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Restaurant recommendations for Monterey, CA?

s
sandychow May 1, 2011 08:11 PM

Visiting the area for the first time in June and would appreciate recommendations for Monterey seafood restaurants that are about the food, not the show. Places the locals like. Interested in sustainable, wild-caught options; also would like to hear your abalone insights. Many thanks!

  1. g
    Gail May 2, 2011 12:40 PM

    We like the Sandbar and Grill. It's located on the Municipal Wharf, not the tourist one. It is, primarily a local place with good seafood. There is a unique water view. From the wharf you go down a few steps so the restaurant which has a water level view.
    I recommend the sand dabs (local, mild fish), mussels, fried oysters and calamari. Also, good drinks and friendly, efficient service.
    They don't have a site, but you can check Yelp for reviews.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Gail
      artychokeasana May 3, 2011 07:59 AM

      The Monterey Bay Aquarium has a beautiful little full service restaurant adjacent to the self service cafe. It is very cozy and has great views of the bay with complimentary binoculars for your viewing pleasure :-) Recently the management changed it is now lead by a team with Cindy Pawlcyn (Mustard's, Cindy's Back Street Cafe etc.) at the helm and I have not been since the switch-so I can't vouch for the food. But it is on my list to re-visit and of course the seafood is sustainable.

    2. g
      glbtrtr May 2, 2011 05:18 PM

      Took a Chowhound recommendation for Mundaka in Carmel for tapas and they also have seafood options too. With a pitcher of sangria and a delectible array of small plate choices, it was a very happy recommendation. I gathered this was a place concerned about food sourcing as well.

      Being a tourist though we did opt for the tourist wharf and an undistinguished boiled Dungeness crab and Crab Louie at Crab Louie Bistro - pleasant staff and great ocean view table, nice complimentary calimari appetizer, but no flavor in either main course. Yeah, we should have known but some time outta towners just sucker in for the tourist scene ...because we are supposed to! Thanks for the heads up for Mundaka- that was local and I still dream about their potato dish with the red pepper tomato sauce and aoili.

      They were featuring abalone on this tourist wharf - showed plates of their main dishes outside by their entrances -- looked like a nice piece, but for that item I do think caution is the better part of the transaction in this location.

      1 Reply
      1. re: glbtrtr
        g
        Gail May 2, 2011 07:10 PM

        In my opinion, the only plus on the tourist wharf is a quick run- in for smoked salmon (sometimes trout) for a picnic or a nice cocktail time snack.

      2. porkchop May 2, 2011 09:58 PM

        I have two suggestions, but they'll take you completely out of Monterey and across the bay to Moss Landing: The Whole Enchilada (http://www.wenchilada.com/wenchilada/whole-frame.htm), and Phil's Fish Market (http://www.philsfishmarket.com/) No show, just good food. Phil's does get crowded, though.

        -----
        Whole Enchilada
        Highway 1 Moss Landing Rd, Moss Landing, CA 95039

        1. zuriga1 May 3, 2011 01:10 AM

          I'm just back from a two week trip to California. In Monterey we enjoyed Fandango, although the dessert souffles we ordered were not really cooked through, and the management did little to remedy the situation or offer us a refund. The rest of the meal was fine. The nephew wanted seafood so we had one meal at Domenico's at Fisherman's Wharf and that was OK but didn't compare with other seafood we had in SF.

          We did have a delightful lunch at Le Tropez in Carmel... very authentic French cuisine and lovely service. I threw in a few of these places in case you get tired of seafood. :-)

          1. Ed Dibble May 3, 2011 07:41 AM

            I'm shocked that no one has mentioned Passionfish in Pacific Grove. That is exactly what you want -- a seafood house cateriing to locals and foodies, featuring sustainable seafood in interesting preparations.

            Also they have a huge wine list with bottles priced at retail. Yes, the $40 bottle in the wine store will be $40 at Passionfish.

            Local abalone is farmed, but expensive. I've eaten it more in sushi bars than cooked in Monterey. Usually not available at Passionfish, but the abalone bisque at Sardine Factory is well known. Sardine Factory is expensive.

            -----
            Passionfish
            701 Lighthouse Ave, Pacific Grove, CA 93950

            Sardine Factory
            701 Wave Street, Monterey, CA 93940

            22 Replies
            1. re: Ed Dibble
              zuriga1 May 4, 2011 12:37 AM

              Passionfish was highly recommended to us by our inn's owner. I'm sorry we didn't get there but would second the reccomendation and I'll try to get there next time.

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              Passionfish
              701 Lighthouse Ave, Pacific Grove, CA 93950

              1. re: Ed Dibble
                j
                josephnl May 7, 2011 03:49 PM

                Although the food at Passionfish is very good, I have found the service to be inconsistent and the noise level during peak hours to be pretty bad. I find it to be a good restaurant, but think it's over-rated, especially among CH's. Just my opinion!

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                Passionfish
                701 Lighthouse Ave, Pacific Grove, CA 93950

                1. re: josephnl
                  Ed Dibble May 9, 2011 08:32 AM

                  Your comment about the noise is fair. Some noise abatement would be a good thing. Full dining rooms and much wine being consumed can make the place really noisy. And then everyone has to talk louder to be heard.

                  I usually have no complaints about the service -- though it is not fancy restaurant attentive. My food is usually good -- sometimes better -- and the wine list is wonderful.

                  1. re: Ed Dibble
                    j
                    josephnl May 9, 2011 08:38 PM

                    I totally agree that the food is usually very good, but for me dining out is more than just the food. I know that others will disagree with me with regard to Passionfish and other restaurants, but for me dining out is much more than about food. I can buy terrific fish at a local store, and can IMHO prepare it beautifully...simply sautéed or grilled with excellent accompaniments. So...unless the service and ambiance are wonderful, and the cost is not too high. I generally think ...why bother? This is obviously not the case at truly extraordinary restaurants where I could not dream of preparing food at their level. But Passionfish is, IMHO, not in that category. Le Bernardin in NYC, is one of many, that fit in this category, Passionfish albeit good, is not.

                    -----
                    Passionfish
                    701 Lighthouse Ave, Pacific Grove, CA 93950

                    1. re: josephnl
                      Ed Dibble May 10, 2011 09:10 AM

                      Not sure that I completely disagree, but you clearly can prepare seafood better than I can. And now that I am a tourist in Monterey, preparing a meal for myself there would be pretty difficult. The wine selection is also more extensive than my cellars (which look very much like a closet). Plus I don't have to wash the dishes.

                      No, Passionfish is not the French Laundry. But entrees run around $20, so it fits my budget better than Sardine Factory. I am interested in knowing your favorite dining out options in the Mty Peninsula.

                      And I should add that I was responding to the OP -- who was looking for good sustainable seafood in a place where the food not atmosphere was most important. I think Passionfish fits those requirements well.

                      -----
                      The French Laundry
                      6640 Washington Street, Yountville, CA 94599

                      Passionfish
                      701 Lighthouse Ave, Pacific Grove, CA 93950

                      Sardine Factory
                      701 Wave Street, Monterey, CA 93940

                      1. re: Ed Dibble
                        j
                        josephnl May 10, 2011 11:43 AM

                        You're spot on...the food there is fine...it's well prepared sustainable seafood at a reasonable price with a wonderful wine program. It's the ambiance and service that mostly put me off. If the food were truly special, I'd try to overlook the loud environment and iffy service...I don't find the food that special. Nevertheless, it's good for what it is, and it certainly would seem to meet the op's requirements.

                        It's not that I'm that terrific a cook...it's that I can buy excellent fish locally, and simply sauteing it or grilling it and topping it with simple homemade ingredients (lemon caper butter, citrus vinaigrette, Mexican style salsa...or even a basic tartar sauce) ends up satisfying me and my guests very well.

                        1. re: josephnl
                          s
                          syrahgirl May 13, 2011 09:50 AM

                          Don't miss the abalone bisque at Sardine Factory! The "c" at The Clement in Monterey makes an awesome Caesar Salad with Fresh Abalone, also. What is good to order at Le Tropez? We are going to Carmel tomorrow and are looking for some new places to try for lunch and dinner. :)

                          -----
                          Sardine Factory
                          701 Wave Street, Monterey, CA 93940

                          1. re: syrahgirl
                            j
                            josephnl Jun 4, 2011 12:33 PM

                            Just returned from a weekend in Carmel where we had wonderful dinners at Marinus, Fandango and Grasing's. The big surprise was the terrific pizzas thecae serving at Le St. Tropez. We had pizza for lunch there our first day, and couldn't wait to return the next day...certainly comparable to Cantinetta Luca across the street (which was surprisingly closed the day we wanted to have lunch there). The topping at Le St. T are different than those at CL...more Provencal.

                            -----
                            Cantinetta Luca
                            Dolores St Between Ocean and 7th Ave, Carmel, CA 93921

                            Marinus
                            415 Carmel Valley Rd, Carmel Valley, CA 93924

                            Grasing's
                            Mission and Sixth, Carmel, CA 93921

                          2. re: josephnl
                            susancinsf Jun 5, 2011 09:55 AM

                            given the price, Passionfish should in no way be compared to somewhere like Le Bernardin, which is in an entirely different universe apart from being in a different market...but josephnl, clearly you and I have different tastes in fish, because the thought of caper sauce on fish makes me shudder and I am afraid salsa usually isn't much better....

                            Passionfish is also a LOT cheaper than Marinus, where I had excellent food (at about double the cost of Passionfish; make that as much as triple when comparable wine is ordered) but only adequate service. It is true that when dining at Marinus one has pretty views of the garden instead of the gas station across the street. (although one can definitely get a lousy, cramped table at Marinus with no view of anything. They tried to do this to me until I asked to be reseated. Host didn't want to re-seat us either, until I pointed out that we were a guest at the hotel, that it was our anniversary, and that we had specifically come down to the host station earlier in the evening and had a conversation with them about not wanting the cramped, lousy table in the corner, and had been assured it wouldn't be a problem. Not that I am bitter or anything, but several years later, it still bugs me.)

                            nyway, back to Passionfish: it can indeed be loud on weekends and when it is busy; though I've never had anything but good service there. I have usually avoided the worst of the noise by asking for a table way in the back (hint: the better the view of the gas station, the quieter the table, in my experience.I find the front room to be noisier). I did have lousy service the last time I ate at Fandango, however (and so-so food).

                            For the OP: I do think that Passionfish fits your description as to what you are looking for perfectly. As Ed mentions, the abalone served in Monterey is farmed right there (there is a farm under Wharf2), and I wouldn't hesitate to try it if you are interested. The issue is that prep is key, and it is expensive and thus you can end up paying a lot for a lousy preparation. I'd seek out simple preps. If they have it on the menu, somewhere like the Sandbar Grill might be a good place to try it, though, personally, I'd order the sanddabs...

                            For gbltrtr: the Dungeness, this time of year, probably came from British Columbia and/or was previously frozen or has been sitting in a holding tank forever. Local Dungeness season is over.

                            -----
                            Passionfish
                            701 Lighthouse Ave, Pacific Grove, CA 93950

                            Marinus
                            415 Carmel Valley Rd, Carmel Valley, CA 93924

                            1. re: susancinsf
                              j
                              josephnl Jun 5, 2011 10:55 AM

                              Susan, if you reread my post you will see that I clearly stated that Passionfish is not in the same category as Le Bernardin. Of course it would be ridiculous to compare them.

                              Furthermore, I agree with you, and I said that the food at Passionfish is very good, and would seem to meet the op's requirements. My main objection to Passionfish is that when I have been there (on weekends), I have found the noise level to be between unpleasant to intolerable, and the service to be variable.

                              lso Susan, I guess our tastes in fish differ considerably. Capers are an important ingredient in the classic French grenobloise sauce which is commonly served with fish (trout, sole, skate, etc.) at fine French restaurants. Additionally, wonderful Mexican style salsas (with multiple variations) are often served with fish at the finest seafood restaurants in Mexico as well as at some superb "mariscos" restaurants in southern California where I reside. I respect the fact that you may not like these accompaniments, but they are both classics in the countries where they originated.

                              -----
                              Passionfish
                              701 Lighthouse Ave, Pacific Grove, CA 93950

                              1. re: josephnl
                                susancinsf Jun 5, 2011 12:43 PM

                                Yes, we can all agree that Le Bernardin and Passionfish (or Marinus and PF for that matter) aren't really comparable, even though you did mention them in the same sentence and said that one is something the other is not (which in all fairness I do consider a comparison of sorts). That said, it would be nice to get your reports and your sense of a place that you like *better* yet do think is comparable to PF, given that OP was interested in "seafood restaurants that are about the food, not the show. Places the locals like. Interested in sustainable, wild-caught options"....

                                In another post, you mentioned Fandago, which I don't think is comparable (not that I like it) because it is perhaps more meat-centric than OP is looking for, and because makes it no mention of commitment to sustainability on their website. For the OP: I'd ask where that salmon comes from before ordering. On the other hand, they do have abalone there. That said, the most recent menu on their website says that the abalone is 'wild'. For the OP: it is almost certainly farmed, which I am not sure can be fairly called 'wild', or (and I edited to add this for clarity); if it is NOT farmed, probably locally, then it is imported, and if it is imported and truly 'wild', it is not sustainable. It is against the law to harvest California abalone in the wild for commercial purposes. For OP: if it were me, and I were looking for abalone, I'd go elsewhere just out of annoyance with that menu description. "Fresh local abalone" would be a much more appropriate description if it is local, since, as I mentioned elsewhere, the abalone almost certainly came from a local abalone farm, unless it is imported).

                                (and I digress, but for the OP: the biggest difference that I know of between farmed abalone and truly 'wild' abalone, such as recreational divers can harvest ONLY for their private use in CA, and then only when free-diving without tanks, is size. Abalone take years or even decades to grow to full maturity, which is a major reason that taking them in CA is so restricted but farming is not as restricted. So, you'll tend to get smaller pieces from much younger abalone in a restaurant than you probably would if you befriended some north coast recreational divers. As far as I know, this difference does not affect the taste in any negative way)

                                nyway, to get back to my major point: I personally don't recommend or like Fandango. I am not familiar with Grasings, which you also mention, so can't say if it is comparable to PF. As I pointed out, at twice the cost, or more, Marinus clearly is not. Which still leads me to wonder what you would recommend given the OP's parameters?

                                by the way, I admit it, I just don't like capers. and, I should clarify my statement about salsa and our taste in seafood: I too can make and appreciate a lovely salsa, though I wouldn't necessarily serve it with fish....but we don't really disagree: if that is one's preferred way of eating fish, i.e. very simply grilled with capers or salsa, than yes, I am not sure PF is the best choice. I'd go with recommendation for sanddabs at the Sandbar Grill in that case. Or get a place with a kitchen and cook. As for a fantastic Mexican seafood place such as one can find in parts of SoCal or Baja: I don't think there is one in Monterey. If someone finds one, please post!

                                -----
                                Marinus
                                415 Carmel Valley Rd, Carmel Valley, CA 93924

                                Grasing's
                                Mission and Sixth, Carmel, CA 93921

                                1. re: susancinsf
                                  honkman Jun 5, 2011 05:13 PM

                                  We like Passionfish for what it is a good but not really outstanding fish centric restaurant with a very good wine list. Marinus, even though it might be more expensive, is cooking on a completely different level - much better, creative (something we started to miss in some of our last meals at PF where many dishes over the years seem to be quite similar), more refined. Marinus would even be in SF one of the top restaurants and is for the quality quite reasonable priced.

                                  1. re: susancinsf
                                    j
                                    josephnl Jun 5, 2011 06:52 PM

                                    You know Susan, I think we may not disagree too much about Fandango. I've been there perhaps 4 times, and I always have their couscous which is really delicious, and is rarely seen elsewhere. They serve it with an excellent lamb sausage, a beautifully prepared lamb shank, and typical accompaniments such as sliced almonds, raisins and harissa. It's wonderful...and the drinks and salads are good. I must say that the dishes served to my dining partners never look as good as the couscous. So...I can't say that Fandango is great...but their couscous is darned good, and I always have it because it's so rarely seen in the U.S.!

                                    Grasing's also is not great (there's not much in Carmel/Monterey that is), but we had a very pleasant dinner there. The food was good, the service was good, and the ambiance is pleasant enough.

                                    Since Citronelle closed, after a disappointingly short stay in town, I guess that Marinus may be the best around. I've heard great things about Aubergine, but we've not been there.

                                    -----
                                    Citronelle
                                    901 E Cabrillo Blvd, Santa Barbara, CA

                                    Marinus
                                    415 Carmel Valley Rd, Carmel Valley, CA 93924

                                    Grasing's
                                    Mission and Sixth, Carmel, CA 93921

                                    1. re: josephnl
                                      susancinsf Jun 5, 2011 09:32 PM

                                      Have you tried the couscous at Aziza in San Francisco? Would be curious as to how you think it compares.

                                      1. re: susancinsf
                                        j
                                        josephnl Jun 5, 2011 09:59 PM

                                        No, have not been there, but if you think their couscous is good, I'll keep it mind for my next visit to SFO. The main reason we go to Fandango is for the couscous. There are many wonderful east-African restaurants in Paris that serve terrific couscous, but it's a tough find in the US.

                                      2. re: josephnl
                                        Ed Dibble Jun 6, 2011 01:41 PM

                                        I was wondering about your love of Fandango. The paella is OK as is the rack of lamb, but the cous-cous is truly excellent. A (late) friend of mine who taught in Tunisia was absolutely convinced that one of the owners of the place had to be a pied noir because the version is spot on. It's nice that it is still OK. My local friends claim that Fandango is a shadow of its former self since the original owners split up.

                                        I quit going there for a couple of reasons. The last meal that I and friends had was subpar (maybe I have gotten better at cooking paella myself). And then about the same time, they switched vintages on me. I know I should have paid more attention, but I am used to a good restaurant pointing out changes when a bottle from the cellar does not match the wine list. I am always somewhat surprised when it is mentioned posittively on these boards.

                                        1. re: Ed Dibble
                                          PolarBear Jun 6, 2011 05:22 PM

                                          Similar story here, Ed. Returned a few years ago after a long absence only to be disappointed. No resemblance to the place we once loved.

                                          1. re: PolarBear
                                            j
                                            josephnl Jun 6, 2011 08:25 PM

                                            I can only vouch for the couscous which I think is excellent Everything else looks ok, but not exceptional...the couscous is!

                                    2. re: josephnl
                                      susancinsf Jun 5, 2011 12:53 PM

                                      also for the OP: in case you aren't familiar with it, a good way to find sustainable options is to look for restaurants that follow the Monterey Bay Seafood Watch Guidelines, and to follow them yourself when ordering%3

                                      http://www.montereybayaquarium.org/cr...

                                      abalone is sustainable, and a recommended best choice, based on the assumption that what you are eating in restaurants is farmed. Here is what the website says about wild abalone%3

                                      22Although wild abalone populations remain in a state of recovery, abalone farming sustains continuing public consumption of this ocean delicacy. Farm-raised abalone are harvested when their shells are less than seven inches long, so larger abalone will have been wild-caught and, if from the U.S., may have been poached or sold illegally by a sport diver."

                                      1. re: josephnl
                                        g
                                        Gail Jun 5, 2011 01:53 PM

                                        josephni, for future reference, the Corkscrew Cafe in Carmel Vallery has a lovely trout on their lunch menu with a caper, lemon, butter sauce very lightly applied and delicious. Also, the wine tasting there is nice and if purchased, may be drunk at lunch with no corkage. We never miss this dining and wine opportunity.

                            2. re: josephnl
                              c
                              CoastalMimz May 27, 2012 02:02 PM

                              I agree, while although Passionfish offers decent food, it is off the beaten path in regard to seafood plates. If you are into atypical seafood faire then it is great- but.. not as great as those who rave about it. For the price and the so so service and attitude and not over the top food, I would not bother going back, and I live in the area.

                              1. re: CoastalMimz
                                susancinsf Jun 1, 2012 08:26 AM

                                service can be casual, but in many visits to Passionfish I have never had even a touch of attitude. I will agree that the offerings aren't typical, in the sense that it isn't the place to go if you are in the mood for simple grilled or fried fish. (as noted earlier in this somewhat older thread).

                          3. s
                            sandychow Jun 4, 2011 07:22 AM

                            Thanks so much for all the good suggestions. We're getting excited - I think we need to plan for a minimum of five meals per day!

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