I wrote this post on the plane home from Monterey, California where I was fortunate enough to be the guest of Dole for their first-ever Salad Summit. Despite a two-hour flight delay and only making my connecting flight with seven minutes to spare, I arrived on Thursday evening where we were taken to the best restaurant in Monterey, The Sardine Factory.
After eating there, it’s obvious why. We bloggers were not prepared for the food or the beauty of the room where we sat.
Knowing we’d never be able to choose from all the appetizers, the wait staff started by bringing out trays of perfectly cooked calamari (with a hint of basil), risotto balls and shrimp. We all took forever to decide what we’d have. I finally settled on the abalone medallions which were highly recommended as a local specialty. Totally happy and completely stuffed, we all went home and absolutely collapsed into a food-induced coma.
The next morning we were served a beautiful breakfast – a green smoothie, berry-stuffed French toast, Frittata and quiche which had be specially prepared by the hotel restaurant using Dole berries, salads and vegetables.
Fueled up with a big breakfast, we were ready to head over to the Dole offices to hear from the President of Dole Fresh Vegetables, Ray De Riggi, and members of their team about the brand. We learned little-known facts about salad and salad consumption in the US. We also learned about Dole’s new packaging, media campaign and about the history of the brand.
The jist of it is this: Yes, Dole is trying to get Americans to eat more salad (which we all know we need to do), but this new campaign is trying to get Americans to try new salads and mixes and then understand how to use them. As of June they will have new packaging which describes the taste and texture of each lettuce or salad mix and what it pairs well with. Ingenious. And they’ve got these fab little salad kits if you’re just trying to get dinner on the table and want a salad that even your kid can throw together.
Now for the best part of the trip: our lunch at La Bicyclette. It’s in my top five dining experiences of all time, starting with the sweet sign and bicycle outside and the charming, rustic European décor inside.
I’m going to try and hold myself back here, but it’s hard. I could write a whole post on the risotto, but I’ll keep it to a paragraph. It was delicious and the most visually appealing risotto I have ever been presented. The color was incredible, vivid and bright. Before tasting, we all thought it had to be saffron, but it was a carrot risotto with a hint of citrus. This creamy, soft risotto was topped with tender purple artichoke hearts that had been sautéed in truffle oil. The dish was topped with arugula, shaved fennel and carrot and Cypress Grove Midnight Moon (the chef got bonus points for this because I’m a diehard Cypress Grove Chevre fan). I literally came undone over this dish.
The next course was two kinds of pizza: heirloom potato with gruyere cheese, and a butternut squash pizza topped with arugula which also featured Midnight Moon. Second to the risotto, the butternut squash pizza was the talk of the lunch.
The afternoon was filled with a tour of Dole fields, meeting farmers, growers, employees and touring their impressive packaging facilities.
Back at the plant, they gave us a quiz of over 20 different types of lettuces to identify. I’m embarrassed to say I didn’t do so well. I think I got 15 out of 25 correct. If we food bloggers can’t identity half the lettuces out there, I was thinking, what hope is there for everyone else?
For me, this really highlighted the importance of Dole’s new packaging with taste, texture and suggested pairings. For people who aren’t salad enthusiasts, this new packaging might help them to venture away from the standard iceburg or romaine they’ve been buying their whole lives.
Shattered after a day of eating and touring, we went back to the hotel where we had dinner at their restaurant called The C Restaurant. They too had specially prepared a menu using Dole salad products. Blessedly, the meal was light – we had two delicious salads. One had grapes and candied walnuts, the other was grilled hearts of romaine (loved that, such great flavor!), thin-sliced house-smoked pork loin (a beautiful compliment to the grilled flavors) and a soft boiled egg.
The last morning we were taken on a tour of the famous 17-mile drive where we had fun seeing the sites.
(The Lone Cypress)
Have I mentioned how much I love these women? Kristen bought me this Sea Otter stuffed animal and Brooke bought me maritime-themed cookies to celebrate my birthday. As we stopped at a look-out point on the 17-mile drive, I was taking a photo when all of the sudden, the girls spontaneously started singing “Happy Birthday” in front of all these other tourists. Of course I turned bright red, but it made my heart swell.
I’ve written mainly about the food because it was just such a huge part of our experience, but of course connecting with the ten other bloggers was not only fun, it was also uplifting. I learned so much from them in those 36 hours and left inspired, invigorated and happy.
I also left feeling incredibly excited to try new salad mixes and to eat salad in new and interesting ways – like in green drinks (more on that later!) or romaine on the grill, I have to make that. But I’m going to start by attempting to recreate that carrot risotto.