Last weekend, Lilify—the adorable floral shop/home goods boutique on Lighthouse—hosted its second pop-up dinner. Amber Kirpes—kitchen manager at Sierra Mar at Big Sur’s Post Ranch Inn—prepared a menu that showcased the best of the summertime harvest here on the Central Coast. Her five-course menu highlighted both land and sea: juicy heirloom tomatoes and sweet summer corn, sweet peaches and buttery Monterey Bay salmon. Dinner, with wine pairings, was $97 per person.
Dinner was prepared in the apartment of Lilify owners Hanni Liliedahl and Jesse Silacci upstairs, with servers shuttling the food to the shop below. Josh Pierce poured tastes of Pierce Ranch wines, pairing two wines for every course.
We started with a round of passed appetizers and bubbles. The simple tastes of crostini with goat cheese and juicy cherry tomatoes and melon topped with prosciutto whetted the palate for what was in store later that evening. Taking sips of bubbles on the outdoor patio as the sun set made for a delightful send off for the weekend.
When the formal dinner began, we started with an amuse bouche—a shooter of chilled smoked asparagus soup with basil. Asparagus has been great this year and I’ve certainly had my fill this spring. I loved the balance of the asparagus with the herby hint of basil. It was a rich bite that made my palate stand up, ready for the savory courses ahead.
After some small morsels to tease the palate, we settled in for the first course—a classic pairing of heirloom tomato, mozzarella and balsamic. Forget juicy watermelon—in my book, nothing says summer here on the Central Coast quite like a ripe, red heirloom tomato. The flavors were simple and classic, chef Kirpes wisely avoiding complex techniques and embellishments to let the ingredients speak on their own. The wine pairing—2010 GSM and 2011 Arinto—made sure winos of all sorts had something to enjoy. Betraying my red wine tendencies, I found the Arinto—an oaky Portuguese varietal—a nice pairing for the warm weekend weather.
Our next course featured summer stone fruits—a juicy grilled white peach paired with bitter arugula and salty ricotta salata. I appreciated chef Kirpes’s selection of ricotta salata over the tired pairing with goat cheese. The flavor of the ricotta salata was light, wisely reserved without overpowering the sweet peach. But the real star was the hint of chile, which gave just a little bit of kick to the sweet honey drizzle on top. Of the two wine pairings—a 2009 Grenache and 2011 Verdelho—the Grenache was my favorite, the rich red a nice counter balance to the sweet peach.
The third course transitioned us from land to sea, featuring a fresh catch from the bay—tonight a fresh local Monterey Bay king salmon. The salmon was cooked perfectly medium-rare, though it wasn’t quite as warm as I prefer, likely suffering from being shuttled from the kitchen upstairs to the dining room downstairs. I also had that awkward moment of looking to my fellow diners’ plates with envy as they enjoyed considerably larger portions of salmon than mine. But these were minor quibbles considering the unconventional setting for dinner.
The salmon was paired with baby squash and caramelized onions, but the real show-stealer was the trio of marbled baby potatoes. The potatoes had a slightly crystalized, caramelized texture outside, revealing tender, smoked starch within.
Sweet summer corn was the star of the fourth course—a duo of roasted cauliflower and fresh corn, paired with caramelized leeks and roasted pine nuts in a nod to a summer succotash. It was a lovely dish, but admittedly one that begged for a piece of protein, like a thin slice of steak or roasted chicken. The wine pairing—a 2009 Tempranillo—was reserved in flavor, not overwhelming the delicate veggies.
The fifth course began to transition the palate to the sweeter summer flavors. A simple presentation of figs with goat cheese and hazelnuts helped cleanse the palate. With just five ingredients and a light hand in execution, this dish easily bested some of the more complex desserts on dinner menus around town.
For dessert, chef Kirpes handed over the reins to Lauren Palminteri, the brains and brawn behind Bread and Butter Caramels. She crafted a salted caramel and crème fraîche ice cream for tonight’s dinner, served in a homemade waffle cone with a dollop of olallieberry jam, made from berries picked fresh earlier that weekend. I loved the combination of the sweet, creamy ice cream and the tart and tangy jam. And Palminteri scored points for presentation, with servers distributing the dessert from boxes with holes to prop up the ice cream cones like old-fashioned stadium vendors.
Dessert was paired with coffee from Cameron Davies, who will soon be unveiling her pop-up coffee shop—Bright Coffee—inside Lilify in the weeks ahead. She’s roasting a custom espresso blend for her pop-up shop and we got a sneak peek of the beans, brewed in a Chemex for the evening. The coffee had a nice depth of flavor that complemented the sweet salted caramel. And a sip of Vinho Doce made a nice liquid dessert as the evening came to a close.
As a parting gift, Palminteri and Davies sent us home with a goodie bag of caramels and a Bright Coffee-branded cork coffee cup sleeve. I resisted the urge to devour the caramels on Sunday night, managing to save them for the following evening. This batch of Palminteri’s signature caramels was infused with olallieberries, the berries giving the buttery caramels a hint of floral flavor.
Last Sunday’s pop-up dinner was a solid second effort by Lilify. The shop plans to host another pop-up dinner in the fall, making a quarterly dinner series to highlight the bounty of the Monterey Peninsula and California’s Central Coast. The next dinner is planned for September 29—keep in touch with Lilify on their Facebook page for future events. I certainly look forward to more delicious dinners celebrating the best of central California.
Lilify is at 281 Lighthouse Avenue in Monterey. 831-207-1380. www.lilify.com.