Sorry to have left you in the dark last week but I’m back…and loving the rain. We may be in the midst of a storm but, to borrow from Mary Poppins Returns:
Though the lamps are turning down
Please don’t feel blue
For in this part of [Pacific Grove] town
The light shines through
Don’t believe the things you’ve read
You never know what’s up ahead
Underneath the lovely [Pacific Grove] sky
If you haven’t seen the movie, I highly recommend you do. And it’s playing at our very own Lighthouse Theatre. (Note, I am not in any way affiliated nor do I gain profit from recommending either the movie or the theatre.)
Kitty-corner from the Lighthouse Theatre is Jeninni Kitchen and Wine Bar. There’s a saying in Arabic that roughly translates to: “parents are taken for granted.” Which extends—in my understanding—to loved ones are taken for granted. We treat the people we love—such as our parents and dear friends—in a way we might not treat a colleague or a stranger. We reserve manners and social niceties to those more distant to us. And what a shame.
I have loved Jeninni Kitchen and Wine Bar in the Holman Building downtown since they opened in the fall of 2013 but I have not written about them. I have taken them for granted—in the form of not writing about them in my column—despite being one of my favorite places in Pacific Grove.
Jeninni serves foods that are inspired by Spanish and North African flavors: think cheese platters with fig compote and almonds, eggplant fries with a honey aioli, or chicken and merguez tagine with couscous. And, being a wine bar owned and run by an incredibly sophisticated sommelier—Thamin Saleh—you can imagine that the wine list is superb. Oh, and their cocktails are locally-inspired.
You might be wondering what the word Jeninni means. Well, Jenin is a Palestinian city in the Northern West Bank and Jeninni in Arabic means a man from Jenin. A man from Pacific Grove would be Pacific Grovi. You see?
What I love most about Jeninni is its intimacy. You walk in and you feel welcome, whether you sit in the dining area or at the bar upstairs. The décor on the walls is simple, charming, and reminiscent of old home-cooking. Thamin does an excellent job of talking to all the diners, welcoming them, and answering all of their questions. And a really unique thing about Jeninni is that there are three sibling pairs working at Jeninni…two on the floor and one in the kitchen.
I went to Jeninni recently with a friend and let me tell you a little bit about the food we had. The eggplant fries are my favorite item on the menu. I love them and order them every time I go and every time I forget how well eggplant retains its heat and burn my tongue. It’s worth it but I always have to soothe my burnt tongue with another eggplant fry doused in aioli. The tagine is a couscous dish with chicken and lamb merguez, a spiced Moroccan sausage. The spices are unusual to the American palate but I find them familiar having grown up eating Syrian food and then living in Spain after college. They are not spicy in the burn-your-mouth-sense but in the way that they bring rich flavors to the dishes.
To go along with your intense but beautifully flavored food are their cocktails which are fun and low octane (“shims cocktails”) so you can have more than one. A shim is that little piece of wood you put under a table to stop it from wobbling. In a shim cocktail, stronger spirits like vodka and gin are replaced with less potent alternatives such as vermouth or herbal liquors. That way you won’t wobble after having one or two, either. Their Barrel Aged “Negroni” is one of my favorites and the The PG Spot is also delightful, with elderflower and rosemary, it is nice and refreshing.
Believe it or not we did not indulge on dessert this time but I love all of the desserts I have had there. Their cardamom affogato is my favorite. An affogato is a scoop of ice cream with a shot of espresso poured over it. The word affogato actually means “drowned” in Italian. What better than to drown your ice cream in coffee? My colleague Dustin and I thought it made perfect sense to have these for breakfast when we worked at a chocolate and gelato shop in college. Normally one adds milk or cream, sugar, and maybe a flavor—cinnamon, nutmeg, etc.—to their coffee so adding gelato (or ice cream) to coffee is like adding all of those things in one fell scoop…I mean swoop.
So mosey on down to the movies and be sure to hit Jeninni for happy hour before or for dinner after. Or, as I have been known to do…both.