Monterey-Carmel-Pacific Grove additions

THE CENTRAL COAST RESTAURANTS LIST

Weekend in Monterey, and while I have several long-standing favorite dining spots, it is always good to try new things.  First stop: CORKSCREW CAFE in Carmel Valley.  Nice atmosphere, well-rounded menu and winelist.  Lots of local Carmel Valley wines, which is nice because–other than a few bottlings of Talbott and Bernardus–a lot of it is not heavily marketed in the rest of California.  The list includes several wineries NEXT DOOR.  Service was excellent and this turned out to be a very rewarding impromptu wine-country dining experiment.  Had Fish Tacos and the Banh Mi–each of which I am very critical of and both were well above average.   ♦♦

RESTAURANT 1833 in Monterey is my new favorite restaurant in town.  The ‘Heirloom Carrot’ doesn’t sound like much of a dish, but you have never had a carrot quite like this.  Served in a mole sauce like no mole you have ever had.  Probably the most unsophisticated-sounding and insignificant-looking item on the menu but it is NOT to be missed.  The Foie Gras “En Torchon” presented a dazzling array of intertwining flavors and textures–rich, sweet, bitter and spicy–all layered perfectly and thoughtfully.  After all the hoopla about peas in guacamole this past week, the Tortellini in a pea nage turned out to be another winner and the mint juxtaposition curiously perfect.  Sausage with brocolli and beans doesn’t sound very interesting, right?  The chef here translates it to in-house lamb sausage, with garbanzos and rapini on baba ganoush.  Typically I would not order sausage as a main at dinner–a cut of meat seems far more of a center-piece to a meal–but this plate absolutely stole the show.  Winelist is respectably and perfectly deep, and Mr. deLuna one of the most delightful somms I have ever dealt with.  This is easily my new go-to resty in Monterey.  Nothing else even comes close.   ♦♦♦♦

FIFI’S BISTRO CAFE in Pacific Grove is another new discovery.  It has come up on my radar in the area several times, but just never was the right-place/right-time to try it.  As is my fashion at a French bistro of this pedigree and reputation, I ordered the Steak Frites as litmus.  It is always interesting how the dish is translated for the American palate.  The French–and the Italians–do not eat their steak like we do but it troubles me when I see steak frites adapted so glaringly to our preferences.  The last one I had, at CASANOVA in Carmel, was a thick, medium rare cut with fat, soft fries and elicited a grade of F all around.  I am happy to report FIFI’S has done a great job in blending the two styles.  The meat was the proper thickness and cooked very tender–but done–and bias-sliced to appear thicker.  While brasserie toppings run the gamut from butter and parsley to Hollandaise, a classic reduction accompanied and the fries were micro-sticks, puffy and proper.  The restaurant is also a considerable wine-shop and a huge binder of available wines can be requested if the VERY BALANCED ‘normal’ winelist is inadequate or you just want to drool.  Wine prices are INCREDIBLY low.  Shocking low.  And they ship.  Restaurants like this either bring back happy memories of France or they conform and show how horribly different our dining patterns and tastes are here in the US.  FIFI’S does everything PERFECT and will go on a short list of my favorite French resties in California.   ♦♦♦

THE RESTAURANT LIST

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