An innovative menu, a historic setting, and even a resident ghost.
Thursday, September 7, 2000
Between 1833, when Stokes Adobe was built as a one room home, and 1996, when Kirk and Dorothea Probasco, along with Chef Brandon Miller, opened Stokes Adobe Restaurant, the now two-story (since about 1848) adobe house has seen its share of Monterey history. Among other things, it was--and still is--home to the ghost of Martha Harriet Gragg, better known as Hattie.
Until her death in 1948, Hattie and her husband Mortimer made Stokes the center of the Monterey social scene. For 30 years after that, Gallitan''s restaurant held court as one of the top spots on the West Coast. There was a stretch of vacancy and a few different couldn''t-quite-make-it joints until ''96, when Stokes Adobe Restaurant was born. And I believe they are in for another long stint of success and prosperity.
This restaurant is very interesting to look at, both inside and out. At night, it really creates a pretty picture, with soft lighting and trees surrounding the building. Inside, it has the charm that only an old, historic space can attain.
Just inside the front door is a comfortable lobby, which contains the host stand, as well as a sitting area with a fireplace. The bar area is in its own room and is nice, although it could use some revisions. The stools are uncomfortable and are too wide to really allow for more than seven or eight people in the space. There is an area with tables for casual dining, but maybe some small cocktail tables or drink rails would help to create more of a bar atmosphere. There is a major renovation planned for the near future, so the restaurant has obviously identified certain improvements that would increase productivity and is taking steps to implement them.
But I digress. One thing I don''t want them to do is mess with the food. I love the fact that the menu has diversity, flexibility and imagination. It is divided into five categories: tapas, small plates, large plates, sides and desserts. From tapas come beauties like fava bean crostini ($3.75), veal meatballs with spinach sauce ($3.75) and Monterey sardines with salsa verde ($4).
The small plates include delicacies such as white corn bisque with smoked chili creme fraiche ($5.50), and crispy duck confit salad with roasted garlic ($8.25).
All right, you want entrees? We''ve got seared hanger steak with spinach cheese tart ($19.25), grilled lavender-infused pork chop with savory bread pudding and mission fig chutney ($18.25). How about California lamb T-bones with saffron, corn and blue cheese polenta, summer beans and roasted garlic jus ($23.95)? Are you kidding me?
Curly and I ate there last week. Without Larry to round out the group, we had a very casual, build-it-as-you-go type of experience. We showed up on a Saturday night, about 8:15, without reservations. Naturally there was going to be a wait, so we gladly went into the bar where Curly had a glass of ''98 Baileyana Chard ($9) and I had my regular martini (I''ll let you know what that is at a later date, after I lose my shyness). We enjoyed watching Paul, the bartender, in high gear. He had just the right blend of concerned service and cool confidence--a bartender''s bartender. We chilled until the hostess came to lead us to a nice little corner table.
Immediately, tasty bread and butter, along with a small dish of various types of good olives arrived to quell our hunger. From there it was just a matter of following our instincts. Dawn, our waitperson, was attentive and knowledgeable and easily guided us through the evening''s experience. The service at Stokes has always proven to be efficient, timely and tight.
That night we decided to share from each course (we ended up having four). First, the special app, grilled red pepper with risotto, pork heirloom tomatoes, chervil and God knows what else; it was fabulous. The flavors came at us in waves, causing us to swim in the splendor of it. We were having trouble coordinating our wine wishes so we opted for separate wines by the glass. The menu for wine is as diverse as the one for food. Dorothea has put together a lovely list with 14 or so wines by the glass, along with a strong bottle selection in most categories.
The next course, a halibut special ($19), was lightly encrusted with a finely ground nut mixture and perched (halibutted?) atop little baby potatoes. The rich stuffing layer was yummy, perfectly flaky and exotic with swirling flavors to complement the delicate fish. We then had the housemade mozzarella tower ($9.50) with heirloom tomatoes and basil oil; just as good as it sounds.
Deciding that too much of a good thing was the only way to go, we attacked the daily creme brulee ($5.75), which was chocolate that night. What else can I say?
Go in some time at lunch or dinner or go to the bar for a cocktail or a glass of wine and just dig the menu. Before long you''ll be ordering something for sure. That''s when you''ll be hooked. This guy Miller cranks out top-notch food with a pretty good batting average, from a menu that is demanding. As with all restaurants (and everything in life) there will be times when the kitchen might be having an off night, but as a rule, the food here hits the mark for preparation, freshness, flavor, and especially, inventiveness.
500 Hartnell, Monterey (behind the library). 373-1110. Open daily for lunch and dinner (dinner only, Sunday).