Menu Of The Muses
At Massaro&Santos, the food really is as great as the view.
Thursday, July 6, 2000
When I consider my travels, it''s become a cliche that restaurants with great views don''t always serve great food.
I approached Massaro&Santos with that skepticism, only to have my stereotype subverted by this latest brainchild of Frank Massaro--former partner of the enormously successful Monterey''s Fish House--and Oliver Santos, who toiled for 14 years at the Whaling Station before meeting Frank at the Fish House.
Chef Martin Santos Marquez sharpened his knives most recently during five years at Roy''s and 12 years at Domenico''s, exploring his art as California cuisine merged with global cuisine and most cooks struggled to find their place amid the ensuing anarchy.
The Coast Guard Pier location has long been one of Monterey''s best, not only for the celebrated view, but as a peaceful spot with few structures on a wharf that''s otherwise a dock and point of entry for divers.
Once inside, my willing accomplice, Darcie, and I were immediately drawn to the cozy bar. The main attraction is not the view, but centers on an appealing bar encased in deep red walls, with a dizzyingly high ceiling and a few elegant tables (no minuscule bar tables). On a dark night, I''d dine here.
The main dining room is similarly appointed and up-to-date with walls of buttery yellow and deep red. An open-beam, natural wood ceiling adds to the breezy feel of the window-lined space, and the overall effect is the hallmark comfort that I''ve relished at Monterey''s Fish House. Somehow, Massaro&Santos have already achieved a contrivance-free geniality that makes you feel like you''ve been coming here for years.
We passed on the full bar and went straight to the wine list, which features a thoughtful selection of primarily California wines. We opted for wines by the glass in expectation of sampling a broader variety. Two reds and two whites are offered, reasonably priced at $5, but hopefully the list will expand to include a few premium wines.
The menu finds its Muse in several places: Frank''s Italian background, Santos'' Filipino family, the fruits of the surrounding sea, and the inscrutable backcountry of Marquez''s creativity.
We couldn''t resist the lumpia appetizer, a Filipino spring roll of shrimp, beef and veggies served with a ginger-garlic dipping sauce. This handmade rendition is freshened up, California style, from the authentic recipe and though fried, was light and delicious ($5.95). An excellent New England clam chowder is on the menu ($2.95), and the soup of the day was an exceptional Manhattan clam chowder ($2.50) that should be added permanently.
On to the Caesar salad ($5.95), always a good barometer of what''s to come at any restaurant. The dressing is the thing and here''s a chef who does not flinch in the face of anchovy and garlic. We like this behavior a lot. The most common restaurant flaw? Too much dressing. Tonight, one salad was well dressed, the other a little heavy on the sauce, but fortunately tasty.
All seafood is prepared as you like, grilled, blackened or piccata (lemon, caper, butter). Darcie selected an entree special, halibut ($16.95)--grilled--which sounded bland, plus halibut tends to dry out in less-than-skilled hands, but it was impressively flavorful, moist, and nicely charred. With rice and sauteed vegetables, we loved it.
I ordered the combination Seafood Pasta ($16.95), a whale-sized portion with marinara sauce, heaped with clams, mussels, shrimp, scallops and squid. The seafood was fresh and tender, though the squid was a bit tough from overcooking, but otherwise a memorable dish. Most entrees cost less than ours, and there are meat and poultry items for the more carnivorous, plus a children''s menu.
Feeling pyrotechnic? The Bananas Foster is a fun fusion of bananas, liqueur and brown sugary butter flambeed near your table and served over ice cream ($12 for two). Ah. Welcome back, boys. We''re looking forward to lots of good food and good time.