wine/food in the Santa Lucia Highlands
I've perused posts regarding Monterey and Santa Cruz, but hoped I could score a little help in the Salinas end of the world. I was especially hoping to visit some of the great pinot-oriented wineries in the area, but have discovered that most (or at least many) don't have tasting rooms. Am I missing something?
re: Bruce in SLO
Hey, the only "experts" that count are your own tastebuds. It's been a couple years since I took a look at the shop, I'll try to visit it again soon. The wine shop section of the website has a good tool for searching inventory by grape variety, producer, and price. It's right next to the Steinbeck center and a number of restaurants that I've posted about - Sang's, First Awakenings, Chicken Scratch Flats, Shogun, La Fogata, etc.
here is a list of labels using Pisoni pinot noir. Maybe you could make some calls? I think Pisoni's phone # is listed, though its a busy time of year. Ask which Monterey/Carmel restaurants serve the Headlands wines.
There is a restaurant in King City, The Grill at 200 Broadway. It is probably the closet to non-chain/-taqueria/-coffee shop dining you'll find in the 'south valley.' Mostly very small ag towns.
True, the most celebrated Santa Lucia Highlands pinot noir producers like Pisoni/Lucia, Roar, etc. don't have tasting rooms open to the public. You would have to be one of the lucky few to get a personal invitation to one of the Garys' private tastings. Have you checked out the tasting rooms at Paraiso (great views and pinots), Hahn/Smith & Hook, Marilyn Remark (Rhone varietals, nice Roussanne)and Cloninger in the River Road area of Santa Lucia Highlands? There are a couple of others too.
In Carmel Valley, Talbott and Bernardus both produce some wines from SLH and have tasting rooms there. Also Joullian, Parsonage/Poete, Galante and Heller are good producers in the Carmel Valley AVA and have tasting rooms there also.
Passionfish restaurant in Pacific Grove has MANY great SLH wines to taste at near retail prices, which is as good as it gets. Some stellar pinot noirs you might want to try there include: Pisoni, Lucia (Pisoni Jr.), Loring, August West 'Rosella's vineyard', Morgan 'Double L', Michaud (Chalone AVA), Miner-Gary's vineyard, Elizabeth Ryan 'Pisoni', Tantara 'Pisoni', APVin 'Rosella's'. Such a mouth-watering choice!
For the SLH Whites:
Marilyn Remark Marssanne, Otter Cove Reisling, Lucia chardonnay, Morgan Hat Trick chardonnay, Talbott Sleepy Hollow.
Quite a few other local restaurants offer SLH wines, though the prices will be higher. A Taste of Monterey will also have a couple of different SLH wines each week to taste.
The Carmel Cheese Shop has an outstanding stock of SLH wines to buy, and very knowledgeable employees. The shop is in the process of getting a wine tasting license, so when renovations are finished and the tasting area is working, that's going to be my top choice for tasting SLH wines. Their website lists their wines. I recommend the lesser-known, but equally delicious Pellerin and Tudor SLH pinot noirs and syrahs--both great values! Enjoy your sipping!
My impression of Hullaballoo is that it's form over substance. I did try it once with my parents and I sent my entree back because it didn't have the white truffle oil promised on the menu. When it came back, it still didn't smell anything like truffle oil although the plate was slick with oil. The chef doesn't care about his ingredients if he's using stale oil that has no scent or flavor and I couldn't believe he'd send it back out in that condition. Here's my post on it . . . and don't click on the photo url unless you feel like being grossed out. Would you say that gravy had a few lumps in it?
That said, it is the closest thing to fine dining in Salinas. Here's the search results for various posts I've made on eating in Salinas.
re: Melanie Wong
I should mention Zeph's wine shop/wine bar specifically in Salinas. It's upgraded its website recently to show the wine bar selection. You might call to see if it has bottles of the Pinots you're seeking. The attached cafe, Portobello's, is quite good for rotisserie meats, salads, and sandwiches, and you can open the bottle there or have a glass from the wine bar with your meal. They bake La Brea breads. I've had a good hamburger there and also what's called a Cuban sandwich made with garlicky, succulent roast pork. Here are my old posts on Zeph's and Portobello's.
Local paper's recent review of Portobello's -
Here's the listing for where to find August West wines -
Disclaimer: August West partner/winemaker is a personal friend.
re: Melanie Wong
If that's the case with Salinas' fine dining, all the more reason I'd choose to have my Santa Lucia Highlands wine dinner on the peninsula, though I am a little disappointed to hear of your experience there. Their local wine list showed so much potential...
OP, if you're considering Passionfish, they do a great job with their slow roasted meats, like the duck confit or lamb. If wild Chinook salmon is on the menu, that would also pair nicely with a SLH pinot. If you mention that you want to try a Pisoni, believe me, you will have the staff's full attention. ;>) Though generally most of the SLH's pinots are lush and full, some are bolder than others, so let them know what style you prefer and they will be able to guide you.
For other restaurants in the area who will have those wines, check out the August West link Melanie provided below.
Hullabaloo positions itself as modern comfort food. I suspect that the more basic you order, the better off. Lots of steaks on the menu, this is a beef-producing county. The bar was packed the night we were there with regulars swilling wine. I was also impressed by the number of tables that ordered wine . . . my home town has sure changed! I would go back for lunch when the tariff is lower or on a Sunday for prime rib and free corkage night. Just take it for what it is.
I had a good experience with lunch at its sister restaurant, Chicken Scratch Flats, in the Steinbeck center down the street. My parents liked it so much, they've been back with my sister.
Report on Chicken Scratch Flats -
The owner of Hullabaloo also owns Elli's on South Main Street, a block away from Portobello's mentioned above. Both would make a good lunch stop, and easy to switch to the other if the day's menu doesn't suit.
Hullabaloo website -