Monterey eats, mostly sad, at least a couple of bright spots

Poking around her on FTC and elsewhere on the web gave me precious little to look forward to for a weekend in Monterey. I’d been a number of times over the years, but food has never really been the standout feature of the trip. When I had the ex- and small child along, The Aquarium and whatever place served chicken tenders were fine, and a number of dinners were spent at places like ‘Louie Linguinis’ and, just once, because we had to try, Bubba Gumps. (Overpriced and loud. The fried shrimp were… well, fried shrimp. Not egregiously overcooked that I remember, but it hardly mattered)

This time, though, I had at least once recommendation for a place in ‘downtown’ Monterey called Cibo, and in particular, the gnocci ‘trio’ (w/ marinara, alfredo, and pesto sauces).

Alas, they had removed it from the menu when we arrived.

We tried the steamed mussles and clams ( Cozze E Vongole) for an appetizer: The sauce was watery, rather than rich and buttery, and what should have been heavy hit of garlic was more like someone had steeped a couple of cloves in the pot, and then fished them out. And the clams were rubbery.

The Bucatini All’ Amatriciana wasn’t much better. The noodles themselves were slightly overdone. Not itself a fatal flaw, but the sauce was DULL. And though they advertise it as made with guanciale, I would bet my rent that it was BACON. It was distinctly smoked, which is something I’ve never encountered w/ guanciale before. Even pancetta isn’t smoked. And the cubes of whatever it was certainly weren’t given time to render down or crisp up on the edges AT ALL. I got a thin, greasy tomato sauce with bacon in it. Not thrilled.

My partner got the Ravioli A Modo Mio, four cheese ravioli (def. not made in house) with a creamy cheese sauce and artichoke hearts. She liked it fine, but nothing to write home about.

The gnocci is still on the menu, but only with the pistachio pesto. I probably should have gotten that instead.

Disappointing. Not recommended.

Since going off the beaten path was a bust, we tried something that aimed a bit lower: The Sandbar & Grill on the commercial wharf. Low key, unpretentious.

Get the sand dabs. lightly grilled on the flat top, they are barely crispy, sweet, mild, buttery, and completely enjoyable. Hell, get them as your entree. It’s a good move. I tried the shrimp scampi (shrimp, garlic butter, a little pasta on the side. Nothing big but just what I expected) and my partner had the dungeness stuffed halibut w/ scalloped potatoes. It was unexpectedly tasty. Esp. the potatoes.

At least one person on this board in another thread recommended getting an order of the sand dabs to go and eating them over at the Dust Bowl Brewery which is just across the way from the wharf. This would be the smart and frugal move if beer is your thing.

Lunch ended up being sort of “whatever, we’re hungry” and we tried a local pizza place (Gianni’s) which is… a local pizza place. It’s bread and sauce and cheese and it’s there and it’s fine. If you are hauling children around the aquarium, it wouldn’t be the worst place to hit up and it’s just off the main Cannery Row drag…

There were, however, two bright spots. The first being Katy’s Place in Carmel. This is your big breakfast stop. Omelettes, pancakes, french toasts, benedicts, real maple syrup, etc. I had the lobster Benedict (with actual Maine lobster,) partner had a Denver omelette. Eat on the patio if the weather allows.

But the best treat of the trip was undoubtedly Noodle Bar. They have locations in Seaside (the original, with only counter seating, hence ‘bar’), and a newer location in Marina. Excellent Vietnamese. I got the BBQ Park and Shrimp Dry Noodle bowl, which plays a lot like the Jade Noodle Special at Luv 2 Eat or Sapp in Los Angeles. Vermicelli noodles, a slightly sweet chili sauce/broth to pour over, sprouts, peanuts, some salad greens, and delicious bits of pork and shrimp, all still juicy with crispy edges. I cleaned the bowl, and that isn’t something I do often. Lady Lectroid had the Traditional Vietnamese Udon, which came in a tomato/chicken/cilantro broth, lightly thickened w/ cornstarch(?) and thick, springy udon noodles and chunks of chicken. Comforting and delicious.

Also, the fried chicken wings are fried beautifully. Get either the lemongrass or the Mandarin option. The “5-spice” was a rather thin mix of pepper oil that didn’t really add much to the dish.

The next time I find myself down that way, I think I’ll do a LOT more eating in Carmel, and a lot LESS in Monterey itself. While I’m sure the Carmel restaurants are just as hit and (mostly) miss as the Monterey ones, there seemed to be more that that COULD be interesting. And at the very worst, you’ll end up eating in a place that looks like it was lifted from the Snow White ride in Disneyland, while staring at $100K cars cruising by.

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Locals used to recommend Passionfish, which has been recommended here a few times too.

Same for Parker-Lusseau Pastries.

I started going ‘down there’ in the mid70s and pretty much stuck to Carmel.

I was able to google and find a place where we ate all those years ago. The Tuck Box. Nice breakfast in a little cottage on a side street.
https://www.tuckbox.com/

I’ve only been once a few years ago but I enjoyed La Bicyclette in Carmel

Passionfish is the best restaurant in the area. Other good places are Taste in Pacific Grove (French), Lugano in Carmel (Swiss), Aubergine in Carmel (New American) and if you are into beers Alvarado Brewery in Carmel and Monterey has good selection of excellent beers ranging from. NEIPA to sours (food is OK)

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LOVED that place.

Just back from Carmel and Monterey–check out Pangea Grill in Carmel. Everything we tried was a winner, especially the shrimp eggrolls and artichoke appetizers.

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Think it’s been mentioned elsewhere on this site but I liked Cultura in Carmel. Also seconding Alvarado for beer, along with Fieldwork.

Happy to find this thread, even though the options in Monterey seem rather bleak, as I’ll be up there for a conference in a few weeks. Most of the meals are planned but we have at least one night free for dinner, and I’m thinking about heading to LA Bicyclette or Cultura in Carmel. Or does anyone have a recommendation for Italian in Carmel?

Also thoughts on the wineries in the area? We like great wines of course but decent wine in a beautiful setting and charming tasting room also works.

Not for Italian but Passionfish in Pacific Grove was for us (at least pre-pandemic) the best restaurant in that area

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