Just Like Family
Old Monterey Café keeps a regular crowd going with great food and home-style customer service.
Thursday, March 24, 2005
For almost two decades, the Old Monterey Café has been pleasing regulars and tourists alike in its well-positioned locale on Alvarado Street in Monterey. Ray Rodriguez, who bought the restaurant three years ago, has presided over the kitchen for 14 years. Rodriguez’s tasty food creates the initial draw to the restaurant, but the friendly team service philosophy, which is described on the menu, keeps people coming back.
The wait staff shares responsibility for every table. When an order comes up, whoever is available takes it out, so that food arrives at the table piping hot. The wait staff also remembers regular customers’ favorite beverages, and brings them their drinks as they walk into the restaurant.
On my first visit for breakfast, three zealous waiters asked me if I would like something to drink. I made sure I only received one freshly squeezed orange juice ($3.50/large). I ordered a favorite dish that I had not eaten in 10 years—a feta omelet ($5.95). I thought this specialty of Greek-owned diners in Chicago simply did not exist in California. The melted feta comes inside the Greek versions of this dish, whereas Rodriguez puts the feta on top of the omelet. The presentation did not affect the flavor of the salty cheese that added zing to the omelet. The copper colored hash browns that came with the omelet were fried with onions and tasted especially good with the mild house salsa.
I returned for lunch with my husband Laurent and daughter Florence. Laurent ordered the cheese quesadilla ($6.95), Florence had the Lo-Cal Feast ($8.75), and I had a Crab Louie Salad ($10.95/large).
Laurent’s quesadilla arrived on a 14-inch platter, like all of our meals did. He piled on the sour cream, guacamole, and salsa with every bite, and said it
was one of the best quesadillas he had eaten. A deep-fried shell held Laurent’s black beans, which had a delicious smoky flavor.
Florence had a generous helping of fresh greens on her Lo-Cal platter. She gave me her artichoke hearts (nice kid) and polished off the heaping portion of greens. Florence said the chicken breast that comes as a choice with this dish was juicy and savory and liked it so much that she offered me only a miniscule bite.
The huge Old Monterey Café version of Crab Louie Salad comes with shredded crab meat and Thousand Island dressing along with artichoke hearts, avocadoes, green pepper, tomatoes, cucumbers, and a hard-boiled egg. The sweet taste of the crab and the dressing make all the other ingredients taste like a crunchy dessert for me. Everything in the salad was fresh except for the avocado, and the hard-boiled egg was overcooked. So much was good about this salad, though, that I just ate the other items.
Rodriguez opens the café for dinner three days a week now, and has added some classic dishes to his dinner menu. These include various steaks ($18.25-$19.75)—one cooked with grilled mushrooms; another with jalapeños, onions, and mushrooms; and a third one served with a shiitake mushroom ginger sauce. Pork chops ($15.25), Salmon Florentine ($17.25) served with spinach and hollandaise sauce, Lemon Chicken ($14.95), Oaxacan specialties ($11.50-$14.50), and fajitas ($12.95-$14.95) round out the menu.
These offerings enticed me to try out Rodriquez’s dinner. I ordered the tilapia ($14.50) from the Oaxacan menu, Florence ordered the Lemon Chicken ($14.95), and Laurent ordered the prawn pasta ($6.95), one of the daily specials.
The tilapia comes whole with bones, which does not bother me, but be forewarned that it takes some work to get at the tender meat of this fish. I liked Rodriguez’s salty seasoning on the skin. Fresh salad and rice flavored with peppers made this a satisfying, light meal.
Florence’s tender and juicy chicken breast came topped off with a delicious lemon and caper seasoned butter, but her delicious creamy mashed potatoes almost stole the spotlight.
Laurent’s knack for choosing great food struck again, as we all eyed the seven prawns sitting atop his fettuccine with sautéed mushrooms and tomatoes. The cream and wine sauce brought out the flavor of all the ingredients, as did the freshly grated parmesan. The large portion defeated Laurent, who could not even eat a chocolate éclair for dessert.
The delicious dinner choices, coupled with friendly
service, make Old Monterey Café a pleasant rendezvous before
and after films, clubbing, or marketing on Alvarado Street.
And for breakfast and lunch, the ambience and great offerings
means it’s easy to become a regular.
OLD MONTEREY CAFÉ
489 Alvarado Street, Monterey | 646-1021
Breakfast and lunch: Everyday, 7am-2:30pm
Dinner: Thu-Fri, 4:30-9pm