The Grill at Ryan Ranch is a pleasing successor to Billy Quon’s.
Thursday, February 10, 2005
It’s typically bad advice to try to be all things to all people, but The Grill at Ryan Ranch excels as an every-occasion dining destination. Though it abuts a business park off Highway 68, it seems a world removed from the corporate community. The space has been operating as a restaurant for nearly seven years—beginning as the well-loved Billy Quon’s, started by legendary local restaurateur Billy Lee. As of last October, Lee Connally, the former owner of a Salinas deli, has revamped Billy Quon’s into The Grill at Ryan Ranch. The Grill continues with Billy Quon’s Pacific Rim cuisine offerings.
The Friday night that my neighbor Laura and I dined at The Grill, six other couples peppered the comfortably spaced dining room. It seemed quiet for a weekend, but Mother Nature was wreaking havoc on the weather. The handsome room—a sexy mix of leafy plants, minimalist artwork and butter-hued walls—was bathed in warm light.
The Grill impressed us as a potential first-date restaurant, a celebration place or simply a best-loved neighborhood haunt. The sleek, fully-stocked teak bar adjoining the entrance seemed like the perfect place to mingle for conversation. And in warmer weather, I can’t imagine a better post-work place to grab some drinks and appetizers. The scene-stealing mountain views from the 32-seat heated patio must make for a most spectacular sunset.
From the moment we sat down, service was efficient, yet relaxed. Laura and I decided on a bottle of Georis Sauvignon Blanc Wine 2003 ($28) from Carmel Valley. Georis is best known for their Cabernet and Merlot varietals, so we were impressed with this surprisingly complex white. The wine list was inspired and affordable, with mostly local selections. While savoring our delicious wine, we were served foccacia and a tasty scallion-studded butter.
Portions at The Grill are hefty, so come hungry or plan on leftovers. It was difficult to decide which appetizers to try. Szechuan broccolini, grilled ahi and sweet butter lettuce salad all sounded delicious, but we opted for vegetarian spring rolls ($6.95) and panko-crusted Dungeness crab cakes ($9.95). The spring roll wrappers were thin and flaky, and did the job of containing the delicious purple cabbage and rice noodle filling. Although a tad greasy, the rolls tasted even better when dipped in the accompanying sweet tropical dipping sauce and spicy Asian mustard. We also devoured two lightly-fried 2 oz. crab cakes that were presented swimming in a pool of citrus beurre blanc, swirled with basil aioli and hot chili oil. The texture was moist and meaty, the seasoning subtle.
The best entrée we tried turned out to be the Angus New York steak ($24.95), served in a rich cabernet reduction sauce. The 12 oz. cut of beef was tender, perfectly grilled, full of flavor—accompanied by buttery, bleu cheese infused whipped potatoes and a crisp vegetable medley. Laura waxed poetic on the brilliant mingling of bleu cheese and potatoes, murmuring, “yum yum yum” more than a few times.
But by the time her oration of adoration ended, I was echoing the sentiment as pineapple sambal marmalade from the sticky coconut prawns ($21.95) dripped from my lips. Four skewers of butterflied, coconut-crusted jumbo prawns were artfully arranged atop a fresh pineapple. The surprisingly tasteless pineapple was accented by a heaping timbale of sticky rice and a pool of a pineapple-based sauce spiked with jalapeños and onions. The accompanying steamed broccoli, carrots, green and wax beans didn’t come across quite as well: they were fresh and colorful, but could’ve benefited from less cooking time.
Thinking that our eyes may have been bigger than our collective stomach, we made an executive decision to halt eating in an effort to leave ample room for dessert. Carefully presented desserts had been streaming from the kitchen all evening, and seemed well worth the calories. One such dessert, a mocha crème brulée ($6.50), generated some debate. Laura found no flaws in this ultra rich version. Crème brulée is one of those desserts that comes with a reputation to uphold, and although the creamy coffee flavor was damn near ethereal, it lacked the crispy, caramelized sugar crust that fanciers love to gently break with a tap of a spoon. Perhaps if it had been touted as a custard or a mousse, I could overlook the lack of ‘brulée.’ However, paired with a cup of fresh ground Italian roast coffee ($2.25), I was catapulted to a state of caffeinated and sugar-fueled bliss.
We left The Grill feeling warmly dazzled but not
overwhelmed by crowds, kitschy menu items or high prices. Chef
Moises Robles’ food is so sublime and the service so soothing
that it’s well worth venturing down the highway for this
top-notch experience—whatever the occasion may be.
Grill at Ryan Ranch
1 Harris Court, Suite 103, Monterey | 647-0390
Lunch: 11:30am-3:30pm Mon.-Fri.
Dinner: 4:00pm-9:00pm Mon.-Sat. | Closed Sundays