Monterey Peninsula Restaurants and Lodging: Circa 2013

This year’s Monterey trip, as discussed in our previous blog, Monterey Peninsula Activities: Circa 2013, encompassed almost all our favorite activities: scenic drives, hikes and leisurely walks, wine tastings, kayaking and horseback rides. The only things we missed were our standard half-day trip to the aquarium, a round of golf (which we do not play) and a treatment at one of the area’s many spas.

But while the trip was as usual, dominated by outside activities, we also spent a fair amount of time rejuvenating body and spirit after all these activities by tasting some of our favorite local wines, by spending plenty of time at very interesting local restaurants and by spending our nights in two (one of which was particularly memorable) local inns.

Restaurants

Dining experiences play a hallowed role in all of our trips. Trips to Monterey Bay are no exception. And with so many good restaurants in the area, selecting those at which we will visit, and those which we will skip, can be a challenge. We were up to it. Armed with our experiences from previous trips and recommendations from friends, we made return visits to two restaurants to which we had been, and had memorable meals before, and still had a chance to discover three new (at least for us) finds: Four if you count a Half Moon Bay restaurant at which we stopped for lunch on the way home.

We made return visits to two of our favorite local restaurants:

  • Wickets in Carmel Valley’s Bernardus Lodge for lunch. Sitting on the sunny knout side deck, we split two dishes. A roasted sea bass with a selection of perfectly done vegetables was good, but not particularly interesting. On the other hand, the wild mushroom pizza with chorizo, fontina cheese and arugula, and a surprisingly airy but still crispy crust. The pizza was not only tasty; it was also enough for two. Service, however, was disappointing, especially when compared with previous visits.
  • 1833 for dinner. We thoroughly enjoyed last year’s dinner, and were just as pleased this year. Since we were still a bit full from lunch (not to speak of the many clam chowder samples we tasted along Cannery Row and Fisherman’s Wharf on the walk to the restaurant), we restricted ourselves to one small bite (the very good bacon cheddar Biscuits with maple chile butter) and three appetizers. Joyce had the pan roasted shrimp with grits, bacon and cheddar. I had the horseradish-crusted bone marrow with roasted garlic and the soy glazed quail with puréed pear, creamed spinach and croissant stuffing. While we enjoyed each of the dishes, the appetizers were almost the size of main courses. Neither of us could finish. We enjoyed everything with a 2009 Lucienne Doctor’s Vineyard SLH Pinot. The service, as was the case with our previous visit, was knowledgeable, attentive and proactive.

Our four new restaurant discoveries were:

  • La Balena, in Carmel, is a tiny (26 people max) Tuscan restaurant that had been opened for only three months. It is said to be the hottest ticket in town–continually sold out (three turns during the week and four on weekends) and the only restaurant in town that, from what our innkeeper told us, turned away ex-mayor (not to speak of famous chair talker) Clint Eastwood, when he did not have a reservation. My Orange braised Osso Bucolic with fennel polenta and gremolata was absolutely superb. Joyce’s paparadelle with beef bolognese was good, with an intriguing spiciness, although the pasta was slightly overlooked. The server-recommended Brancaia Chianti Classico Riserva, which complemented both dishes, was wonderful.
  • Lokal, in Carmel Valley is another find. With a menu of innovative, locally-sourced small plates, it is a delicious bargain. We thoroughly enjoyed four dishes: roasted trumpet and oater mushrooms with a runny yolk soft-boiled egg and aged sheep cheese, fish N’ chips with a lightly pan fried sea bass coated in Lay’s potato chipsets with brussel spout chips, and two even better dishes–the crab hotdog” (dungeness crab rolled in lightly frid dough with an avocado and pistachio purée, and then a wild berries (blue, rasp, straw and blackberries) with a wonderful white chocolate crème anglaise. All of this, with a bottle of unoaked Joyce Chardonnay for about $100!!!
  • Stillwater, in the Pebble Beach Lodge, overlooking the bay and the 18th green of the eponymous golf course, is a lovely site for a restaurant. The location and the food were so interesting and so good, that we broke one of our cardinal rules–we went to the same restaurant for two meals (both lunches) on the same trip. Stillwater serves a dynamite lobster salad sandwich (on sourdough toast with cilantro, julienned celeriac and tomato), a fascinating Dungeness crab cake (atop a mixture of quinoa, corn and avocado, with a cucumber-jicama slaw) and and lightly tempura fried calamari with baby artichoke hearts, Meyer lemon and haricot vert). The sautéed red abalone was nice, but, as would be expected, expensive at $35 for two small patties and $69 for four. Two recommendations for when you go: ask for a table on the deck, with a great view of the 18th green and the bay, and hope that you get Huey as your server! He is wonderful!! As a bonus, one of the day’s we were there, we were greeted by a huge owl, who we learned, was effectively a goodwill ambassador for the firm in charge of keeping messy seabirds away from the Lodge and its golfers and diners.

PB Lodge -green, peoplePB owl-g

  • Sam’s Chowder House in Half Moon Bay is a large, casual, New England-style seafood restaurant that appears, from our one-time experience, to be perpetually packed. We arrived at about 2:00 on a Friday. After being told that it would be a 30 minute wait for a coveted table on the deck, we settled for the inside, where we were lucky enough to score a window table with a pretty ocean and marina view. After a shared appetizer of fried oysters, we each had entrees: rock cod with pumpkin puree, kale, smoked bacon and a lemon butter sauce, and grilled swordfish with cauliflower puree and roasted vegetables, raisons and pine nuts. The food, the atmosphere and the service were all very good. When we were leaving, about 3:30, the place was still hopping. The wait for n outside table, however, had grown to 45 minutes.

But just because we couldn’t fit any more restaurants into our trip did not mean we couldn’t squeeze one more locally-sourced meal into it. On our way back to San Francisco, we made one more stop, out at the very tip of Monterey’s working wharf (unlike the touristy Fisherman’s Wharf) at the Monterey Abalone Company. We picked up enough red abalone for dinner, got a lesson how to clean the delicacy and recipes as to how to prepare it.

Hotels

Although the peninsula is certainly compact enough to comfortably cover out of one hotel, we decided to add a little variety to our lives by dividing our stay between two Inns: a lovely hotel/inn in Monterey and a smaller, local Carmel inn. These inns were the:

  • Spindrift Inn, on Monterey’s Cannery Row, is a charming hotel with a multistory lobby that was serving complementary wine, cheese and crackers when we checked in at 5:30. The room was rather spacious and nicely decorated with overstuffed chairs, closet and wood- burning fireplace with a as starter. While we would have preferred slightly less furniture. The room was lovely and very comfortable. We were greeted in the morning with a complimentary continental breakfast delivered to our room.
  • Vagabond Inn, in Carmel, a small inn with spacious rooms and nice touches, including, in our room, a wood-burning fireplace, an orchid, a bottle of local Cabernet and carafe of after- dinner sherry and in- room continental breakfast. The room also had a kitchen, with a full-size refrigerator, coffee maker, toaster and silverware. Although the room had many nice touches, it was a bit rustic. Very good for a $100 per night half-priced deal, and probably okay for $150, but we would have been less pleased if we had paid full price.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.