Still Shining Strong
Seasoned MoCo food pro Victor Jimenez hits the bull's eye for the second time with his untimid Lighthouse Bistro.
Thursday, April 12, 2001
The restaurant business is brutal. The stress, intensity, deadline pressure and overall thanklessness of the work storm down hard upon your body and mind, regardless of the job you hold. After a while, the spirit goes as well.
Almost no one can sustain a high level of quality work in a restaurant position for an extended period of time. Those who do are so rare they can be categorized as an aberration.
Often, an individual will get on a hot streak with everything going right--the place jumpin'' every night, money flowing, business growing, dreams lookin'' outta sight. But the very nature of the beast--with the intensity rush the one night, followed by the winding down, followed by the intensity rush the next night, followed by the winding down (you get the picture) is a roller coaster ride on which it''s easy to crash and burn.
Victor Jimenez used to own the Ryan Ranch Rotisserie (where Billy Quon''s is now). His joint was the happening spot in the area, catering to fat crowds every evening. He was sittin'' on top of the world and ridin'' high. Then the crash came and he lost the whole shebang. Life can be hard and double dealing. It''s difficult enough to take a restaurant to the top. But when you do just that and then come tumbling down, it''s sad and extremely painful.
After a period of healing and soul searching, this knucklehead (used here as a loving term for anyone nuts enough to be in this business in the first place, let alone the second or third place) decides to open up another spot. Lighthouse Bistro, on the corner of Lighthouse and Drake in New Monterey, is a cute little place with about 10 tables inside and the same number outside in a beautifully landscaped garden setting.
Serving lunch six days and dinner four times a week, Jimenez has fashioned a menu of interesting dishes, with a few choices even tapping into his South American roots for flavoring and style. Items such as Yucatan blackened chicken fajitas, Argentinean roasted pork loin sandwich and a tapas plate line up on the lunch menu alongside a Cobb salad, mushroom and eggplant sandwich, house-roasted turkey sandwich, grilled portabella, and chicken and matzo ball soup.
At night, there''s a short but interesting selection of standards along with a few specials. A classic Caesar salad coexists with a pear/spinach/blue cheese salad with pancetta, balsamic vinegar and walnuts. Papas bravas (spicy sweet potato fries with a chimichurri dip) share the spotlight with cannelloni(house-made pasta filled with fresh spinach, pesto, ricotta and Reggiano Parmesan baked au gratin in a light sweet tomato basil sauce). Lechon al horno (my first wife used to call me that)--a whole leg of pork infused with fresh thyme, mint, rosemary, shallots, wine, slow roasted and then sliced and served over whipped potatoes-- competes for attention with fresh Monterey Bay sandabs. There is something for everyone.
Fun and Hearty
The night we dined at Lighthouse Bistro, it was still moderately busy when we arrived for our 8:20pm reservations, even though this is the slow time of year for dining out. Jimenez and company serve until 10pm on weekends, which is a nice feature for those of us who like to eat a little later.
Our waiter, who was friendly and very nice, seemed inexperienced and slightly intimidated by the job but managed to get us through the experience without mishap and in relative comfort.
The night of our visit, Lighthouse Bistro offered baked stuffed oysters for two bucks apiece. We ordered four, along with the interesting-sounding grilled asparagus in a "blanket." The oysters were large and fresh, stuffed with a combination of pancetta, mushrooms, scallions and sherry wine. They were extremely flavorful and the oysters were so tender that we whacked ''em before we could analyze them.
The asparagus was prepared one of the coolest ways I''ve ever seen. Chef Jimenez wraps flank steak around asparagus (this steak must be marinated because it''s very, very flavorful) then grills the whole deal and drizzles bearnaise sauce on it. Aye Chihuahua! For a guy who hates asparagus, I inhaled them. Chickie Boom was right there with me.
By this point we were beginning to realize that the food here is not timid. Flavors are pronounced, portions plentiful. The cuisine is not lean. It has a masculine quality to it, almost a macho style. It is very interesting stuff.
For entrees, we went with the roasted honey almond duck from the specials niche for Sweet Thing and, for me, lomito Sudamericano--tenderloin filet of beef medallions sauteed with artichokes, hearts of palm, cracked peppercorn in a cabernet sauce and then topped with bearnaise. (The beef dish also came with scalloped au gratin potatoes, in case your gout was starting to clear up.) It was as complex and interesting as it sounds. Big flavors surrounded my taste buds and held them captive. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Sweet Thing''s duck, which came with lemony couscous, was very good although a bit dry on some parts. That is not uncommon for duck and is probably just an isolated case. All in all, we were both quite impressed with the place.
We finished with one scoop of good vanilla bean ice cream (Carmel Creamery) and rolled ourselves out, carrying leftovers.
Pricing at Lighthouse Bistro is fair, the ambiance is comfortable, and the food is fun, hearty and well prepared. The wine list is extensive enough to satisfy most diners and has the occasional gem (we drank the last 1997 Justin Isosceles).
It looks as if Victor Jimenez has hit it right again.
Lighthouse Bistro is located at 401 Lighthouse in New Monterey and is open Monday-Saturday 11am-3pm for lunch and Wednesday-Thursday 5:30-9:30pm (Friday-Saturday till 10pm) for dinner. For reservations or more info, call 649-0320.