Happy Hour (“Feliz Hora”) at Esteban in Monterey
On Tuesday, Mom and I checked out the happy hour at Estéban, located in Monterey’s Casa Munras. Esteban is a tapas bar and lounge. Not that large inside, but quite welcoming with a bar and about a dozen two- and four-tops, plus a fireplace. The outside patio has more seating as well as a fire pit.
Happy hour, or “Feliz Hora”, is offered 5 to 7pm daily, and until closing on Sundays.
First up was the complimentary first basket of grilled pita bread served with tapenade, hummus, and olive oil/vinegar. The pillowy, slightly chewy triangles of pita were great. We also liked the roughly mashed hummus spiked with a bit of chili spice and the kalamata olive tapenade.
Mom had the non-alcoholic orange juice, pineapple juice and grenadine drink, $5. She said it was sweet, but I don’t think that was a complaint.
I had the Sangria, $4 at happy hour.
The happy hour specials are indicated with an asterisk (*) on the printed food menu and are half-off during happy hour. We ordered them all but the chicken leg dish. The best of the bunch was the steamed mussels with chorizo, $4.50 during happy hour. Nice and plump, very fresh mussels, delicious juices spiked with sweet slivers of garlic and sliced Spanish chorizo.
Butter lettuce salad with Point Reyes blue cheese dressing, candied walnuts, grapes, and apples, $4.50 during happy hour was also very tasty. Heavily dressed, and loaded with walnuts and grapes as well, I would have actually liked more lettuce.
Baba ganoush and fried pita chips, marked down to $2.50 for happy hour. The eggplant spread was dense and had the appearance of chopped liver.
At $4 at happy hour, the salad of garbanzo beans, rock shrimp, lemon, red pepper and egg was also a good deal. The shrimp were a bit overcooked and too firm, but we liked the zesty dressing.
From the “regular” menu we tried the warm sausage and artichoke pintxos dabbed with aioli priced at $3 each. The sausage was rather unremarkable, tasting like a fennel-y Italian type, and not really worth the price.
Likewise, the Piquillo peppers stuffed with bacalau, served hot on a bed of basil puree, $11. I was rather shocked that only two pieces were served for that price, and I didn’t tell my mother how much this dish cost. Unfortunately there was an out of place sourness that marred the flavor.
Despite being a busy night, the servers managed to keep up with beverages and gave us a head’s up when the kitchen got backed up that there would be a delay. And even went above and beyond the call of duty. When the baba ganoush remaining that I had planned to take home as a leftover was whisked away from the table while I was in the rest room, I asked if it could be recovered or had reached the point of no return. Our waiter brought out the equivalent of half an order of fresh baba ganoush with chips packed to take home.
Overall, we enjoyed each of the items from the happy hour menu. The two sampled from the regular menu were disappointing and seemed quite pricey. My mother said she would like to go back. I think the strategy would be to start at happy hour to take advantage of the discounts to subsidize part of the meal cost and then choose carefully from the other items on the menu.
700 Munras Avenue, Monterey, CA 93940
Last night Mom and I were back at Esteban again. This time she wanted the hanger steak with caramelized shallots -- the five slices were nicely rare without our asking for that doneness, but the shallots seemed to be onions and just sweated, not caramelized. . . Not sure that I detected any of the "chili-coffee rub" and don't think this preparation was anything particularly special. I used the complimentary olive tapenade and the happy hour babaghanoush to vary the flavors.
Perhaps the large private party on the patio and back room affected the kitchen this visit:
They were out of pulpa (octopus) confit, & the mussels (unlike previous visits) had cooled off by the time they arrived at our table. The chocolate pot de creme with chili sauce was also gone so we tried the warm chocolate cake with raspberry sorbet & chocolate sauce. Mom said the churros with caramel sauce would have been better choice.
Mom saw the baby back ribs at another table & wants to try those at a future visit. . . guess we're going back!
Stephanie and I took Mom to Esteban again on Mothers Day weekend. Her fourth time, she'd been there with our brother as well. Now in addition to the items designated with an asterisk (*), pintxos are also half off. We tried the deviled egg and the chicken pintxo, nothing special there.
Much better, from the regular menu, I loved the pulpo (octopus) confit. Tender octopus, waxy firm fingerling potato slices, and a dash of pimente d'espelette to warm things up.
Here's a video from Monterey County Weekly showing how it's prepared.
The Paella Negra was also excellent. Studded with bits of Serrano ham, whole calamari, and stained black as night with squid ink. Wonderful texture to the rice . . . chewy and toothsome.
For dessert, some fresh churros with caramel sauce and apple tart ala mode.
We had told our server that this was Mom's fourth time here and the management comped her a dessert for Mother's Day.
Mom liked her experience so much she wanted to return the following weekend, but we had to wait until last night. We went early and were the only ones in the dining room -- one couple at the bar and another at an outside table, a little too breezy for us so opted for inside near the fireplace.
She ordered the same OJ-pineapple-grenadine drink while I got the sangria. This time she ordered 2 salads b/c she wanted one all to herself! She commented that this the salad was a more generous side portion and just as tasty as before. Repeated the mussels order.
Tried the Mac & cheese -- really good, a little zippy sauce under the crispy top. Delish, especially with the Spanish chorizo from the mussels.
The Chicken Leg Marsala with braised cabbage (napa?) was very bland -- it improved when I combined it with the complmentary olive tapenade or balsamic-oil presented with the grilled pita (no salt on the table). It might have been tastier when warm, but had cooled off very quickly while we finished off our mussels which were too good to stop.
They weren't offering the anchovies last night. When Chef Tom Snyder came out to check on us, he mentioned they order anchovies from the Mediterranean fresh year round and yesterday's shipment was returned as it was unacceptable.
Although Mom said she was full, when the orange flan arrived, I had to eat fast to keep up with her or lose out! The caramel was just right-- not too sweet, not too dark-- and the orange-perfumed custard, very dense, very smooth --yum; could have eaten it all myself.
Mom wants to enjoy this restaurant again and even mentioned maybe she'd double the mussels order next time.