Ray Napolitano’s ‘Take’ on MBRW 2011

October 16th, 20117:41 pm @


I feel like your mother. Every day since the day you were born I’ve been feeding you and cleaning up after you and one day a year, Mother’s Day, you decide to do something special for me—then I usually end up still having to take care of you. Well, Monterey Bay Restaurant Week is when all these mothers in the restaurant business get shown a bit more love, a bit more excitement—but still they have to give something up to get it. And give it up they do.
If you want to know what the dinners cost, what the times are—blah, blah, blah you can find that info somewhere else on this site. I’m gonna tell you what I’d do, if I were you—no, better still—I’m gonna tell you what you’d do, if you were me (terrifying thought) taking advantage of this holiday known as Monterey Bay Restaurant Week.
You’ve got a full week to enjoy this completely outlandish promotion so from my perspective (remember the theme here) the first thing to do is understand that we’re going to need huge chunks of available time throughout the week. Ideally, take the week off and get some running mates, since, like golfing, eating and drinking for the long haul, while solitarily enriching, becomes nearly profound if accomplished with soul mates.
In the past I have approached the conundrum (might be one of the wine choices along the way) of attempting to visit every participating restaurant using a territorial strategy. By clustering joints according to their relative proximity to one another it becomes logistically practical, although not always sensorially, nor more importantly, creatively fulfilling. The object when marauding across the restaurant landscape is to attain a feeling of mushin—mind without mind—whereby you become the experience, you don’t do the experience.
Therefore, this, like all plans of action can only help nudge us to a starting point. In fact, keeping that in mind, let’s visualize one possible scenario for the week, based upon the current information at press time…
Early on the first day it’s out to the fog-laden fairways of Poppy Hills Grill. Sit by the window and enjoy a hearty breakfast while anxious golfers scurry around preparing their excuses for their upcoming rounds as you lazily enjoy bacon and eggs, toast and coffee, safe in the knowledge that while they’re out swinging clubs, you’ll be rolling around town just swingin’.
As soon as you intuit that the engine has been properly stoked and the fires inside are beginning to burn, the obvious next play involves finding a spot to sip a Bloody Mary, and/or a few Mimosas. Assuming you didn’t get too early a start at Poppy, it should be time for the afternoon joints to be opening for business. You won’t want to make too harsh a segue from the idyllic Del Monte Forest so either the quiet of Jack’s Portola Plaza bar, cozied in one of the stuffed easy chairs, or continuing the golf theme and swing out to Edgar’s at Quail Lodge where you’ll have the option of sitting indoors or out. Both those spots offer the opportunity to enjoy something lunchy in case you are so comfortable that moving seems pointless.
As midday rolls into afternoon, the legs need stretching and the body needs movement; perfect time for a stroll. Carmel is just a few long par-5s from Quail so it’s pretty obvious where to head. The relatively new Carmel Food Company, tucked back in that cute space on Junipero between 5th and 6th offers lovely European style homemade country food in a relaxed setting (hey, you have to prepare to stroll, know what I mean). I might want to sit there a bit with a cheese and charcuterie plate or some fresh mellon, a bit of bubbly or a refreshing Rose to get ready for strolling. The problem is that within just a couple of blocks you’ll stroll right into Flaherty’s. How can you pass by without setting up a few dozen oysters, maybe a delicious array of fresh crustaceans, a bit more of the bubbly or a crisp local Sauv Blanc or Chard (or all three)—hey, it’s restaurant week.
Must be happy hour by this time and you’ll need to walk off that last stop. Terry’s at Cypress Inn is about the most weirdly wonderful place to enter in the late afternoon when the local muttheads have taken their positions around the lounge, coddled canines in tow (or vice-versa). Sashay inside to the bar area and enjoy delightful afternoon cocktails like Negronis, Martinis and Margheritas. While there, indulge in some finger food from the interesting menu of small plates and bask in the rich warmth of this dimly lit gem.
Since we’ve made the transition to cocktails, saunter up the hill a bit then over to Basil, the hidden but not unknown favorite little beauty where hunky owner/chef Michele stuns foodies with his handmade snippets of edible happiness. A small, but intriguing list of original cocktails will keep your vibe humming along nicely.
It’s still early, we’re feeling just right, a bit full but nowhere near ready to call it a day.
Time for a complete about face—something to shake out the early evening cobwebs and re-fire the engines. LALLApalooza on Alvarado Street in downtown Monterey has been the go-to cocktail lounge downtown for over 10 years now. Pop in and admire the local talent while engaging in what all the great artists and intellectuals have been trying to perfect forever—drinking with dignity and aplomb. Get a little noisy, laugh big and feel deeply, it will help you digest the day’s eating and socializing.
Dinnertime. Enough excitement for now, I’d like to sit down like a gentleman and dine. 1833 is just a couple of blocks away. You can sit at any number of interestingly appointed tables and sculpt a meal as elaborate or relatively simple as you choose. Rob & Dave have put a generous portion of their hearts into this longtime Monterey landmark and there is every reason to let them know all the effort is appreciated.
What now…it’s still relatively early… not hungry that’s for sure…maybe a long walk out onto Fisherman’s Wharf, enjoy the crisp, refreshing sea air…hey, there’s Old Fisherman’s Grotto and Isabella’s…dare we. Afterall, we have just walked off our dinner haven’t we? Maybe just a little something something, you know, to help celebrate Restaurant Week.
As you can see, I approach the whole idea of Restaurant Week as a celebration. Because these wonderful businesses have agreed to offer special dinners and pricing that cuts into an already thin bottom line, I want to visit them all and shower them with business, money and happiness for caring so much about their fellow humans.
Day Two…
Having sunk our collective teeth into Restaurant Week and taken a nice big bite, day two will probably be slow to unfold. I’m thinking breakfast at home, lazily getting ready, letting the excitement of another day’s gourmandizing build, then an early lunch seating at Fandango. Where else to enjoy a long, drawn out Mediterranean and California style luncheon affair than this decades-long bastion of grace and good taste so elegantly established and continued by Pierre and Marietta Bain. Of course, a Bloody to start, then Onion Soup, Mimosas, Salad Nicoise, Champagne, House Cured Salmon, Croque Monsieur—we’re warming up baby. Get there at 11:30 when they open for lunch and stay until 2:30 when they close. Now we’re ready to play.
Down to the Cannery Row Brewing Company we rumble…perhaps a high-top in the lounge or something on the patio. Let’s drink some beer. We will follow the great beer drinking tempo of the British Isles—slow and steady—and work our way through all the styles of carefully made beers from across the world. Thankfully, there is plenty of interesting food to nosh on while sipping.
It’s a simple downhiller to Clementine, the Intercontinental Hotel on the water in Cannery Row where the “C” its modern glass and stainless bar and restaurant welcomes hungry and thirsty visitors from around the world. Cocktails, appetizers, more cocktails, more appetizers—you know the idea. If Bill Rammel is managing in the dining room, tell him Ray Nap sent you.
While you are there, call Bistro Moulin and reserve a table for dinner. Didier Dutuerte has been preparing his Franco/Italia/California cuisine around these parts for 30 years and proudly stars in his own open kitchen handing out goodies like Spinach Gnocchi and great braised shanks and such. Take your time, laugh with Colleen, drink plenty of wine and enjoy this relaxing transitional day in our weeklong dining odyssey.
To round out the evening, over to the Del Monte Center and LALLAgrill. This sister (brother?) to LALLAPalooza is a bright glass and Lucite drinking and eating parlor big on fresh ingredients, fun and good times. Sit in the modern bar or on the expansive patio, order outlandish girlie cocktails and snack on owner Pat Ottone’s menu of organic and sustainable food selections.
Day Three…
By now we’ve got a nice rhythm going, spending each day enjoying these fabulous local establishments in ways only true professionals can. I think brunchy time at Edgar’s for the views, the fresh air, the Bloodys, the country club feel. Then lunch at Andre’s Bouchee Bistro. Andre has Bouchee humming along nicely and what better way to watch the Carmel strollers than near a window enjoying perhaps some steamed mussels or a Kobe burger w/Bleu, or crepes—lovely.
Maybe a jaunt over to the Barnyard where Allegro has a fun wine bar in the back portion of this longtime Carmel icon where we can sip our way through local vineyard offerings until the urge for a nice hot pizza pulls the whole experience together. From there, a trip to Cannery Row for cocktails and appetizers at the Chart House. This small chain restaurant always chooses great sites and delivers professional seafood and American style fare. A Martini or two (“Martinis are like a woman’s breast, one is not enough and three are too many”), a selection of seafood specialties, a bit of bubbly and off we go…
Is it time for a cigar perhaps? With a little foresight, sitting on the back patio at the new Mucky Duck, smoking a cigar and sipping any number of possible spirit-ually combining drinks is a lovely way to play out the rest of the evening. Then when the hunger pangs strike, take advantage of the much improved pub food now being purveyed by the young brothers from San Francisco who have restored and revitalized this Monterey watering hole.
Day Four…
Today, we’re going to take it easy. It is midway through a daunting week and today will be spent enjoying a long leisurely lunch and dinner with any other shenanigans to be filled in according to want, reason and whim. For lunch, the Fish Hopper serves up heaping mounds of fresh local seafood. Sit by the window, remember why we’re so lucky to be living here and gorge on Dungeness Crab, Shrimp, Monterey Salmon, Sand Dabs and so on. Drink copious amounts of local Chardonnay and have a blast.
For dinner, we’ll have made a reservation with Kerry Loutas, Carmel’s most interesting Chef for not only his talent behind the stove but for what’s cooking between his ears. For seemingly forever, classic French cuisine has comforted loyal patrons to this romantic, homey, countryside inspired spot tucked behind the iconic giant wooden snail. Spend the evening enjoying Kerry’s deft touch and the professional service from area favorites Dino and Pieter.
The rest of the week would involve retracing steps, flipping lunch and dinner choices from earlier in the week, trying newly added spots and just continuing the varied and limitless joy of overindulging in our area’s many wonderful eating and drinking establishments.
I think you’ve been able to get a feel for my philosophy about how to best enjoy Monterey Bay Restaurant Week and I am counting on you to get out there and display the commitment and energy required of this delightfully thankful endeavor…Cheers!