Going Wild in Monterey
There are many more things to discover in Monterey County, California, than the famous Monterey Bay Aquarium, Steinbeck’s Cannery Row, and Lover’s Point at Pacific Grove. If running on the wild side is your thing, here’s a short recap of my recent trip to the land of wild cabernet, wildly delicious food, and real wild animals – all peacefully co-existing here.
1833 Restaurant 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 and parmesan, and licked my plate.
There was nothing in my past or present restaurant-visitor experience to prepare me for this amazing treat.
The chef is as good with meats as he is with vegetables. Potted foie gras, lamb shank served over a light version of cassoulet, and grilled pork chop complemented by creamy grits were all stellar in preparation.
The place is also famous for its history and its careful design. Built in 1833, the two-story adobe house belonged to English sailor James Stokes, who was a self-taught doctor and pharmacist. He liked to socialize with the local celebs, treated their ills, and eventually became mayor of Monterey. They say the doc killed only eight patients during his career, which is not that bad, considering.
In his late years, Stokes hired a live-in pianist and a fellow party-lover, Hattie Gragg, whose ghost is said to appear in the house to slam doors in her former bedroom and put salt into wine glasses.
After a delicious and ghost-inspired dinner at 1833, my husband and I headed for the night to Safari B&B at Vision Quest Ranch 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.
We slept in an authentic African 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 croissants to our tent. He thoughtfully brought along some row potatoes and carrots, so I could treat him in return.
Later, we sipped our coffee on the deck and watched him play with his zebra buddy. 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 ran after him, back and forth.
Before checking out, we joined a tour of the 50-acre facility. Wild animal tours are offered to the public daily at 1 p.m. and anyone can join them. Gracie, the resident cat, followed us all along the tour, visiting her extended family – lions, tigers, puma, leopard, and ocelot.
Sunday was a prime time to taste some Monterey wines along the gorgeous Carmel Valley Road. Chateau Julien Wine Estate in Mid-Valley 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 percent Zin and 40 percent 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 and Winery in Carmel Valley Village is best known for its excellent Santa Lucia Highlands pinot noirs, but takes special pride in estate Bordeaux blends called Marinus (the owner’s middle name).
At Joullian Vineyards Tasting Room, also in Carmel Valley Village, we compared the 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 grown 15 miles from the tasting room.
We drove to our favorite California dream town, Carmel by the Sea, and made it to the Carmel Wine Walk by the Sea before closing time.
The Galante Vineyards Tasting Room 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 sync with the family tradition, Galante was the first tasting room to open in Carmel in 2006.
Caraccioli Cellars, a newly opened chic facility with contemporary design, showcases its sparkling wines – 2006 Brut Cuvee and 2006 Brut Rose, the latter subtly enhanced by 2 percent still pinot noir, and also some crisp chardonnay and silky pinot noir.
Wrath, 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 – an innovative tasting room sharing a space with the 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.
At Little Napoli, steps away from all the tasting rooms, we tried Chef Pepe’s famous garlic bread, made after a 100-year-old family recipe; fresh seafood 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 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 property.
The 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 at the Monterey County Convention and Visitors Bureau.