Carmel Valley Chophouse survived less than a year as a meat haven. Now it takes a turn as some form of gastropub.
It’s a nebulous term, gastropub – particularly here. Pubs in England and Ireland are easygoing and friendly, often with a neighborhood gathering vibe. On this side of the Atlantic, the pub tradition only vaguely exists. Generally, micro-breweries adopted the theme, often without the using the term “gastropub.” After all, many people argue the concept of a drinking establishment and a competent kitchen are not mutually exclusive.
With that in mind, we come back to the newly redefined Carmel Valley Chophouse. A lineup of whiskeys and signature cocktails on one hand suggests a posh space. Baby back ribs dripping in barbecue sauce or housemade potato chips with an onion dip, on the other, are more reminiscent of the sort of joint popular in the 2000s, where hipsters donned Von Dutch trucker hats and slammed cans of Schlitz.
And then you see something unexpected – prunes, steeped in Makers Mark and plated with vanilla ice cream. Just who thinks, “Let’s serve prunes for dessert?”
But you want this. Muggy and mildly sweet, the dense fruit draped by the smoky autumn hue of bourbon, it’s an indulgence. The whiskey also finds kinship with the ice cream, bringing out a barrel-cured depth in the vanilla.
You also want the smoked duck and mushroom gravy, which comes ladled over sage-scented waffles. The sauce is dusky and warm, telling of stone hearths and furrowed fields, musty and forlorn, yet with a steadfast character. Unfortunately, that’s where the reverie ends. The duck egg placed on top of the gravy and waffles is gorgeous, but also overkill. It contributes depth, but the waffle itself ultimately melts under the weight of gravy and runny yolk.
There are few missteps on the stripped-down menu. A mat of sauce swells over the baby back ribs – rugged and rudimentary, with a swarthy sweetness and sharp vinegar bite that comes to define the ribs. There was some confusion over the tuna tartare. Instead of the “won-tong” chips promised on the menu, textural contrast was provided by a handful of potato crisps. And our server referenced a spread of crushed edamame as avocado, until corrected by the chef.
But the edamame paste is beautiful: Mellow and nutty, yet billowing grass and bitter wisps weave throughout thanks to a hearty dose of olive oil.
These are not dishes intended to challenge. Even the brittle potato chips are dressed comfortably, with a caramelized onion dip reminiscent of (though much more subtle than) that stuff made from powdered soup pouches for countless Super Bowl parties.
But these are dishes not meant to underachieve, either.
Carmel Valley Chophouse’s definition of gastropub seems rather fundamental: approachable fare prepared from scratch with good ingredients.
CARMEL VALLEY CHOPHOUSE 13762 Center St., Carmel Valley. Mon, Thu-Sat 3:30pm-close; Sun 10:30am-close. 659-5886, carmelvalleychophouse.com