for the past seven, the aquarium’s Cooking for Solutions showcases celebrity chefs from around the country who join food purveyors and winemakers in inviting the public to celebrate sustainable cuisine: sample mouth-watering delicacies, savor delicious wines, tour local farms and businesses, and watch engaging cooking demonstrations. This year, the gathering will salute San Francisco’s own Joyce Goldstein and Nate Appleman. All proceeds from the event go to Seafood Watch. This is environmentally serious business and a culinary treat to attend (and the more affordable of the two events).
You are guaranteed an interesting evening as you nibble, sip and stroll past the aquarium’s fascinating occupants. Whether delighting in yellowtail sashimi, roasted barramundi salad, chilled green pea and crab soup, fava bean risotto, or a bison lollipop with curry aioli and baked fingerling potatoes, you can be sure of one thing: Everything is fished and grown sustainably. The same environmentally conscious philosophy is evident as you taste wines from more than 55 wineries, including Honig, Clesi, Hess, and Ceago.
Last year we toured Earthbound Farms. They’ve been farming organically for more than 22 years. This year promises another inspired look at best practices (and sensational tastes), with visits to the Salinas Valley, Monterey’s commercial wharf and more. Look forward to an Iron Chef-like seafood challenge with commentary provided by Honolulu’s ebullient Sam Choy.
During the final phase of our moveable feast, we settled into the Old Monterey Inn (one of 40 Unique Inns located in the Northwest). This gem, a Tudor manor house dating from 1929, is an exceptional place to stay. The landscaped gardens burst with azalea, digitalis, rhododendron, redwood and pine trees; the birds chirp with the rising sun and the trickle of fountain water soothes your soul. The real pleasures are in the details: fresh coffee delivered to your door; a full breakfast ready when you are, and wine and hors d’oeuvres in the late afternoon.
The first night we stayed in the enchanting Garden Cottage with its own fireplace, sitting room, Jacuzzi, and patio. The next night, we had one of the guest rooms in the main house with its featherbed, fireplace, silky robes, and Aveda amenities. Patti Valletta is an experienced innkeeper who knows how to make your stay a memorable one. You don’t want to miss this boutique beauty.
Now is the time to plan. The spring season – a busy time in Carmel and Monterey – will be in full swing before you know it. Carpool and keep your carbon footprint to a minimum. You will certainly eat, drink and sleep very well!
Update: January’s column about Boca Raton and Palm Beach listed the Web address for the Renaissance Boca Raton Hotel as www.marriott.com; a better address is www.renaissancehotels.com
Carmel and Monterey are about two-and-one-half hours south of San Francisco. Highway 1 south on a clear day is exceptional. More direct is U.S. 101 south to Highway 156 west to Highway 1 south. www.carmelcalifornia.org; www.monterey.org.
Food and Wine Events
Second Annual Pebble Beach Food & Wine: April 16–19, tickets $165 (one event) to $12,400 (VIP package for two with accommodations for three nights); pebblebeachfoodandiwine.com.
Cooking for Solutions 2009: May 15–16, tickets $75–$850 (various discounts and tax deductions apply); 866-963-9645, www.cookingforsolutions.org
Where to Stay
Carriage House Inn: Junipero between 7th and 8th Avenues, Carmel-by-the-Sea, 800-433-4732, 831-625-2585; www.innsbythesea.com; rates from $299
Old Monterey Inn: 500 Martin Street, Monterey, 800-350-2344, 831-375-8284, www.oldmontereyinn.com; rates from $200/$250
Where to Eat
Christopher’s: Lincoln between 5th and 6th Avenues, Carmel-by-the-Sea, 831-626-8000, www.christophersonlincoln.com; starters $6.75, entrees from $15.75, wines by the glass from $7.50, by the bottle from $26.
Seafood Watch Initiative: www.seafoodwatch.org
Online carbon footprint calculators: www.conservation.org, www.carbonfootprint.com, www.terrapass.com.
Patty Burness is the travel writer for Northside San Francisco.