pacific grove report
Just came back from a fabulous weekend in Monterey/Pacific Grove (fabulous more for the aquarium/tandem bike ride on 17-mile drive than for the food).
Passionfish on Friday night--this was our second visit and it wasn't quite as good as our first a year ago, but it's still VERY solid for the price. The Monterey peninsula seems to be swimming in mid-range price restaurants ($30-40/head), and I've always found this to be the most unpredictable type of restaurant. There's such a wide variation of quality. Passionfish is at the higher end of the quality to dollar ratio. We had the crab cake--very light, a nice contrast to the usual heavy, bready affair--the oysters in passionfish sauce--they could have been colder, as they were the first time I had them and was wowed by them--and a goat cheese salad with candied pecans and apples. All very good. FOr entrees my wife had a fish called Ono, which was really good--a nice meaty white fish--and I had trout, which was cooked to perfection. Dessert was an absurdly large mint/coffee mud pie. The only problem was that service was a bit off. Granted, we came in about two minutes after the debate ended, and the place was slow, so maybe the waiters hadn't quite warmed up yet, but our first waitress took about ten minutes to appear, and she was replaced not long afterward.
Night two was Max's, which I vaguely remembered reading about here on Chowhound. It was NOT good. It's the perfect example of a mid-range restaurant promising too much and delivering far too little. The waiter was very excited that it was our first visit and made it seem as if we'd arrived at a 3-star establishment. He explained that everything was made on the premises with top quality ingredients. Well, when the bread finally came, it was cold on the inside and tasted just like the calzone dough we used to eat in the Bronx. My wife had a lamb loin that had almost no taste of lamb. I got the surf and turf, which was a combo of filet mignon (with a really insipid mushroom and red wine sauce) and shrimp (cooked with coconut). The flavors went together really poorly. We had to laugh when, as we left, we read the newspaper write-up hanging outside the front door. It claimed that the chef/owner was twice voted Tokyo's favorite chef! I think that chef/owner must be named Pinnochio.
My son chose to celebrate his 24th last Saturday at Max's Grill. He was mostly curious about a Japanese couple operating a California-French cuisine bistro in an area seemingly dominated by anglo/latino run Asian Fusion places.
We were met with a little chaos, which was the result of two of the front staff calling in absences. Once that was explained, be relaxed. The remaining two waitstaff were attentive, hustling, with Yuko filling in as needed.
I was pleased with the wine list, and the pricing - perhaps Passionfish has set the playing field for Pacific Grove. We had brough a bottle of PN, accepting the $15 corkage, and snagged the last bottle of Wild Horse CV Chard.
The four of us split an order of the ahi tempure makisushi and a rainbow roll. And while I've never accepted smoke salmon flavors mingled with hamachi and maguro, the ahi maki was spectacular.
My spouse ordered the butternut squash raviloi and loved it, and it was flavorful, wonderfully matched by the sauce (she insisted that I taste it). My soon-to-be-daughter-in-law chose the choppino, which was shrimp based. She was pleased. My son got the aforementioned surf and turf, and while I (also) do not understand the flavor pairing of coconut and shrimp, the morsel of the filet he passed me was crusted by the grill, melting soft interior with a definitive grass-fed beef statement. He was in heaven.
I ordered the lamb chops- three good sized, perfectly grilled raw, just short of "sangra", ans just the way I like them. The wine reduction pooled near the tripod of chops was marvelous. My spouse commandeered as much as she could, including the rustic mashed potatoes.
The ladies enjoyed a chocolate mousse, and a shared ice cream concoction.
And I found the bread to be dense, warm, and reminiscent of country loaves enjoyed in the Garonne/Midi.
If I lived in the area, I'd be frequenting this place. I love Passionfish, but Max's has a charm and familiarity I enjoyed. And the food to call me back.
I don't recall a mud pie on the current menu. The two desserts that were on the menu when I ate at Passionfish Sunday night that I would order again and again were the bread pudding, and the strawberries in cabernet sauce with vanilla ice cream. They say the strawberries are local, and I'd love to know their source: everytime I try them I think to myself, 'now *that* is how a strawberry should taste!'.