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Dec 25, 2004 12:21 AM

Portobello's Rotisseria and Cafe, Salinas

  • m

Last month, we stopped here for a quick dinner. Even though it's close to my parents home, they'd not been here before. At night, a couple dinner specials with table service are offered in addition to the rotisserie chicken, salads, soups, pasta, and hot sandwiches on the lunch menu

My parents split a cheeseburger topped with gorgonzola. This came with a choice of bagged chips. Very fresh garnishes, carefully grilled and cooked medium, an especially good bun, and satisfactory all round, although my father felt there should be more cheese. Dad liked his peach smoothie too.

I had the half sandwich with cup of soup of the day. The butternut squash soup was rustic and savory, served with a few slices of good baguette. I'd picked the Cuban for my sandwich order. It had cheese, a slice of ham, and some outstanding garlicky roast pork loin. A really rich combo, and I wished it had the traditional slice of pickle and citrusy accents. Again, the bread was really good, although not Cuban bread. I'd order this again and not consider it a Cuban sandwich.

I had asked our server about wines by the glass and offered to walk over to the wine bar. Instead she sent over one of the wine staff to tell me what was available, which is more service than I expected from what is essentially a deli. He asked me if I wanted red or white, and I asked what local Pinots were available. That night both Hahn (disclaimer: the winemaker is a personal friend) and Chalone were open and I ordered a half glass of each for a side-by-side comparison. The Hahn was much riper, tending toward surmaturite with some plummy, pruney notes. More alcoholic, fat and dense in texture, it was more Syrah-like than Pinot-ish. The Chalone was lighter in body with more red fruit character and open-knit aromatics. It was more complex and longer in finish.

I asked our server about the bread supply and learned that they bake La Brea in-house. The bread on my sandwich was the rustica roll.

This isn't a destination by any means. But it's a nice spot to get a well-prepared light meal, hang out with a glass of wine or espresso, and make use of the free wi-fi. It's unique is this town.



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  1. Gosh, has it really been three years since I've had a meal here? In any case, my mom and I had a nice lunch here last week. We arrived before noon, good thing, as the place was full by the time we left.

    Mom had a hard time deciding what to order. I tried to nudge her toward one of the daily specials, calamari steak sandwich, for around $9, just because I wanted to taste it. She was headed toward the namesake portabella mushroom sandwich, but then switched gears because at $6.95, this veggie choice was the same price as the meated offerings. When I reminded her of how much we had liked the Cuban sandwich, $6.95, here, she was sold on a sure thing.

    Image of Cuban Sandwich -

    While not a traditional Cubano, this is still a terrific hot sandwich on a La Brea rustica roll. The pork loin is sliced thinly rather than the thicker cut I recall. And, it has roasted red peppers on it. The sandwich comes with a choice of chips or any of the salads. Mom had the Caesar, which was very tasty too with fresh croutons and lots of cheese coating the crunchy romaine.

    I tried one of the house specialties, the chicken pot pie, $7.25. These are kept warm in the hot case, and the pastry topping might suffer a bit from this. I found the white sauce much too bland and wouldn't order this again. The bright spot was the orzo pasta and roasted eggplant salad on the side, very fresh and tasty. This is one of a dozen standard selections available each day, supplemented with seasonal choices. When warmer weather rolls around, I'll have to remember to return for the three salad combo plate here.

    Image of Chicken Pot Pie -

    I also had a hot chocolate, made with ground chocolate here. Good for $1.35, but nothing to rave about.

    Oh, and I noticed that the adjoining Zeph's wine shop has expanded the wine bar. Also, it has doubled the number of wines available for tasting at a time to around two dozen.

    1366 S Main St, Salinas, CA 93901

    1. To update this thread, I was back here a few months ago with a friend and we split the three salad sampler and a tri-tip sandwich.

      Then last week, Mom and I had lunch here. We remembered to get here early to avoid the crowd, and again the place was full by noon. Some of the overflow took seats at the wine bar counter, as it was too chilly to sit outside.

      Veggie polenta: roasted vegetables and mushrooms in thick tomato sauce topped with cheese. Comes with a choice of salad, soup or chips, plus b&b for $8.50. I picked the corn and black bean salad as my side.

      Mom went with the sampler of three salads, $7.50, including bread & butter. From left to right, roasted vegetables, Greek-style pasta salad, and marinated vegetables. The baguettes are La Brea, a god-send in this town. She polished off the whole platter! The case has more than a dozen vegetable salads to choose from, plus caesar and mixed baby greens.

      Zeph's One Stop
      1366 S Main St, Salinas, CA

      1366 S Main St, Salinas, CA 93901

      1. Last week I was back at Portobello's for a quick cappuccino, noticed the B&G special ($7.95) on the white board and decided to sit down for breakfast.

        Unfortunately, this is probably the first thing here that I haven't liked. The biscuits themselves were very good, so light and tender, and I liked how they were split and toasted. But the gravy, while loaded with smoky sausage, was too salty, overly smoky, and looked/tasted more like cream of chicken soup.

        Biscuits and gravy special

        I noticed some good-looking plates of pancakes and french toast on other tables. I think I'd go in that direction next time.

        1366 S Main St, Salinas, CA 93901

        1. Took a look at the pastry case today and picked out two mini tarts. They're 75¢ apiece, one pecan and one filled with lemon curd. The buttery pate brisee on the lemon one was denser and more to my liking. I liked the curd even more. The pecan one was fine, just not as well-executed, but that's probably just a minor batch difference. My mother liked them both too. Nice little treat for not much money.