On The Wings Of A Dove
Great Mexican dining takes flight at El Palomar.
Thursday, April 20, 2000
Taking in the sights and smells of the Old Monterey Farmers Market on a salivating stroll down Alvarado Street had sent our appetites off the charts on a recent Tuesday evening.
Strolling faster, my dining companion and I turned our hunger pangs toward El Palomar Monterey Mexican Seafood Restaurant with the assurance that chips and salsa would provide requisite immediate gratification. Steps through the door, swept into an inviting interior showered in natural lighting from expansive skylights and emanating a colorful, tropical attitude, within a bing-bang-boom we had our mouths around warm tortilla chips and zesty, peak-of-flavor salsa. Salvation!
Not bad. Within the span of a very few minutes, El Palomar scored big points; prompt attention from alert, energetic waitstaff, real Mexican-style salsa--made from fresh -cooked tomatoes and lotsa cilantro--and a real wine list, with a small but good selection of local vintages. (Why do so many Mexican restaurants shun the fruit of the grape?) Thusly, we were armed to dine.
As the list of specials came rolling off his tongue, a gracious measure of patience is also much to our waiter''s credit, when my distracted dining companion asked, "What does that come with again?" no fewer than four times. Diminished brain function can be a powerful side effect of acute hunger.
Pressing on, I was easily talked into a freshly steamed pork tamale to get things rolling. Tamales reign as a cornerstone in Mexican cuisine in my book, and El Palomar makes them fresh every Tuesday and Wednesday. In a word, "Yum." Edified as to the favoritos de la casa, in this case a strong lobby for enchiladas, chile verde, chicken mole and chile rellenos, we both instead deferred to the specials board in favor of fish.
It soon became evident why popular demand denies halibut''s departure from the specials board. Although char-grilled, teriyaki-glazed halibut served on a pool of fresh tomatillo salsa initially struck me as an odd pairing, my companion cheered after I quickly checked myself after demanding a test drive. Because the glaze wasn''t sticky sweet, it married with the green sauce in a celestial match, the halibut perfectly cooked, $16.
The fresh-caught Monterey Bay salmon called my name, and I answered robustly. Again, the fillet was cooked to a perfect doneness that was complemented by ranchero sauce--made from fresh-charred tomatoes that, along with jalapeño and guajillo chiles, contribute the little, smoky black specks to the finished sauce. Garnished with fresh diced avocado, it was pure pleasure, for $16. "What does that come with again?" asked my partner. Nicely sauteed zucchini and asparagus. The Spanish rice and refried beans, served in a tortilla basket, made for a dainty breakfast many hours later. The handmade corn tortillas are laboriously patted out every day. The dessert menu is simple; New York cheesecake, chocolate cake and house-made flan.
With five years behind them, owners Rudy and Kathy Torres have a consistently good thing going at El Palomar. With a roomy thatch-roof tiki hut cantina and huge outside terrace, complete with a firepit, it''s also a good place for lively gatherings. Translating to "where the doves nest," the doves are on to a good thing at El Palomar.
El PalomarAddress: 724 Abrego St. (at Munras Avenue), Monterey, 372-1032
Hours:724 Abrego St. (at Munras Avenue), Monterey, 372-1032
Average price of dinner for two: $24