It’s All About the Cake
Rosine’s has been feeding local families for decades.
Thursday, February 5, 2004
It was Open House at my kids’ school last Sunday. It was a brilliant idea to do it on a weekend. Parents weren’t rushed. Kids weren’t on educational and social overload.
We roamed classrooms leisurely, checked in with teachers, then browsed the science fair where I quickly declared my son’s experiment the hands-down best—well, all right, maybe with the exception of that cool hovercraft made out of a lawn blower, a chair, and a piece of plywood. The kid really should have charged for those rides.
Once we landed, we decided to go over to Rosine’s for an early dinner. The kids always suggest Rosine’s. It was an easy choice, really, the kind of place that’s comfortable whether you’re decked out in a suit or covered in a science project. It’s loud, clanky even. It’s big and family friendly and could very well pass for your mother’s kitchen.
We always feel a little more in the thick of it when we score one of a handful of tables up on the platform. They’re great for people watching. This day, though, like most every other, the restaurant was quite busy, so we stuck with the main floor table we were offered. It’s all good seating in the open, high-ceilinged room with windows galore, and it’s worth a scan around to see how many familiar faces you’ll come across: teachers, friends, politicos, bosses, relatives, neighbors, you name it.
Browsing the menu is more a product of habit than actual necessity. If Mom makes it, it’s here: salads, pasta, steaks, seafood, burgers, sandwiches.
The boys ordered kid things: a corn dog for one ($3.50) and chicken fingers ($4.50) for the other. The kicker, though, is that this is one of the few places where kids take the initiative to request salads. It’s the ranch dressing that gets them. Hey, whatever works.
I intended to order a hot sandwich. But when the kids said salad, I had a quick change of heart and selected a Chinese chicken salad ($9.25). Then, just to rattle my taste buds a bit, I jumped a sea or two and ordered a cup of beef tamale soup ($3.50).
Dad orders one thing and one thing only here since he discovered it eons back: a steak sandwich ($10.95). This time was no different, but he did precede it with a dinner salad.
“They have the best balsalmic vinaigrette here,” Dad said between mouthfuls of iceberg. Kindly, he offered a bite. He was right. It was light with a twinge of sweet and ended with a nice tiptoe through an herb garden. I was envious, right up until my soup arrived.
Misnomers don’t exist on any truer level than with my beef tamale soup. It was a soft-tortilla-less burrito full of ground beef, red beans, tomatoes, yellow corn, and a taco topped with onions, olives, a dollop of sour cream and a sprinkle of yellow cheese, all crumbled (taco shell included) into a rich, thick tomato base that melded itself into a mini meal.
Dad’s enormous New York steak sandwich on a sesame roll was served dry, with sides galore to dress it up. Normally health-conscious Dad asked for mayo, extra mayo at that. As he piled it on, I cringed. “I can see your arteries clogging from here,” I poked. Our server agreed with a laugh, shook her head and let him be.
That’s the thing—Rosine’s is the kind of place that’s going to blow your diet. Even my Chinese chicken salad was overindulgence. It was the size of all three guys’ side salads, layered deep with mandarin oranges, almonds, noodles and chunked grilled chicken with a fabulous barely-there sweet dressing.
I’m one of those obnoxious chicken salad eaters who picks through to find all the chicken first. When it’s gone, I spend the next few minutes making sure, then decide I’m done. The chicken in this one, however, outlasted the rove of my fork, and I didn’t have to pick through to find it. It was everywhere, and I got the chance to enjoy the array of ingredients. When I was done, there must have been an entire breast of chicken left and half the salad.
The legendary dessert case by the front door was calling, and we discussed at length whether or not to split a piece of one of many sinfully monstrous cakes on display. Six layers of German chocolate, or Oreo cookie, or Kit Kat, Almond Joy cake, perhaps. They scream out at you, “Nya nya nya, you want me, you want me.” And we did.
But on this visit we just couldn’t. We’ve come in for dessert and espresso alone plenty of times, and that’ll replace any meal on a splurge day. As easy as it would have been to do both dinner and dessert, we had to say no.
The glaring simplicity of the fare here dances to the tune of rudimentary, right up until the realization hits that the simplistic has been refined over decades to become a waltz of local legend, the paragon of what neighborhood diner used to mean, a true everyperson’s any-occasion place.
We left that day, meandered down Alvarado to peruse the shops, then back up the other side of the street for more while the kids kicked around ideas about which science projects stole the show, and what they’ll do next. And it occurred to me, bundled up and strolling through the town, that this is the stuff they’ll remember someday, science fairs and that case full of desserts bigger than themselves at their favorite restaurant.
“Mom, maybe we can go back after my First Confession next weekend and have dessert too,” the little one suggested crawling back into the car. I think that’s a fine idea.
434 Alvarado St., Monterey
Open Sun.-Thurs. 8am to 9pm, Fri.-Sat. to 10pm.