Hidden Gem

Chef Daniel Elinan has crafted a menu that is colorful and appealing, with a California sensibility and deft balance of flavors. Every dish - from salads to entrees and velvety desserts - proves that there is nothing bogus in dining at a hotel restaurant.

Finding yourself in Monterey’s Hyatt Regency Hotel might mean several things. You could be there to swing some clubs on the golf course, or maybe you’re a tourist making your way down to Cannery Row after a day at the spa. Chances are less likely that you’re a local sitting down for a nice dinner – but maybe you should be.

It’s almost like a best-kept secret. An extensive breakfast is the draw for hotel guests, but dinner has flown a bit under the radar.

On a Friday night around 7pm, it’s easy to get a corner of the large dining room to yourself, alongside giant glass windows overlooking the golf course and garden fireplace. Light lounge music sets the mood, the service is friendly and attentive, and you get a sense that the place is yours.

Since taking over the kitchen in November, Executive Chef Daniel Elinan has tweaked the menu, bringing liveliness that still keeps its focus on tradition. The California classic grilled artichoke comes hot and delicious, roasted and smoky with a touch of char from the broiler, as does a mushroom flatbread drizzled in balsamic reduction and arugula. Goat cheese and house-made ricotta – and plenty of Parmesan – had the table close to fighting for the last square.

Arugula showed up again in the burrata and avocado salad, a delightful meeting of fresh and creamy. The biting greens plus punchy, flavorful kumato tomatoes and thin red onions cut effortlessly through luxurious burrata and perfectly-ripe avo, creating quite a beautiful way to eat your veggies.

And then came burrata again (that repetition is not a complaint, mind you). This time it was snug on a bed of eggplant Parmesan and topped with shredded basil. Homemade marinara brought a pleasingly delicate tartness to balance the cream, while gently fried eggplant didn’t hint at any oiliness, instead bringing welcome heartiness along with the al dente angel hair pasta. Sometimes this can be a heavy dish, but Elinan manages to keep it light.

A little less on the light side? The ale-braised short ribs, which is to be expected. A hunk of meat made the plate’s centerpiece, served atop a thick bed of skillfully buttered mashed potatoes. Herby gremolata added depth to the red wine ribs – something they needed, since the meat arrived slightly overcooked. Earthy broccolini sliced through the indulgence as well.

Elinan seems to have a way with using acidity to temper richer ingredients. As well as the main courses, his new desserts showcase this talent as well.

An example is the chocolate trilogy. A small, gluten-free chocolate cake comes stuffed and layered with chocolate mousses – both dark and white – and the fitting accompaniment is astringent raspberry coulis, driving home sharply through the sugary velvet.

That’s something very good to know about.

TusCA, Hyatt Regency Monterey Hotel & Spa 1 Old Golf Course Road, Monterey. 6-9pm Tues-Sat. 372-1234, hyatt.com

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