By Emma Krasov, photography by Yuri KrasovTraveling to Monterey County, California, I start to realize there is so much more to see here than Monterey Bay Aquarium, Steinbeck’s Cannery Row and Lover’s Point at Pacific Grove. It’s like playing with a kaleidoscope – shiny discoveries await at every turn.
At 1833 Restaurant (www.restaurant1833.com) opened in Monterey only a few months ago, Executive Chef Levi Mezick creates little miracles with his season-inspired menu. I tried Jerusalem artichoke soup with shiitake mushrooms, truffle oil, and parmesan foam, and… licked my plate.There was nothing in my past or present restaurant visitor experience to prepare me for this amazing burst of contrasting flavors so harmoniously colliding in one supremely balanced taste. The chef is as good with meats as he is with vegetables.I finished up my braised lamb shank served over a light version of cassoulet, and took a bite of my husband’s grilled pork chop, complimented by creamy grits and a chunk of pork belly over wilted spinach. Both dishes were stellar in preparation.
Kitchen wonders are nicely framed here by the history of the place and its careful design. Built in 1833, the two-story adobe house belonged to an English sailor James Stokes, who was a self-taught doctor and pharmacist, liked to socialize with the local celebs, and eventually became a mayor of Monterey.
In his late years, he hired a live-in pianist, Hattie Gragg, now long dead, who is said to still arrive in the house as a ghost to slam doors in her former bedroom and put salt into wine glasses.My husband and I dined at 1833 steps away from Hattie’s bedroom, in a dark and cozy booth of the Founders’ Balcony, overlooking a swanky new bar.
We spent that night at the Safari B&B at Vision Quest Ranch (www.visionquestranch.com) in nearby Salinas. Charlie Sammut, the proprietor, manages several establishments on its territory, from EARS (Elephants of Africa Rescue Society) to Wild Things, an exotic animal training facility, to equestrian center and pet resort.We slept in an authentic African safari bungalow, though comfortably furnished and equipped with all the modern conveniences. At night, we heard a lion’s roar, and in the morning we met all the wild things there were.Butch, the elephant, delivered breakfast bagels and croissants to our tent. He thoughtfully brought along some row potatoes, carrots, and apples, so I could treat him in return.Later, we sipped our coffee on the deck, watching him play with his buddy zebra.Then Bamboo, the squirrel monkey, and Nadia, the Siberian lynx, came to visit, accompanied by Vision Quest animal trainers.Then my husband raced Fred, the African ostrich, along the fence. That was not intentional. Yuri went on his morning jog, and Fred, a rather competitive and territorial creature, dropped everything and just took on running after him back and forth.
Then we joined a tour of the 50-acre facility with an excellent animal trainer Kelly, very knowledgeable and obviously loved by her charges. These tours are offered to the public, not only to the overnight guests, and usually do not require reservations.Gracie, the resident cat, followed us all along the tour, visiting her extended family of roaring, purring and meowing big cats.
Sunday was a prime time to taste some Monterey wines along the gorgeous Carmel Valley Road (www.montereywines.org). Driving to our chosen destinations through the rolling hills and golden vineyards was a treat all its own.Chateau Julien Wine Estate in Mid-Valley (www.chateaujulien.com) is a real chateau – castle towers, stained glass windows and all, surrounded this time of year by red, pink, and yellow roses in full bloom.I liked 2006 Black Nova II – a full bodied proprietary blend of 60% zin and 40% syrah, produced in limited amounts of 300 cases, and distributed only on premises. However, my favorite was Carmel Cream Sherry – a sweet blend of Palomino, Tokay and Madera grapes fortified with brandy and thoroughly indulgent – also produced in limited quantities of 100-150 cases, and also distributed only at the winery.Bernardus Vineyards & Winery in Carmel Valley Village (www.bernardus.com) is best known for its excellent Santa Lucia Highlands pinot noirs, but takes special pride in estate Bordeaux blends, named Marinus (the owner’s middle name).At Joullian Vineyards Tasting Room, also in Carmel Valley Village (www.joullian.com) we compared very different, but equally pleasing 2009 Roger Rose Chardonnay and 2009 Sleepy Hollow Chardonnay from the cool Salinas Valley, and then tasted some estate 2007 Sias Cuvee Zinfandel, made of grapes growing 15 miles from the tasting room.For food, and following a local passer-by’s advice, we stopped at Wild Goose Bakery, right there in the Village, and shared a wildly delicious mixed berry brioche.
Duly refreshed, we drove to our favorite California dream town, Carmel by the Sea, and made it to the Carmel Wine Walk by the Sea (www.carmelcalifornia.org) before closing time. Out of more than ten participating tasting rooms within four blocks some were open conveniently late.Galante Vineyards Tasting Room (www.galantevineyards.com) is famous not only for its estate pinots, merlots, and cabs, but for the fact that the owner Jack Galante’s grandfather founded Carmel! In sinc with the family tradition, Galante was the first tasting room to open in Carmel in 2006.Caraccioli Cellars (www.caracciolicellars.com) a newly open chic facility with contemporary design, showcases its sparkling wines – 2006 Brut Cuvee and 2006 Brut Rose, the latter subtly enhanced by 2% of still pinot noir. While tasting a crisp char and a silky pinot at Caraccioli Cellars, we were treated to some incredible cheese, and enquired about its origin.Turned out, the aged Boschetto with black truffles came from The Cheese Shop in a new open air shopping center, Carmel Plaza. We had to make a side trip there. Out of a dozen cheeses we tried, several made the cut for our purchasing decision: Monterey-produced Junipero by Schoch; Spanish sheep cheese with rosemary Oveja al Romero; and salty-sweet Honey Bee.Wrath (www.wrathwines.com), on the first level of Carmel Plaza, is the newest winery, just a couple of months in existence. Its facility is shiny-new and elegant, and its pinot, char and syrah come from sustainably-grown estate fruit and from other vineyards in the Santa Lucia Highlands. My favorite taste was of the Noble Wrath late harvest sauvignon blanc – sweet as honey, but with a distinct aroma of grilled green pepper on the nose.
To round up our wine tasting adventure in Carmel by the Sea, we headed to Figge Cellars (www.Figgecellars.com) – an innovative tasting room sharing a space with Winfield Gallery of contemporary art. The winery is well-known in San Francisco, as Figge wines are being served at Gary Danko, Fleur de Lys, Garcon, and other upscale restaurants, and the gallery represents a number of SF Bay Area and Monterey County artists.While dining at Little Napoli (www.chefpepe.com) steps away from all the tasting rooms, we indulged in Chef Pepe’s Famous Garlic Bread, made after a 100 y.o. family recipe; wonderfully fresh Zuppa di Pesce; Sierra Foothills lamb chops, and my perennial favorite, Eggplant Parmigiana.A short drive to the town of Marina brought us to the Sanctuary Beach Resort (www.thesanctuarybeachresort.com) for the night.A place like no other, Sanctuary Beach Resort occupies 19 acres of succulent-covered sandy dunes of the Monterey Bay Sanctuary. The bungalows of the resort are located practically on the endless beach – home to several endangered species of birds, reptiles, insects, and plants. To make their survival easier, the resort asks its guests to leave their cars in the parking lot, and use golf carts to move throughout the territory.Next morning, walking on the beach, I couldn’t help but feel that the sanctuary extended to us, humans, as well as to other species. The serenity of the place made me feel calm and protected, and well-rested – as if here, in Monterey County, was my true home.More information: www.Seemonterey.com.