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Around the corner from the Pacific Grove certified farmers market, one of my favorite restaurants, Jeninni Kitchen + Wine Bar, started offering a Monday night fried chicken dinner special, $26, during the pandemic. Finally got in here last week with my friend Sara for an early dinner reservation at an outdoor parklet table. Another great evening catching up with a much missed friend. Even though she and I speak/text at least once a week, being outside at the table together was such a welcome change.
To start, the housemade lardo served with breakfast radishes and grilled Ad Astra Bread, $11. Fennel pollen and a snip of fresh blossoms adorned the quenelle of whipped lardo and the radishes sported a scatter of fresh fennel fronds and flaky sea salt. So good!
Sara's decision to order the lamb burger made me happy. Why? Because the accompanying eggplant fries with Turkish urfa biber and honeyed alioli have been my long-time favorite thing on the menu and I knew I'd get to have at least one. And I’ve loved that burger too on earlier visits.
The fried chicken dinner was no slouch either and more than held its own. The server's description of "three drumsticks, coleslaw and chickpea side" foreshadowed none of the exotic flourishes. Of course, I would have expected no less from this kitchen. The aroma of cumin, bay leaf and garlic wafting up from the warm chickpeas dominated our table, even outdoors in a sea breeze. Plump and tender whole chickpeas with a bit mashed to thicken the juices and topped with a verdant filigree of scallions composed a classic Levant balilah. Then that slaw . . . sure there's shredded cabbage, but it's as much a fresh herb salad of mostly Italian parsley and fragrant mint leaves, as well as shavings of red onion, kale and jalapeño chiles in a orange-tinted dressing that hinted of smoked pimenton. And finally, the fried chicken that the runner said featured shwarma spicing this evening. Three HUGE drumsticks were so succulent and juicy encrusted with an ultra-crunchy well-seasoned batter. That crust shattered on each bite and some of the turmeric-stained bits landed on my light colored sweater, requiring me to handwash the telltale yellow spots off as soon as I got home. Worth it though for so much flavor punch! And that flaky crust holds up well for hours. I lightly reheated the third piece for a bedtime snack, so I can attest to that. I would not hesitate to get this for take-out. And apparently many others feel the same way, as our server apologized at one point for not checking with us due to the high volume of Monday special orders for pick-up.
As always, I loved studying Proprietor Thamin Saleh's wine list. Checking the web for info on Commanderie de la Bargemone, it was nice to discover that the importer is Hand Picked Selections. Wow, it's been at least 15 years since I've had any contact with the founder and long-ago friend, Dan Kravitz. Asking our server if she preferred the Rosé or Blanc, she didn't hesitate to recommend the white. The 2017 Blanc, $34, is 57% Rolle, 40% Sauvignon Blanc, 3% Ugni Blanc, and still pretty fresh and vivid three years post-release. Oily and lush on the palate, blanched almond notes mingle with lemon zest and fresh herbs. The elevated acidity was perfect for cutting through the richness of the fried foods and spicing.
All in all, it was great to be back at Jeninni to taste and see for myself that the chef changes have not impacted the quality of the food. Service was friendly and helpful as ever. Sara and I had more than three hours to catch up. Asking our server when we needed to vacate our table as the street became dark, he said not to worry. Then around 8:45pm, the heaters were turned off. The chill of the night was our signal to say good-bye.
Jeninni Kitchen + Wine Bar
542 Lighthouse Avenue
Pacific Grove, CA
Closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays
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