Sonoma and Carmel Trip Report
With memories of a very nice lunch at "The Girl and the Fig" in Sonoma a few years ago, I took my wife there for dinner. We had the 3-course bistro prix-fixe.
The first course was a duck confit terrine that was quite pleasant. This was followed by a veal roulade. It was not a conventional roulade in that it was not pounded thin and stuffed; instead, it was a chunk of veal cut open and stuffed with spinach. When it arrived I could tell just by looking at it that it was overcooked; it was - overcooked and dry. No one stopped by to ask how the meal was, and the server who cleared the plates did not question the half-eaten meal either. Dessert was a nondescript saffron risotto with caramelized nuts. A real disappointment.
We stopped in a store close by after the meal and were discussing it with the lady who worked there. She mentioned that the restaurant was great for beef, but was variable otherwise. She recommended instead "La Salette", a Portuguese restaurant down the lane.
We were in Sonoma again the next day, so we tried la Salette. For starters we shared 3 small plates (sausage, cheese, and baby octopus), which were all very nice. For a main my wife had a flank steak, which she enjoyed. I had the fisherman's stew. The broth was tasty but a touch too spicy for me (I do not eat spicy hot food). The seafood was cooked really nicely, with the exception of the small pieces of fish, which were overcooked. Dessert was a chocolate trio: mousse, soufflé, and sherbet. The "soufflé" was just a warm chocolate cake, while the sherbet was very pleasant. But the mousse - OMG it was amazing! It was the very best mousse I have ever had; definitely the lightest and the most flavourful, and I have had chocolate mousse in lots of places. The waitress said it was made with Scharffenberger chocolate. Normally I am not a fan of Scharffenberger, but this was truly special.
Heading South, we were in Carmel for a few days.
Had lunch at Wickets, the casual restaurant in the Bernardus Lodge. For starters I had a very nicely done tuna tartare. For a main my SIL had a really moist chicken breast; the resto readily substituted the garnish from another dish for the one that went with the chicken. My wife had smelts, which she enjoyed. I had the halibut, which was overcooked, dry, and tasteless (why does it always happen to me?). Dessert was a very nice molten Valrhona cake.
We had dinner the next day at Roy Yamaguchi's restaurant "Roy's" in Pebble Beach. On looking at the menu my SIL said to me that there was not much on the menu, to which I responded that I liked it that way as they can then concentrate on doing just a few things well. I chose the bento box, while my SIL had the butterfish and my wife had a roll of some kind. One thing I was impressed with was that the bento box included pork of some kind, and I did not feel like pork , so I asked the waiter if they could substitute something fishy for it; he said that they could, and suggested the butterfish, whic he said was his favourite. The bento box started with a tasteless miso soup. The first thing I tasted in the box was the butterfish. It was one of those fall-off-your-chair moments. I could not believe how delicate, tender and flavourful it was; it was truly exceptional. The waiter said that they marinate the fish for 24 hours in a mixture of mirin, brown sugar and sake, and then sear it (one thing I intend to try). Also in the box was some sushi, crab-encrusted seabass, some shrimp, and a salad; they were all very good, but definitely overshadowed by the wonderful butterfish. Dessert was a molten chocolate cake served with raspberries. As good as the cake was at WIckets, this one was head and shoulders above it. It was served with a warm chocolate sauce; overkill perhaps, but what a wonderful way to go! My wife enjoyed her meal, while my eccentric SIL was not as bowled over by the butterfish as I was. Oh, BTW, I washed down my meal with sparkling sake, a novelty for me.
We had one lunch and one dinner at Stravaganza in the Crossroads Shopping Centre. It was good, basic food.
We did not enjoy Girl with the Fig at all either. Couldn't figure why it was even recommended. They clearly did not understand food, but were high on hype. My most unfavorite type of restaurant experience and made you pay through the nose for this insult too. Humble Pie in this area was a far more interesting dining experience for creativity and love of execution, even when it was not always on the mark you could tell they were trying to push some culinary limits. Girl with the Fig was just pure canned marketing schlock.
10045 Main St, Penngrove, CA
Back in the area, so time for another report:
Had three dinners at Stravaganza. As before, good basic food, if not gourmet, and nothing to write home about. Mussels one night, paella another night, and lamb burger the last. Friendly staff and good service.
Da Giovanni (think that's the name). I had some really great sand dabs, and raspberry sorbet for dessert. The three others at the table all enjoyed their meals.
Ate at Domenico's on the wharf. My wife loved her clams with pasta. The two others enjoyed their petrale sole, and crab-stuffed shrimp. I had the bouillabaisse. Reasonable broth, but with tough fish and shellfish. Dessert was a meh chocolate mousse.
We went to Passionfish Grill. We all had wonderful fishy dinners. I had a crabcake that was crab with no filler. Served in a nice tomato-based broth. Followed by some wonderful spot prawns, BUT there were only five, whereas I wanted a bucket of them. One of the others had beets as a starter, and raved about it, while one had a calamari starter and said it was too spicy. Other mains we had were tilapia and halibut. Dessert was a yummy banana bread pudding. Love their low prices for wines. Really great food.
Returned to La Salette, with memories of a nice meal and a superb chocolate mousse. The two of us shared a sardine appetizer, which was simply grilled an amazingly delicious. My wife enjoyed her pasta with scallops, while I had a whole branzino (fish) that was baked to perfection in their wood oven. Moist, tender, and delicious, it was amazing. Dessert was the chocolate fetish, as before, but I asked the waitress if instead of the chocolate soufflé we could have two mousses; we could. Once again the mousse was ethereal. The sorbet was also very nice. A superb meal.
Now where do I eat tonight ? Maybe Roy's, or maybe something easy on the wallet.
701 Lighthouse Ave, Pacific Grove, CA 93950
We went to Roy's today, taking a chance that we'd get a table without a reservation. When we got there we saw a few hula girls outside, and it looked like it was closed for a private function. However, we were told that it was Roy's annual luau, and that we could get in for a wallet-busting $130 per person. While we were debating going in because of the cost, one of the people attending stopped by and said it was great as it consisted of a bunch of small plates covering everything on the menu, and you could have all of the wine that you wanted.
We decided to go in, so we paid our money, got lei'd, and went in. It consisted of a big buffet of a variety of foods, including hot stations where there was a whole roast pig, lomi-lomi salmon, kimchi, and a bunch of other stuff including a dessert table. There were a number of local wineries that were featuring their wines, all included in the price, which also included gratuities.
There was a live band playing Hawaiian songs to which the hula girls danced; great entertainment. Supposedly Roy himself was in the building.
I sampled a large number of plates, but did not get to them all; wish I could still eat the way I did when I was 25. They were all quite good, but being a buffet, were not at their peak.
Dessert featured their molten chocolate cake, a chocolate fountain, and a bunch of other stuff.
We had an enjoyable time. Was it worth it? In terms of the food alone, no. At half the price we could have had a great meal at Passionfish. However, in terms of a touristy experience we will probably not get a chance to do again, it was worth it.
Regarding Roy's Molten Chocolate cake. For me, this dessert is the measuring stick for all other molten chocolate cakes - I've never had a better one anywhere... Note that it is NOT the same as the molten chocolate cake at other Roy's - I've tried them and it is not the same thing... not even close
Just remembered that we also went to Mundaka, a tapas bar in Carmel. Some of the tapas were really nice (pork belly, cauliflower), while others were not so successful (dates, for example - can't remember them all).