Thursday, March 11, 1999
Chances are you may have driven countless times down curvy, winding Munras Avenue without a clue as to the nature of the name. Stand at the spot where Abrego Avenue joins with Munras in downtown Monterey, and you'll be planted right where the last Spanish diplomat to California, Don Esteban Munras, created his sprawling estate that covered some 20,000 acres in 1824.
Hot Link: Casa Munras Hotel
Remaining from the original whitewashed adobe structure is a porch and a portion of the former dining room with a meeting room above, the hand-hewn brick walls measuring almost three feet thick in some places. In 1941, the heart of the Don's Rancho San Vicente became the site of Monterey's first garden hotel, Casa Munras, which has been continuously operating as such since then.
Past the oversized fireplace through the airy, open hotel lobby you'll find Casa Café, where David Tyler has overseen the kitchen for the last 14 years. Beginning as the restaurant's chef, Tyler's position leap-frogged to the management of 60 restaurant properties as the hotel group expanded across country. As a corporate chef, keeping his bags packed was the status quo.
But, as fortune would have it, corporate down-sizing coincided with Tyler's own wish to put down roots. Tyler now holds both the titles of certified executive chef and food-and-beverage director, and admits that the long tenure he has enjoyed within one company is unusual. "It's been a good match. We all get along well, and a lot of us have been here for a long time," he explains. "Some of the waitstaff have been here longer than I have."
Casa Munras has also managed to attract loyal repeat guests, both itinerant and local. "We often see the same people for lunch five days a week, and usually don't even have to ask them what they'll be having," Tyler laughs. Opting in favor of menu items with a Otried and true' track record rather than offering nouvelle cuisine, breakfast at Casa Café finds a standard selection of hot cakes, waffles, eggs--Benedict or as-you-like-them--as well as the Euro breakfast, accommodating far-flung tastes with a plate of soft-boiled eggs, ham, cheese and yogurt.
The soup, salad and baked potato bar sees its share of traffic from downtowner's on their lunch hour. More salads--Chinese chicken, shrimp Louie, and grilled chicken Caesar--round things out, along with a selection of hot and cold sandwiches, burgers, and fish and chips. The remodeled dining room invites the outdoors in, with ripe peach sponged walls and bright, colorful linens--a pleasant venue for observing the busy street scene outside the long bank of windows.
Dinner at Casa Café is two dozen or so selections of the Ocontinental' variety: The menu traverses from local, sautéed sand dabs to Cajun snapper or fried coconut prawns in the seafood category, and goes to duck with plum sauce, skewered lamb kabobs and chicken Parmesan, to prime rib of beef with baked potato and sauteed liver and onions with mashed potatoes, all served with a choice of soup or salad.
Along with being well-known to Café regulars, Tyler is a familiar figure to his colleagues and members of the Monterey Bay Chapter of the American Culinary Federation. Currently the group's chairman of the board, he was awarded the title of Chef of the Year in 1990. Tyler is again nominated for the l998 title, with award ceremonies to announce the winner at the ACF President's Ball coming up April 11. Further acknowledging Tyler's work with the ACF, the group's honor society, the American Academy of Chefs, now considers him for induction into their elite corps. cw