In case you missed it, here is my review of the last Big Night at Belle pop-up dinner at Carmel Belle that appeared in Thursday’s Go! section of the Monterey Herald. I’ll be reposting my reviews and stories from my weekly column for the Herald here on my blog along with extra photos that didn’t appear in print.
This past Sunday night was the third of Carmel Belle’s “Big Night at Belle” pop-up dinners. Organized by Carmel Belle owners Jay and Chloé Dolata in partnership with Colleen Logan and Savor events, the Big Night at Belle dinners shine the spotlight on local chefs, local ingredients and local wineries.
Sunday’s dinner was a feast of pork, everyone’s favorite meat. Chef Brad Briske (formerly of the Main Street Garden Café, in Soquel) prepared four courses to highlight the bounty of pig and produce from Fogline Farm, nestled in the Santa Cruz Mountains.
After sipping local Cima Collina wine and nibbling on meats cured by chef Briske, we settled in for dinner.
The first course was pork belly, served in a surprisingly light soup. I know that might sound like an oxymoron — pork belly isn’t known for being light — but chef Briske’s preparation in a spicy tomato chili broth was remarkably deep in flavor, but without feeling overly indulgent.
Next, we sampled a salad with grilled little gem lettuce topped with a thin, fatty piece of bacon and balsamic-roasted carrots and local Shoch Farmstead feta cheese. That crispy piece of bacon gave the salad a rich kick.
The third course included pasta — delicious homemade ravioli stuffed with beet and ricotta, and topped with braised pork ragout. The sweet filling perfectly complemented the hearty ragout.
But it was the fourth and final (savory) course that really wowed me — cold-smoked braised pork shoulder with Piracicaba broccoli, celtuce puree and peanut mint gremulata. The pork was so tender, flaking with the lightest touch of my fork.
While the pork was the star of the menu, the fresh Fogline Farm veggies stole the show in this course.
The combination of the mint, peanuts and greens gave the pork a slight hint of Indian flavors. The puree of celtuce — a Chinese lettuce that tastes a bit like peanut butter — was subtle, perfectly complementing that hint of mint.
The Piracicaba broccoli — an heritage Italian broccoli strain (correction: a broccoli strain from Brazil) that’s more flavorful than your typical broccoli — just might be the best broccoli I’ve eaten in, um, ever.
We finished with dessert made by Carmel Belle co-owner Jay Dolata. He paired ice cream with tiny slivers of bacon and a homemade cookie.
Yes, pork even made an appearance in dessert. And not just in the bacon slivers — the cookie was prepared with leaf lard in a twist on a traditional Chinese almond cookie.
Local farms and farmers are just as much in the spotlight at the Big Night at Belle dinners as the chefs and winemakers.
Johnny Wilson and the team at Fogline Farm seek to produce meats, fruits and vegetables in harmony with one another — and the planet. Every delicious bite of dinner was a testament to their dedication to their trade.
(And if you’re looking to sample some of Fogline Farm’s meats and vegetables yourself, drop by the Friday farmers market at Monterey Peninsula College. Seriously, I’m plotting a trip over to snag some of that broccoli myself!)
Sunday’s Big Night at Belle dinner reminded me how powerful the trio of top-notch local chefs, ingredients and wines can be. Bringing the three together is certainly a recipe for success.
I’m already looking forward to the next Big Night at Belle pop-up dinner — rumor has it, this one will be vegetarian-friendly.