Best Of 98--restaurants 03/19/98
Thursday, March 19, 1998
Captain Best-Of, the majordomo of MoCo''s crusade for culinary greatness salutes the Mediterranean charms of Fandango. From the several small intimate dining rooms that spill over with the ambiance of the French countryside to the polished presence of seasoned waitstaff on hand to serve up the rustic flavors of this trademark cuisine of the sun--saffron-laced paella, mesquite-grilled rack of lamb, lovingly tended cassoulet--it''s enough to fog up Captain Best-Of''s bi-focals just thinking about it.
Runner Up Monterey County: Montrio
Runner Up Pacific Grove: Peppers
Best New Restaurant of 1997
474 Alvarado St., Monterey, 645-9036
When Captain Best-Of wants to see and be seen, he likes to position his suave demeanor behind a sexy stem that''s full to the brim with one of LALLApalooza''s designer martinis. Downtown Monterey gets that uptown feel with this new, swank watering hole that boasts a Big American Menu, filling a much-needed niche for sophisticated drinking cum dining in MoCo after dark. Oak-grilled Angus beef, smoked meat loaf, and jambalaya are just a few of the offerings from a fun farrago of serious food. Just remember: Never drink and fly!
Runner Up: Turtle Bay Taqueria, Seaside
Old Monterey Cafe
489 Alvarado St., Monterey, 646-1021
Big bang for the buck is what Captain Best-Of looks for when it''s time to get the henfruit cracking. Wearing a white sport coat and a pink crustacean, that''s our Boy-Wonder ordering the Dungeness crab Benedict. No, wait--there he is, defending a stack of buttermilk pancakes against a drive-by fruiting of hot apple compote. A master of disguise, Captain Best-Of is value''s own soldier of fortune.
Runner Up: First Awakenings, Pacific Grove and Salinas
300 Del Monte Shopping Center, Monterey, 647-8943
Nine, count ''em, nine new prepared salads on the menu at Fresh Choice take the top prize again this year for help-yourself, ready-to-go real food. Along with fresh homemade soups prepared on-site, choose from selections like shrimp Louie, Chinese chicken salad, and lemon-garlic chicken over linguine from this weekly changing menu line-up. There are also fresh muffins and soft serve yogurt to round things out.
Runner Up: The Warehouse, Monterey
Best Family Restaurant/ Best Desserts
434 Alvarado St., Monterey, 375-1400
When it''s time for Captain Best-Of to round up Mom and Pop Best-Of and all the little Best Ofs, his super-hero menu detector vibrates wildly toward downtown Monterey and the read-out flashes "Rosine''s." Junior heroes will be happy as clams with their own special menu and grown-ups get to agonize over choices like the ultimate turkey and avocado Benedict, or the homemade lasagna, or one of the meal-size salads. Desserts are geared toward a super-hero-sized sweet tooth, too: Diners watching their waist lines will have to rely on heroic measures of restraint to bypass the six-layer Reese''s peanut butter cake and the deep-dish Snickers.
Runner Up Family Restaurant: Old Monterey Cafe, Monterey
Runner Up Dessert: Fifi''s Cafe, Pacific Grove
Best Restaurant for Late-Night Food
Multiple locations in Monterey County
Whether Captain Best-Of is at home or away, he knows that no matter what time the clock strikes, the moon-is-still-over-my-hammy and the eggs are as you like ''em wherever the giant green, yellow and red sign looms large. Serving breakfast, lunch and dinner 24 hours, seven days a week makes Denny''s the popular after-hours hang for night owls, insomniacs and carbo-loading superheros.
Runner Up: Mucky Duck, Monterey
Best "Locals" Restaurant
Monterey''s Fish House
2114 Del Monte Ave., Monterey, 373-4647
The locals know best. And if you want a great locals'' hangout for cuisine that melts in your mouth, you''re talking Monterey''s Fish House. This is regional cuisine at its unpretentious best: Central Coast bounty grounded in its Sicilian-heritage tradition, with some Japanese influence to boot. The curried snapper is savory, edible haiku. The Sicilian seafood pasta--cioppino, in the local vernacular--is an aria fit only for the vocal chords of Pavarotti. And then there are those beatific bivalves, the barbecued oysters, their shells licked by a hot oak flame only long enough to curl their tender frills, sweetly kissed with garlic. When the lamp of culinary luminosity finally dims in Captain Best-Of''s crusade, stow his expired body in a monument to those oysters'' exquisiteness. They opened their sister restaurant, Salinas Valley Fish House, in 1997 with the same menu and Best-Of spirit.
Runners Up: Mucky Duck, Rosine''s, Duffy''s, Fishwife
Best Outdoor Restaurant/Cafe
Forge in the Forest/ General Store
5th and Junipero avenues, Carmel, 624-2233
Daytime dining alfresco and nighttime moon-bathing by firelight is the ambiance of choice for Central Coast nature-boys and girls. The General Store is a full-service bar that complements the full-service Forge menu known for its crispy rotisserie chicken. Some added entertainment options are now gaining a following twice a week with "petite brunch performances" accompanying a special Sunday brunch menu, as well as a Wednesday night mystery dinner staged by a local theater troupe. This corner of Carmel makes eating like going outside to play.
Runner Up: Clock Garden, Monterey
Best Place for Cheap Eats/ Best Burritos
462 Alvarado St., Monterey, 643-0934
470 Alvarado St., Monterey
Don Chano''s, on Ocean Avenue between Mission & San Carlos streets, Carmel. 624-2105
Opening soon in Sand City
Mo-bigger, mo-better is what Captain Best-Of always says, especially when we''re talking a relatively small investment in big-time burrito dividends, or barbecued chicken, or carne asada. There''s a variety of homemade salsas, too, for staying put or taking away. And Papa''s veggie burrito is so good that it''s popular with folks on the meatless side of the fence.
Runner Up Cheap Eats: McDonald''s, everywhere in the known universe
Runner Up Burritos: Turtle Bay, Seaside
Best Place to Eat at the Bar/Best Restaurant in Carmel (tied with Casanova)
101 The Crossroads Shopping Center, Carmel, 625-5436
Even Captain Best-Of likes to be a regular guy sometimes. The easy camaraderie of the scene at Rio appeals to the ultra-cool but-always humble Captain, and getting served at the bar is a handy option at this reservations-recommended venue. Doing a lot of things consistently right is what the Rio restaurant group is good at, making all three of their restaurants (Rio, Tarpy''s Roadhouse and Montrio) repeat winners in several categories across the board. Flashing a brilliant smile, Captain Best-Of commends Rio (forgetting, unfortunately, to first check his snappers for spinach).
Runner Up Eat at the Bar: Duffy''s Tavern
Runners Up Restaurant in Carmel: Piatti, Hog''s Breath
India''s Clay Oven
150 Del Monte Ave., Monterey, 373-2529
It''s not really made out of clay like its predecessor, but the special oven that the restaurant is named for is designed to deliver an intense high heat that imparts a wonderful characteristic flavor to lamb, chicken and even the house-made naan breads that appear on this diverse menu. A phenomenal array of spices (many of which are mild blends, rather than hot) help define the regional cooking styles of India represented here at their exotic best, with plenty of vegetarian options to choose from, too.
Best Restaurant Decor/Best Restaurant in Monterey
414 Calle Principal, Monterey, 648-8880
Montrio continues to be on a roll three years after bringing a taste of the San Francisco Bay to downtown Monterey. Injecting this former firehouse with warmth and style, coral color-washed walls lend intimacy under the long reach of the lofty ceiling. A huge undulating staircase weaves its way to the upstairs dining room and the exhibition kitchen entertains from a comfortable distance, creating an exciting, movement-filled scene. Executive Chef Tony Baker keeps the specials new and innovative and the staff out front stays on the ball, making Montrio a great place to take those out-of-town guests when you feel like showing off.
Runner Up Decor: Fandango, Pacific Grove
Runner Up Monterey: Fresh Cream
Best Restaurant for a First Date/Best Restaurant in Carmel (tied with Rio Grill)
5th Avenue and Mission Street, Carmel, 625-0501
Captain Best-Of finds that it''s sometimes easier to get a first date if he mentions Casanova. (No, not Captain Best-Of''s pseudonym.) Cozy and intimate is the Casanova byline, as it brims over with enchanted Old World charm. Inside or out, the cottage''s dining rooms are always in radiant full bloom as paellas, bouillabaisse and racks of lamb make their way out of the kitchen to be greeted with sighs of diner delight. Quintessential Carmel, Casanova is an ongoing dining tradition.
Runner Up First Date: Fandango, Pacific Grove
Runners Up Restaurant in Carmel: Piatti, Hog''s Breath
Best Restaurant for a Splurge/Best Service (tied with Club XIX)/Best French
99 Pacific St., Monterey, 375-9798
Captain Best-Of puts on his glad rags when his urge is to splurge, and he homes in on those romantic harbor lights. Lots of little flourishes are part of the package with this level of pampered dining--from the little surprise morsel at the beginning of the meal to the fresh strawberry dipped in hard-crack caramel at the finish line. The pt is not to be missed and the same goes for the rack of lamb Dijonaisse. Nothing is mediocre here!
Runner Up for a Splurge: Roy''s at Pebble Beach
Runner Up Service: Old Monterey Cafe, Monterey
Runner Up French: Fifi''s Cafe, Pacific Grove
Best Service in a Restaurant Tie:
The Lodge at Pebble Beach, 17-Mile Drive, Pebble Beach, 625-8519
(see write up under"Best Restaurant for a Splurge")
Captain Best-Of has noticed that even if you should happen to make a grand entrance onto the regal macadam of the Lodge with all four of your tires punctured, deflating and flapping wildly (it''s a long story involving Captain Best-Of, poor night vision and an unseen ditch) with a flip of the AAA card, the zealously hospitable staff will handle all the details, show you to your table and magically produce an aperitif for your jangled nerves. A virtuoso performance!
Runner Up: Old Monterey Cafe, Monterey
Chef Lee''s Mandarin House
2031 N. Fremont Ave., Monterey, 375-9551
Chef Lee''s Peking family-style dinners are popular favorites with MoCo Mandarin-fanciers. Hot and sour soup, mu shu pork, and crispy spring rolls keep a loyal group of followers returning to this palatial Pagoda-style atmosphere since 1978.
Runner Up: Chong''s, Monterey
Best Italian/Best Pasta
Pasta Mia Trattoria
481 Lighthouse Ave., Pacific Grove, 375-7709
Get a taste of Northern and Southern Italy in a turn-of-the-century Pacific Grove setting. It''s the loyal, long-term kitchen staff that chef/owner Maureen Signorella credits with the restaurant''s ongoing winning streak in these categories. Grilled fish has a bigger presence than ever in this menu evolution, along with veal, pizza and rigorously hand-rolled pasta selections.
Runner Up, both categories: Vito''s Italian Restaurant, Pacific Grove
3658 The Barnyard Shopping Center, Carmel, 624-2643
The rustic redwood interiors and a full bar with several sakes to choose from makes Captain Best-Of feel welcome when he visits Robata. Traditional Japanese favorites abound on this menu along with updated East-meets-West options. Sukiyaki, nabe-yaki udon, and feather light tempura are all here along with sushi and teriyaki-glazed grilled fish on a huge menu that requires several visits to appreciate.
Runner Up: Ichi Riki, Seaside
Restaurant with the Best View
Highway 1, Carmel, 624-2933
Perched on a bluff high over a fabled pirate''s cove, the vista from Rocky Point is indeed hard to rival. No match for Captain Best-Of''s keen opposition to mediocrity, the pirates fled but the palate-pleasing mesquite-grilled steaks and swordfish stayed on.
Runner Up: Pacific''s Edge, Highlands Inn, Carmel
477 Lighthouse Ave., Pacific Grove, 649-2530
Now things like baba ghanoush, hummus and tabbouleh are a part of The Captain''s vocabulary, since coming to know the piquant delights of this part of the Mediterranean in Pacific Grove. Arabic, Greek and Turkish influences all make their mark on this residential street corner that can boast an international menu. Shish kebab devotees won''t be disappointed.
Runner Up: Epsilon, Monterey
Pepper''s Mexicali Cafe
170 Forest Ave., Pacific Grove, 373-6892
Pacific Grove may be America''s Last Hometown, but Providence and Captain Best-Of have spared it a fate doomed to pork and beans. Seafood is the specialty at this lively, comfortable South-of-the-Border diner with an appeal that''s sophisticated, small-town, and easy on the pocketbook. The slightly spicy tang to all the menu items keeps readers voting for Peppers again and again. (And if you take time to read the illustrations on the wall you will receive a botany lesson in all the varied relatives in the pepper family.)
Runner Up: Papa Chano''s, Monterey
159 Central Ave., Pacific Grove, 372-8700
Thai Bistro II, 55 W. Carmel Valley Rd., Carmel Valley, 659-5900
It''s the gingery galanga root, the pungent Thai basil, the hot chilies and coconut milk that, combined, give Captain Best-Of a tingle on his palate and a surge of sinus relief: This is what he looks for when he feels like putting on a Thai. It''s a gai-thing--laab gai, tom kha gai--that mysterious magic when heat meets sweet, the essence of this tantalizing cuisine.
Runner Up: Siamese Bay, Monterey
Best Restaurant in Big Sur
Highway 1., Big Sur, 667-2331
Ventana''s lusciousness will make a come-back when this winter''s El Ni¤o finally subsides and the road crews are finished with their Highway 1 heroics. April 1 is the projected date when Chef Hamid will pick up where he left off with menu favorites like salmon fillet in a potato crust. It''s a perfect place to make an afternoon of it with lunch on the outside terrace, or dinner, with a mini-vacation and a romantic overnight stay at the Inn. Whichever your choice, you will come away with a renewed appreciation for the rugged beauty of the Big Sur coast.
Runner Up: Nepenthe
Best Restaurant in Castroville/Best BBQ
Central Texan BBQ
10500 Merritt St., Castroville, 633-2285
Captain Best-Of tips his X-Ray Specs in salute to the reigning barbecue king of Castroville, (and the Central Coast) Don Elkins. He''s the maestro of the slow-hand barbecue pit, where Texas doctrine forbids the flame to ever touch the meat, leaving the magic up to a gentle massage of hot hardwood smoke instead. This is dry-rubbed beef brisket, chicken and pork at it''s best, with sauce on the side, if you must. "We leave it up to you, if you wanna screw up the meat," explains the magnanimous Elkins.
Runner Up: La Scuola
Best Restaurant in Carmel Valley
Will''s Fargo Dining House & Saloon
Eleven miles east of Hwy. 1, Carmel Valley Road., Carmel Valley, 659-2774
For 38 years, Will''s Fargo has been an oasis of genteel Victorian charm in the Carmel Valley countryside. Their claims to fame include their butcher box where you can watch your certified Angus beef steak being carved straight from the bone (you can even tell ''em exactly how thick you want it), an eight-bone rack of lamb complemented with artichoke and goat cheese pesto, filets marinated in Dijon mustard and honey, and fresh fish right out of the Bay.
Runner Up: Wagon Wheel
Best Restaurant in Marina
265 Reservation Rd., Marina, 883-2265
It''s been a decade since the Bamboo Pavilion brought hot-and-spicy Hunan to this MoCo corridor. Chef and owner Juliang Hee keeps Captain Best-Of coming back for more with special dishes like fresh green beans with pork in garlic sauce and the always popular crab and cream cheese wontons.
Runner Up: Wayne''s Steak House
Best Restaurant in Pebble Beach/ Best Restaurant Where You Can Make A Meal of the Appetizers
Roy''s at Pebble Beach
2700 17-Mile Drive, 647-7423
When Captain Best-Of knows he''s in the mood for something different, his superhero taste buds start speaking Euro-Asian and pointing him toward Roy''s. It''s a test of will to get past the list of appetizers here, with selections like lobster potsticker with miso butter, crispy Asian spring rolls in mango-chile sauce, and Szechwan baby-back ribs. But, with entres like blackened ahi or wood-roasted lobster enchiladas, big appetites are met with ample awards. Only the restaurant''s view from Asilomar to Point Joe rivals its menu for ingenuity.
Runner Up Pebble Beach: Club XIX, Pebble Beach
Runner Up Appetizers: Robata''s, Carmel
Best Restaurant in Moss Landing
Moss Landing Oyster Bay
413 Moss Landing Rd., Moss Landing, 632-0119
It''s not just oysters that make Oyster Bay popular with the locals. The filet, glazed with smoked cherry sauce, and the rack of lamb done with maple pecan sauce have also made an impact along with a variety of fresh fish offerings. There''s also a big back patio that easily lends itself to large celebrations.
Runner Up: Phil''s Fish Market and Eatery
Best Restaurant in North County
Wyatt''s Steak House
17870 Moro Rd., Prunedale, 663-0858
Hand-cut, aged steaks are Wyatt''s specialty, although the menu comes with some pleasant surprises. Once inside this rustic, barn-like exterior you''re likely to find fresh flowers and menu offerings like veal sweetbreads in sherry sauce, and fresh papparadelle pasta.
Runner Up: Central Texan, Castroville
Best Restaurant in Salinas
66 W. Alisal St., Salinas, 424-4139
It''s Spado''s fine points that gets the nod from Captain Best-Of''s noble chin--like the totally boneless lemon, garlic and rosemary roasted chicken, and the wood-roasted Salinas Valley vegetables on the crisp-crusted pizzetes, or pizaoli with the works. Then there''s the Parmesan-crusted lamb shanks, and Spado''s seafood linguine. Oldtown Salinas continues its love affair with John Spadaro''s winning ways.
Runner Up: Salinas Valley Fish House
Best Restaurant in Seaside/Best Seafood
1996 Sunset Dr. at Asilomar Beach, Pacific Grove, 375-7107 789 Trinity Ave., Seaside, 394-2027
Whether Captain Best-Of is working a beat in Seaside or Pacific Grove, the Fishwife is where he goes for a fresh fish fix. The sea garden salads with blackened snapper or calamari, the seafood linguine Alfredo, and the prawns Belize are all choices that make for tough dining decisions here. Saving room for the key lime pie goes with the territory.
Runner Up Seaside: Cavanaugh''s Dining House
Runner Up Seafood: Fish House, Monterey and Salinas
Best Restaurant in South County
611 Canal St., King City, 385-3543
Keefer''s has been our ageless Boy-Wonder''s favorite jumping-off spot between Santa Barbara and San Francisco for half a century. The menu has changed some during that time, but it''s still the place to find a guaranteed good breakfast or lunch and a dinner menu that keeps prime rib fans happy.
Runner Up: Palace Steak House, Gonzales