Chowdown Report: The Monte Carlo (Bayview District, San Francisco)
The Monte Carlo Restaurant and Bar celebrates 23 years in the Bayview this fall. Yet, it seems to have fallen off the media chow-dar in recent coverage of the new and old food scene in this changing neighborhood. Yesterday, three chowhounds gathered mid-day to try out the Louisiana style home cooking.
Here’s the handwritten lunch menu, as posted near the kitchen, of what’s usually offered. In addition, red beans and rice is always available.
When I called for information, I was advised to check back at 3pm the day before coming in to find out the daily specials. Friday’s specials included gumbo, ribeye steak, rack of lamb, pork chop with Marsala sauce, and meatloaf.
We started with the fried combo appetizer plate.
A strong intro, the light cornmeal crusting encased thick fingers of buttery soft, non-muddy catfish for dipping in a densely pickled tartar sauce.
Garlic chicken drummettes were also a hit, deep-fried wing joints sticky with spicy garlicky glaze tossed with chopped scallions and served with ranch dressing. French fries were not remarkable.
Then the buttermilk “incident”, that someone else can talk about. The salad that came with the entrees featured a flow of pink-hued buttermilk dressing (Paula Deen’s recipe) that tasted like a thinner version of remoulade.
Here’s everything on the table, showing the Excalibur stone in the sword presentation of the rack of lamb.
The gumbo was more toward the blonde-brown range rather than dark brown. Loaded with the equivalent of about half a Dungeness crab, plus chicken wings, shrimp, and sausage. The fine-grained, piquant sausage had a soft-ish texture and snappy casing. I asked where I could buy these and learned that the chef’s brother-in-law makes them.
Red beans and rice was a meat-fest with abundant chunks of rind-on fatty ham hock and smoky spicy links festooned with chopped scallions. A brothy gravy closer to the silky texture and weight of heavy cream and rich with the flavor of pork fat was quite different from the thicker versions served elsewhere. This was my favorite dish.
Four ribs to a rack, the lamb was stuffed with garlic and rosemary and served with mint jelly, chunky mashed potatoes and steamed broccoli. The doneness went beyond medium-rare, yet the meat was plenty moist and not dried out.
Outfitted with bibs (see photo below), we tucked in and still had plenty of leftovers. We did not even ask about dessert. Cost came to $27 per person, including tax and tip. Would I return? Not sure, maybe for the red beans and rice or the fried catfish. The red beans and rice was ~$9, whereas the lamb, gumbo and combo fried appetizer plate were $17 to $20 or so, a bit high for the venue. Service was warm, if a bit scattered, and we were invited back for the anniversary party on October 6.
1705 Yosemite Ave.
Phone: (415) 822-7338
More photos, click on “slideshow”
Chowing down with the SF Bay chowhounds!
I'm not often offered coffee as the default beverage to drink with lunch. (It is better than expected for being served straight from the Mr Coffee carafe.) And rarely (ever?) do chefs come out of the kitchen to personally tie plastic lobster bibs on diners ordering dishes requiring shell-crackers. These are the charms of the Monte Carlo. The accidental substitution of buttermilk for cream (for aforementioned coffee) and the tendency to tie the plastic bibs a bit too tight? Laugh and take them in stride--that's what the staff do.
Derek, Melanie and myself seem to all agree about the food at the Monte Carlo. Yes to the cornmeal-crusted catfish, beans & rice, and lamb rack. The gumbo sadly didn't match its ambitions but tried admirably. The mashed potatoes and gravy gave the lamb the edge over other items.
Ah yes! "The Buttermilk Incident"...I poured what seemed like decadent heavy cream into my coffee....major curdle city! I sent it back and they discovered that it had been buttermilk! Too bad..I love b'milk and would have been happy to drink it, if I'd only known! (they only had artificial powdered "creamer" to make up for it...!)
I enjoyed the appetizer plate as well...crunchy cornmeal encasing not muddy catfish..I actually wished the catfish had been sliced more thickly..I didn't feel the star ingredient was well enough represented!
The crab in the mild but tasty gumbo was stringy and seemed way overcooked..unless this is usually the way it is prepared...red beans and rice was tasty.. but I have only had a few representations of this dish..and I still enjoy "Popeye's" version best (!) so take what I say with a lot of salt..After I removed the overabundance of palate piercing turpentinish rosemarie, I found the lamb delicious..mainly because it actually tasted "lamby", it was moist and even the slight fat cap tasted good...
The place itself..is sad and in need of a lot of TLC, I won't discuss the bathrooms..cause it will spoil my impending meal...as I was driving away a couple of blocks south on the "New Third St." I passed a sign on a place saying it would be the new home of the Monte Carlo...so perhaps they're "movin on up"..The company was great fun (Imagine..out of the 3 of us 2 of us were Derek!) and thanks to Melanie for opening up this area as a potential Chowhound destination!