Just prior to sunset Sunday evening, 15-20 chefs, wine makers and sellers, Pebble Beach Food and Wine event-related people, and various significant others arrived chez S. in Big Sur. After a little walking around, a little tour of the wine cellar, and a little champagne, we all caravanned to the Big Sur Bakery. The Pebble Beach event provided a few cars and drivers, so everyone had a ride with a designated driver, which was great.
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Tuesday, April 1, 2008
Phil and Michelle (the Bakery's head chef and pastry chef, respectively) pulled out all the stops for this crowd. I don't blame them--I would have been terrified to cook for the likes of Thomas Keller, Gérard Boyer, and David Kinch--and can certainly understand why they shut the restaurant down all day to prepare. We knew they could hit it out of the park, and they really did. It was my favorite meal of the whole weekend, as far as the food was concerned, and my goodness, was there a lot of it.
Only one course (the first) was served individually. The rest were served family style, arriving in large bowls or plates, so that everyone could share and taste a bit of everything. The food was rustic, homey, comfort-food fare. It was the perfect dénouement to a weekend of flashy haute cuisine. I'm going to list each dish in the order in which it appeared, and as you read through, try to imagine our growing amazement as the food just kept coming and coming and coming.
1. A small piece of cod (caught fresh that morning by kayak) sauteed in butter with fine breadcrumbs (I think), with a dollop of sauce on top that tasted and looked like it had grainy mustard in it. Light, savory, delicious.
2. Tuna tartare with crostini (no doubt made of their own bread) and microgreens. The tuna was incredibly fresh, with ZERO fishy taste and a hint of sweetness that almost made it taste more like fruit than fish. It was a beautiful pink. I've never enjoyed tuna tartare so much.
3. Butter lettuce salad with shaved Manchego (one of my favorite cheeses) and a bit of fresh dill. Very simple, very mellow.
4. Watercress salad with artichoke hearts and lamb's lettuce. At least, I think it was lamb's lettuce. It was peppery, and looked a bit like clover.
5. Clams with cannellini beans. I'm not usually a fan of shellfish, but this was delicious. Who would have thought that I'd ever like clams?? Not I.
6. Sardines. Even some the world's best chefs hasn't been able to make me like sardines (Ferran Adrià already tried), so I won't fault Phil for this being the one dish of which I only managed two bites.
7. Squid in a light tomato sauce with spicy sausage and peas. This was one of my favorite dishes. I like just about anything that's spicy and involves tomato and sausage--even if it has SQUID. It was similar to another dish they usually have on the menu, squid in a spicy tomato sauce (a slightly thicker one), so I was pleased to see this arrive at the table.... despite its being only the second time I've eaten squid and enjoyed it.
8. Prawns with fava beans. The prawns were sweet and tasty, but the fava beans seemed bitter and a bit off. I usually like fava beans, too, so this was a little weird.
9. Roasted chicken. Simple, well prepared, and delicious. Perhaps a tad dry, but with wonderful flavor.
10. Yukon gold potatoes and roasted carrots smashed together, with roasted fennel on the side. This was another one of my favorites. I don't usually like cooked carrots, but the potatoes and carrots smashed together were out-of-this-world good. I could have eaten a whole bowl of them, but I kept myself to a spoonful. Okay, a large spoonful.
11. Venison osso buco. I had venison osso buco years ago at Pacific's Edge, and it was great, but this was better. The meat was so tender, pieces fell apart even as I tried to spear them with my fork. Perfectly seasoned, great flavor.
12. Garlic mashed potatoes with braised greens and shallots. I was starting to experience sensory overload at this point, but I love mashed potatoes, and their braised greens with some sort of allium are always good. Sure enough, this was fantastic.
13. Barley with butternut squash and... salsify? Everything in this dish was perfectly tender without being mushy, which--especially in the case of the butternut squash--seems like a fine line to walk. The salsify was yummy, too, as usual.
14. Grilled flat-iron steak with olive tapenade. This was very well put together: the meat was flavorful enough, and the tapenade applied sparingly enough, that the olive flavor didn't overwhelm the beef. Very well balanced.
Believe it or not, there was still dessert after all of that food--and oh, what dessert it was!
15. Michelle's famous-with-good-reason chocolate cake with whipped cream. That cake is to-die-for good, I kid you not. As if chocolate cake with cream weren't enough, before long we also had...
16. An orange marmalade and almond tart--with bowls of homemade butterscotch ice cream.
17. And then--and then!--came something that I've seen on the menu (and tried at least once), the lime curd tart. With homemade ginger ice cream. This was the only dish I didn't even try. After a slice of cake AND a slice of marmalade tart AND a spoonful of butterscotch ice cream (none of which I was even able to finish), I just didn't have room in me for lime tart, let alone tart with ice cream. I was sad, since lime and ginger are two of my favorite flavors, but I just couldn't do it. I was already worried that they were going to have to roll me out of there.
As for the wine: there was a lot of it, and a lot of different ones. Several people contributed bottles to the meal. I never had fewer than two glasses going at any given time. And it was almost all very, very good (except for one bottle of Montrachet which, tragically, was corked). I know there was another Montrachet, and I know there was an Opus One, and I think there might have been yet another bottle of 1982 Mouton... but in truth, I have absolutely no idea what most of it was. It was put in front of me, I swirled and sniffed, I drank, I enjoyed. And when we got home, I fell into a bit of a food coma.
The strangest thing about this weekend, though: despite eating SO much food, I think I actually lost weight. How the devil does that happen??