Monday Night l'Avventura in Cocina at Il Vecchio (Pacific Grove)
A month ago, three of us headed to Pacific Grove to try Il Vecchio for the Monday night $22 prix fixe I’d read about in the Weekly.
A first time for each of us, we found the house rules charming.
Arriving a little early for our 6:30p reservation, I was surprised to find the restaurant nearly full with early diners. Seated in the section of the dining room away from the bar and entrance, we had a clear view of the pass-through from the kitchen.
Our server explained that we would receive five courses determined weekly by the whim of the kitchen and that we’d have a choice to make for the entrée. First up, a rectangle of cheese-y polenta topped with a mushroom ragu. From the size of this, I wondered how we’d make it through all five dishes.
The Tuscan cabbage soup, served with a toasted slice of baguette, was deep and rich with the sweetness of long-stewed fresh vegetables.
The small salad was a refreshing palate cleanser with a lilting vinaigrette, garnished with a spear of English cucumber and slices of orange.
Having watched the kitchen twirl many plates of pasta through the pass, we eagerly anticipated the spaghetti course. Surprisingly, the red sauce was not tomato, but rather a puree of sweet red peppers and onion. Cooked just a notch past al dente the spaghetti peperone was amply sauced. I requested some bread (served on request) to mop up the sauce.
For the entrée, Mom and I picked the seafood option, which turned out to be local rock fish. Sauteed in a red wine sauce, this was a change from white wine with fish and a delicious one. The summer vegetables on the side were more braised than sautéed and had turned mushy.
William had the meat option, half a Molinari Italian sausage link served with a vegetable timbalo.
While we were not that hungry after this repast, I ordered one dessert to share, a slice of crostata di limone, $6. When it was served, our waiter said that it was an extra large piece, actually one and a half-slices worth and the last of the day. The crust turned out to be soggy and the filling oversweetened.
We all agreed that the pasta was the best course and the only one we’d order again. Il Vecchio has a weekday worker’s lunch special offering two pastas and salad for $9 that might be worth a return visit.
With a glass of Vermentino, $7, and a diet coke, the bill before tip came to $88.23. While the meal was enjoyable, nothing really stood-out. In contrast, our tab for the three of us at Restaurant 1833 was $97.60 before tip, or 10% more, and we enjoyed that much more and had food leftover to take home with us.
110 Central Ave
Pacific Grove, CA 93950
Thanks for this great tip, Melanie. An old friend and I stopped in last Monday evening and decided to "roll the dice" so to speak. We were seated at a small two-top at first but since the place wasn't full they quickly honored our request for a larger table.
We were most fortunate to have George as our server. He explained the rules, each of the five courses would remain a mystery until they hit the table. My concerns about wishing to pair a good number of their BTG wines (nice selection that I'd looked over earlier online) without knowing anything about the dishes was handled prefectly, George proceeded to bring us samples of a red and a white that he thought would match the first offering, asking which we preferred. I went with the white (Satrico Casale di Gigio a SB/Chardonnay/Trebbiano glend), my DC with the red (Montepulciano d'Abruzzo). To my surprise both went perfectly with the first course of a Cauliflower timbale, creamy and rich, I couldn't even attempt to do George's description justice. At this point we decided that he would handle the pairings for the remainder of the meal.
Second course was an Asparagus Soup made with a stock reduction using both dark and white meat portions of the carcass.
My apologies for not noting the specific wines but iirc we had the Albarino Verdad from Edna Valley, Vermentino Cilla Solaris, a Vermintin/Nuragas blend), Rose of Syrah from Ampelos, and the Ampelos Syrah/Grenache from Santa Barbara.
Next up was a delicious super fresh salad of mixed greens, vine ripe tomato, crisp and cold, nothing boring about this offering.
At this point we expected the main entree and I mentioned to George that we were anticipating a pasta dish and asked if it would be possible to open a bottle of the Ampelos Syrah/Grenache if we each purchased a glass. He checked and came back and said "no problem", but BTW the next dish will not be pasta. Turned out to be a creamy, cheesy, Polenta with a ragu of bee and pork, simply outstanding, a polenta worthy of any Italian grandma (or my own dear FIL) and a perfect pairing with the syrah/grenache.
After barely managing to get the last bites down, we were prepared to ask for our dessert course to go. Au contraire, George's next question was "for your entree would you care for the tri-tip or the sole with a kalamata olive romescu (?) sauce". Both were quite tasty and it was all we could do to roll away from the table.
At this point we asked George about hosting a private gathering since my pal will be getting married in the area in September, We discovered that there is a semi-private area that faces the bay (toward the Cannery outlets) that would be ideal. Furthermore they would be willing to offer their Tuesday family style dinner, even though it will be on a Friday evening.
Our bill for this evening of gluttony was a paltry $81 before tax/tip.
Bottom line: go to Il Vecchio, ask for George to serve you.
Bear in mind that I was there on the night when the meal is somewhat prepped ahead and held. Surely that affects quality, as noted in the items I felt were overcooked. Or as my brother called it cafeteria catering food. There might be better results when you order ala carte and the meal is cooked to order.
The Monday night special seemed to be very popular. I noticed some big groups and a birthday party, and the price and menu makes a lot of sense in that case. Also saw some solo diners sitting at the bar, and I'd say this is a good way to have variety in a meal eating alone.
re: Melanie Wong
Ah, got it. Another strategy might be to eat early or late on Monday night. We were there in the middle of the peak period when the first seating was perhaps on the fourth or fifth course, and when new diners were coming in. Staff were definitely stretched. Maybe being in the first wave, the food would be fresher, or perhaps cooked more to order in the last tranche. I'll mention that when we left before 8pm, the place had almost entirely cleared out but for one big group and a couple stragglers at the bar. This is decidedly an early eating crowd.
I'll mention that yesterday I had the three-course $24 at Cotogna in San Francisco that knocked my socks off. Each dish completely craveable. Il Vecchio's prix fixe is not like that.