This week's tablehopper: Carmel-ized.

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Michael Tusk of Quince’s springy dish at the Taste of Italy lunch at GourmetFest 2014. Photo: © tablehopper.com.

Whooosh, this past week has been a mega whirlwind. Last Wednesday a friend took me to see Venus in Fur at the ACT, don’t miss it! Super sexy and smart. On Thursday, I was busy emceeing the Taste of the Nation event, which raised more than $230,000! Impressive! Thanks to everyone who attended, bid on silent auction items, spun the restaurant roulette wheel, and more. The caliber of chefs and cocktails (and wines and beers) at the event was notable—thanks to everyone who donated their time and product, especially on a Thursday night. Even if you weren’t able to attend, you can still donate to Share Our Strength and the No Kid Hungry campaign here.

Friday morning, I was up and at ‘em early to pack and hop in my car to head down to Carmel-by-the-Sea for Relais & Châteaux’s GourmetFest 2014. The weekend was completely over the top, with lunches and dinners featuring chefs from Relais & Châteaux properties from around the world. From the Taste of Italy lunch to the Grand Cru Bordeaux dinner, the ingredients, dishes, plating, and pairings were definitely luxe. Here’s my photo album recap of the weekend. (Oh, and Carolyn Nugent of Quince wrote this quick missive about her GourmetFest experience and her dessert.)

It was also a wine collector’s dream event: the two tastings I attended (Richebourg with Aubert de Villaine of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, and Krug with Olivier Krug) were some of the best in my life. To learn about these wines from these two gentlemen—coupled with the commentary from collectors and writers in the room—offered rare and fascinating insight. The wines they chose for the tastings: also remarkable. My brain the entire time was something like this: “Duuuuuude. Dude! Duuude. Whoa. Dude.”

There was an after-party each night at Cantinetta Luca, and it reminded me a bit of the last years of the Masters of Food and Wine at The Highlands Inn, featuring a small and intimate scene, with the chance to mingle with chefs and people in the wine industry and big-game collector guests who shared some ridiculous wines. By the end of the weekend, you have new friendships with some really interesting people because there are so many chances to hang out and talk. I also got to hear some awesome stories around the dinner table each night (Brian Canlis of Canlis in Seattle wins for his Dick Cheney story), and scored some faboo tips for the upcoming family trip to France I’m planning for this September.

And then there’s the magic of being in Carmel-by-the-Sea. What a place. I was put up in the charming La Playa Hotel, just a couple of blocks from the beach. The grounds are beautiful—full of flowers everywhere—and I loved the vintage feeling of the place (it was built in 1905 and recently restored—my dreamy bed was all modern, thankfully). You can see why I didn’t want to leave my beach cottage with its garden view. And the friendly staff did a bang-up job handling so many guests over the busy weekend.

I look forward to seeing how the event evolves next year (hopefully the timing won’t be so close to Pebble Beach Food & Wine). Huge thanks to all the organizers for the hospitality, I was very much in awe of my lucky life this weekend. (You can take a look at my pictures of the weekend here.)

I also came home incredibly tired, so this piece on three new cafés I wrote for 7x7.com feels apropos.

Enjoy the rainy weather, see you Friday (unless you’re coming to Beyond Bubbie’s Kitchen at the JCC, in which case I’ll see you tonight!).

Marcia Gagliardi

View tablehopper Newsletter from Tuesday, Apr 1 2014