30 MONTEREY COUNTY WEEKLY january 11-17, 2024 www.montereycountyweekly.com When Chef Christian Ojeda describes the makeup of a dish, the phrase “you have a little of…” repeats throughout the conversation. The menu may mention, say, blood orange gastrique, but it leaves out the whole lot that goes into his definition of a little— in this case the rich earthiness from hours reducing the flavorful leavings of roasted duck, the drifting herbal scent from a juniper marinade or the other touches that elevate an otherwise common sauce. Yet he does all of this in the name of restraint. “One thing for me is I’m very simplistic with my food,” Ojeda insists. “If you have a carrot, you want to taste the carrot. It’s easier to mess it up than to complement it.” How well this dichotomy—a little of a lot—plays out is evident in the chef’s new monthly pre-fixe tasting menu at Lucia Restaurant & Bar in the Bernardus Lodge. Ruddy slices of ahi melt into your palate, delivering the tender minerality of fresh tuna. But there’s a seared veneer that haunts you, whispering of bitter lemon, of distant smoke, of trodden earth then disappearing before you can turn and catch its source. And these notions somehow reveal the delicate trance of ahi. The secret is in a complicated ash Ojeda and his team prepare from charred Meyer lemon zest and coriander and use to crust the fish. And this is just the second of four courses on the January tasting menu. Ojeda launched the series in October, intending to highlight a seasonal ingredient each month. October was apple harvest time. The November menu featured pumpkins, while December took advantage of the wild local mushroom crop. January is hardly the cruelest month, as each plate carries a touch of citrus. Each month brings a unique menu. “That’s the nice part about this,” Ojeda says. “It gives you”—meaning restaurant guests and the Lucia kitchen—“a chance to be adventurous.” Tasting menus were once rounds of small bites. But these are blissful portions that make a full meal. The January offering starts with a citrus salad that layers the bite of lemon over the fresh burst of orange and distinct scourge of grapefruit, defining each with bitter greens, a garlic crumble and a honeyed vinaigrette, while burrata laced with olive oil provides a creamy sensation. Crisp prosciutto adds a nutty crackle to the presentation. The remarkable ahi tuna dish follows and Ojeda uses the entree to elevate a forgotten classic, duck a l’orange. “Perfect pairings write themselves sometimes,” he explains. “It’s a fun take on a l’orange.” Ojeda departs from tradition by using the duck jus to create a demi-glace that tempers the chirpy zeal of fresh squeezed orange juice, giving the sauce a meaty rumble with a brisk edge. These are dishes that put you into a reverie, that send your mind wandering with the flavors. But they also favor the main ingredients—the tuna, the duck and the citrus throughout. Service begins with pops of fresh fruit, centerpiece of the salad. In the second and third courses, however, while lemon, lime, orange (or all three) play a role, it’s one of support. “Citrus has to be the highlight, but I don’t want you to become numb to the flavors,” Ojeda says. So he plays them up or down. The meal ends with a touch of comfort, a simple—true in this case—vanilla chiffon cake with Meyer lemon curd for a bright, fresh and a little decadent finish. Of course, there are dabs of huckleberry gel and a meringue of lavender hue that clearly required some extra effort. Each course can be paired with a wine. Two of the four selected to go with this menu are local, a 2021 Albariño from Chesebro and a 2018 J.Lohr Late Harvest White Riesling. Ojeda points out that the menu is a team effort that takes full advantage of the fruits, vegetables, herbs, honey and all the other produce grown on the Bernardus property. Menu items will not repeat throughout the year. “It keeps us all engaged,” the chef says. “We get some inspiration and come together. In January we’re thinking about February.” February’s featured ingredient? Pears. Lucia Restaurant & Bar is in the Bernardus Lodge, 415 W. Carmel Valley Road, Carmel Valley. 658-3400, bernarduslodge.com. First course January’s tasting menu at Lucia features citrus in each course, starting with a winter salad. Come February, Chef Christian Ojeda will work with pears. Big Bucks…The Big Sur Food & Wine Festival (and associated projects under the Big Sur Food & Wine Foundation umbrella) announced on Dec. 31 that the 2023 events raised a total of $225,000 for the Big Sur nonprofits that the festival supports. The money will be distributed, in varying amounts, to 17 beneficiaries working in the areas of health, education, safety and the arts—a good outcome from enjoying good food and drink. Learn more at bigsurfoodandwine.org. Open At Last…Congrats to the Salinas family behind 31st Grill, which has opened its doors and is ready to feed you breakfast, lunch and dinner. The new restaurant from the restaurateur who launched Emma’s Bakery & Cafe has an extensive menu of all the Californian favorites. Stop in and find something for everyone. 32 John St., Salinas. 208-6111, instagram.com/ the31stgrill. Read more about Eddie and Miriam Estrada at mcweekly.com/ food_wine. Home Cooking…Cook all of your favorites from Rosine’s Restaurant at home, made with a touch of your own love and with the help of Rosine’s new and improved cookbook. The restaurant has updated the tome and added new recipes, as well as insider tips and other fun tidbits. Whether you are craving a cake, craft cocktail or another kind of dish from this homey restaurant, now you can try making it in the comfort of your own home. The cookbook can be purchased at the restaurant or online. 434 Alvarado St., Monterey. 375-1400, rosinesmonterey.com. Fun With Fungi…It’s mushroom season and the Big Sur Foragers Festival is approaching. Mark your calendars and grab your tickets because this weekend full of fungi fun is not to be missed. The weekend starts Friday, Jan. 19 with the Foragers’ Feast, followed by Foraging Walk and Talk hike on Jan. 20. It concludes with the Fungus Face Off and Giving Back With Every Bite dinner at Big Sur River Inn on Jan 21. bigsurforagersfestival.org. Sip ’N Fold…Get your hands dirty at Holman Ranch on Friday, Jan. 26 when Miss Lippe’s Dumpling Party comes to the tasting room. Guests get to make a set of their own dumplings while sipping on Holman Ranch wines. Tickets are $30 for club members, $45 for non-members. 18 W. Carmel Valley Road, Carmel Valley. 659-2640, holmanranch.com. By Jacqueline Weixel morsels Send a bite to eatanddrink@mcweekly.com “It keeps us all engaged.” Eat + DrinK Daniel Dreifuss Of Course The new chef’s tasting menu at Lucia highlights a different seasonal ingredient each month. By Dave Faries