In case you missed it, here is my review of the pop-up dinner hosted by Happy Girl Kitchen 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.
Last week, the Monterey Peninsula hosted the EcoFarm conference, a four-day meeting of the minds to discuss balancing the needs of our food system with the health of the environment.
To celebrate the event — and our local bounty — Happy Girl Kitchen invited Jacob Pilarski, the sous chef at David Kinch’s famed Manresa Restaurant in Los Gatos, to cook dinner.
Happy Girl Kitchen’s cafe on Central Avenue was converted for dinner service last Thursday and Friday night. Guests were seated at communal tables for a family-style dinner prepared with produce from two local organic farms — Watsonville’s Live Earth Farm on Thursday night and Monterey’s Serendipity Farms on Friday night — and organic wines provided for the event by Heller Estate.
Thursday night’s dinner started with a trio of carrots — roasted, pickled and raw carrots paired with yarrow.
The three preparations made for a unique blend of textures and flavors, accented by the touch of herbaceous yarrow.
Heller’s 2009 Chenin Blanc was a good pairing for the carrots, with light flavor and a crisp finish.
Next came Good Mother Stallard beans — from Napa’s Rancho Gordo — prepared with preserved tomato and diced white onion. The beans were cooked perfectly, still a little “al dente,” to speak and not gritty or mushy. The flavors of the Good Mother Stallard beans were so simple — the beans, preserved summer tomatoes and a kick of onion — yet so refined.
(And I can’t speak highly enough of the Rancho Gordo heirloom beans. I’ve never really been a big fan of beans, but these have converted me into a bean believer. Happy Girl Kitchen stocks a variety of the dried beans for purchase so you can make it at home.)
In quick succession, next came stewed apples and turnips — a dish with unique flavor, thanks to the addition of gomashio, a Japanese condiment made with sesame and salt. The sweetness of the apples nicely punctuated the earthy turnips.
The roasted broccoli included traditional broccoli alongside romanesco broccoli — also known as Roman cauliflower. The plate was a beauty to behold — vibrant green florets of broccoli alongside chartreuse spirals of romanesco.
But flavor of the romanesco was a little too bitter for me — even sweetness of the underlying puree of apple and Meyer lemon couldn’t cut the bite of that broccoli.
The next course — pan-seared brussels sprouts cooked with cider and served with a side of goat cheese — was my favorite of the entire dinner.
Chef Pilarski really let the brussels sprouts speak for themselves — just clean, simple flavors, a welcome change from the usual preparation with pancetta.
The final savory course — chanterelle mushrooms and gnocchi — came with a heaping portion of beautiful golden chanterelles on top, accented with cubes of winter root vegetables.
I’m a big mushroom fan, and this winter’s not-so-wet weather has left us without our usual fill of fungi — it took all my willpower not to scoop up all the mushrooms before passing the plate on.
Dinner finished with a marmalade tart, made with Happy Girl Kitchen’s blood orange marmalade and accented with shavings of chocolate and star anise. The tart citrus made a more fitting transition from the savory vegetable courses than the usual sweet treats.
Fun was had by all at this family-style feast last week. And word on the street is that Todd and Jordan Champagne — the brains behind Happy Girl Kitchen — are looking to offer monthly pop-up dinners in their Pacific Grove café starting next month.
If last week’s dinner was any indication, these festive pop-up dinners will be a welcome addition to the limited dinner options available for vegetarian diners — and mighty tasty for carnivores too.
Happy Girl Kitchen is at 173 Central Ave. in Pacific Grove. 373-4475. happygirlkitchen.com.