Lahaina, Maui, HI — If you’re lucky enough to be on Maui from now through Saturday, you can enjoy the inventive dish that landed Assistant Executive Chef McKenna Shea of Pacifico On The Beach victory on the Food Network’s “Chopped” last month.
For the past month, the inviting beachfront restaurant has featured that special abalone salad that helped her trounce three other chefs and score the $10,000 prize.
Admittedly, she was initially befuddled upon opening up the mystery basket to discover abalone and ube cheesecake. Who wouldn’t be, right?
Not only that, she had never worked with abalone before. But harnessing the skills she’d learned from her mentor, Pacifico’s Executive Chef Isaac Bancaco, she set to work.
Visiting Maui last month, I had a chance to dine at Pacifico, a 28-year-old restaurant that Bancaco was hired to revamp a year ago. Don’t be surprised if some of the fresh catch of the day was actually caught by Bancaco, who’s an avid fisherman, too.
Few good things resulted from the pandemic. But one of them is surely Afici.
This South of Market fine-dining restaurant in San Francisco grew out of the pasta-oriented pop-up and takeout that Executive Chef Eric Upper of Alexander’s Steakhouse did during shutdown. A New York City native who worked at Auerole in New York, and Joel Robuchon in Las Vegas, Upper had the opportunity to lean into his Italian heritage, having studied Tuscan cuisine at Lorenzo de’ Medici School in Florence.
The pop-up proved so popular that it led the Alexander’s Steakhouse Restaurant Group to open Afici last summer.
The result is a stylish restaurant featuring inspired Italian specialties not found easily elsewhere, including house-made charcuterie made exclusively with prized A5 Wagyu.
I had a chance to experience Afici last week, when I was invited in as a guest of the restaurant.
With the wacky weather of late that’s brought snow to the Bay Area, it was an especially nice touch to be greeted at the host stand with cups of warm ginger-infused tea.
When Chef Michael Rotondo left San Francisco during the pandemic, it was surely Monterey’s gain.
The former executive chef of Parallel 27 in the San Francisco Ritz-Carlton, former executive chef of Charlie Trotter’s in Chicago, and the U.S. Bocuse D’Or “Most Promising Chef” of 2008, moved south to open Coastal Kitchen in February 2022.
Unlike the latter, though, there is no outdoor dining space. The white cloth-draped tables inside Coastal Kitchen’s warm-wood dining room are spaced out amply, though.
This is a tasting menu-only restaurant. In fact, it’s thought to be the sole tasting menu-only restaurant in Monterey. At $145 per person (with an additional $95 for wine pairings), it delivers a lot for the buck.
They are all built around either certified sustainable tuna or certified sustainable aquaculture salmon.
They come in six international varieties, which I had a chance to sample recently: Provence Nicoise (wild tuna), Sicilian Caponata (wild tuna), Barcelona Escalvada (salmon), Moroccan Tagine (salmon), Aztec Ensalada (wild tuna), and Thai Sriracha (wild tuna).
Egypt-born Suzy Karadsheh, founder of The Mediterranean Dish blog, who now makes her home in Atlanta, offers up 120 sunny recipes that draw from her heritage, as well as from the flavors of neighboring Greece, Italy and Morocco.
Loaded with beautiful color photos, the book tempts with recipes that include “Anytime Falafel,” “Harissa, Red Lentil, and Tomato Soup,” “Braised Chicken, Mushrooms, and Poblano Peppers with Pomegranate Molasses,” and “No-Churn Tahini and Hazelnut Ice Cream.”