“Can you believe this used to be a sand mine?” My dining companion’s initial comment as we sat squarely in the middle of the opulent Tuscan villa-like surroundings that is Péppoli. From sand mine to the Bay Club at the Inn at Spanish Bay to what is now the fifth jewel in the crown of sophisticated restaurants partnered by Marches Iero Antinori—“the most important winemaker in Italy”, according to Wine Spectator magazine—world-class Pebble Beach Resorts just got a whole lot worldlier.
Manoel Errico is the restaurant manager at the newly opened Péppoli, a veteran with the company from Spanish Bay’s beginnings. When asked how this venue was chosen, he explained that a friend of Antinori’s, local restaurateur Richard Pepe (Little Nappoli) made the suggestion. With two restaurants in Italy and two more in Switzerland, Antinori’s choice of Pebble Beach puts Monterey County more than ever in the big leagues of fine dining.
If you can fathom a family winemaking legacy that dates back to 1180, you’ll have to handle on the largesse of the Antinori name. Among Antinori’s many vineyards is the wine estate of Péppoli, in existence since the Middle Ages, when it was a Vallombrosian monastery, if you’re imagining that they might be pouring some pretty good wines at the restaurant by the same name, you would indeed be correct. Along with a broad selection of California wines and vintages from allover the world, their own exclusive selection makes this a list destined for no less than Wine Spectator’s Grand Award.
But we’re from Missouri, and we were hungry. And yes, we did eat; our appetites piqued by a glass of ’96 Riserva Sangiovese Villa Antinori. Vowing to summon only the most provocative choices from this menu offering, I dived into a dish of Florentine-style braised tripe, which provided maximum flavor for minimum damage, at $7. (Anyone who casts a jaundiced galrea in the direction of the delicacy that is stomach lining should be admonished forthwith.) I found it redolent and rich with earthy, herbaceous notes that did a pitch-perfect duet with the piped-in Andrea Bocelli. My friend also chose well, with a salad of baby spinach, toasted walnuts, gorgonzola and matchstick, precsion-cut pears in a spritely and clean-flavored Moscato white wine vinaigrette, $8.
Still thrill-seeking, it was hard to decide between the pappardelle pasta done in a Bolognese sauce made with wild boar, ($16) or the braised veal shank. I flipped a coin and it was tails, and the osso bucco. This is big-time flavor impact. The savory cooking juices were punched up with Antinori’s Chianti Riserva, and pure pleasure to enjoy along with Tuscan beans. Next to me, my companion savored the mesquite-grilled Pacific swordfish, given a coat of finely minced parsley, thyme, rosemary and sage. The vegetable accompaniment was a knockout composition of butternut squash, Napa cabbage and roasted shallots.
There are plenty of reasons for repeat visits to be found on this menu. Chef Stephen Blackwell brings with him an impressive background, along with a skilled specialty in this type of country, coastal Tuscan cuisine that has found a home in one of the coolest exhibition kitchens around.
Desserts are one more reason; the list of around eight items shouts “authentico!” And with these rustically rich interiors paying only the highest compliment to the majesty of the vista that is framed by long walls of windows-a view that is saturated with beauty-here is a dining experience that must be repeated.
Feast. Food, Wine & Restaurants
By Catherine Colburn