Paul and I finally got a weekend off together and decided to go to Monterey, a coastal town famous for Cannery Row, the Aquarium and Pebble Beach. It was also a Spanish settlement many years ago and it still shows. But I digress; Paul is always grousing that we’ve seen everything around here (possibly true) and we need to move away (well, not so fast – where to?) But it’s fairly close and it had been a while and I wanted to see the new jellyfish exhibit at the aquarium, so we headed there.
When we checked in to our hotel I grabbed a Dining Guide and headed for the Mediterranean section. We went for Estéban, which sounded suspiciously Spanish but por qué no? It’s attached to the Casa Munras Hotel, on Munras, and the whole property is really pretty. I was going to book us there, but some rapscallion had snagged the last room a few minutes earlier.
So it turns out Estéban is a Spanish tapas place. When we arrived the servers looked overrun – I think they were short handed. But a managerish looking person finally seated us and a man in a chef’s coat took our order. I suspected he was the executive chef, and I was right. We tried three wonderfully flavorful small plates, starting with papas bravas, thick fries coated in a smoky powder and served with aioli (presumably housemade mayo). I asked the chef about the powder as I have used pimentón de la vera, available as “sweet” or hot smoked paprika, and knew that wasn’t what I was tasting. Turns out it was pimentón de espelette, which I had heard of but never used. It is straight smoky and deliciously different. He mixes that with paprika, cayenne and salt. I might try making it sometime.
May I also suggest the clam dish, in a savory broth with beans and tomatoes and whole garlic. I asked for bread to soak up the juices that I refused to leave behind. Paul had the seafood stew which he really enjoyed, although he allowed that the clam broth was more flavorful. The only thing I complained about was the pita (they were having supplier problems) which was served instead of bread, with hummus (yum), oil and balsamic, and olive tapenade (double yum).
Right across the street from Estéban is Wild Plum, a café that Paul reminded me I really liked once upon a time. I didn’t remember it at all but agreed to go there for breakfast the next morning. We both had 2 eggs with toast and potatoes and shared a side of sausage. The flavors were all great but the potatoes were soft with no crispiness, which I didn’t care for. I would recommend trying it anyway, as there aren’t many breakfast choices in downtown Monterey if you want protein. Grandma’s Kitchen got savaged in Yelp for being filthy, and it did look dumpy from the street. So the following morning we ate at Denny’s, which serves a good breakfast with no unpleasant surprises.
One last recommendation I have for you is Epsilon, a Greek restaurant on Tyler St. It is really cute inside, the staff is warm and welcoming; our server was great. We ordered the saganaki, or flaming cheese appetizer, which was delicious. Burning booze makes the cheese flame; it is served with a flaming flourish and french bread. I would have preferred pita bread, but no deal. Paul and I shared a huge Greek salad with gyros. The meat was well seasoned and there was plenty of feta cheese, which is unusual. We couldn’t. quite. finish. it. I highly recommend you try it. As our dinner progressed it became a busy place, always a good sign. As our flaming cheese was being lit I whipped out my camcorder. Here’s the cheese, unedited and delicious. If you want to see the movie and you get this in your email box, you must click on the article title to go to my blog.
I wanted a nice glass of wine, so our last stop was Wine from the Heart, on Alvarado St. It’s a fun wine bar, which also has comfortable chairs to linger in. There are some nice wines, including vintages by Orin Swift, one of my new favorite wineries. I was going to buy a bottle of Saldo, a zinfandel, and get a glass too. Somehow Johnny, our jovial and slightly toasted wine guy convinced us to buy 2 bottles and share part of it with other tasters. He did give us a discount and it worked out fine. Go in for the entertainment value as well as the wine. Heck, just go to Monterey and relax with a glass of wine and some jellyfish.