Pajaro Street Grill builds upon its inspired legacy in Salinas.
Thursday, July 20, 2006
Creative mosaics are everywhere at Pajaro Street Grill: on the walls and on the plate, in the flavors and in the philosophy. Next to one such inventive arrangement—plaster walls alive with decorative plates, shards of reflective glass, kitchen utensils and wildly colorful paintings—Alex and I discovered another: Pajaro’s star starter, the Pajaro Street Appetizer Platter ($7.75). Roasted garlic, tequila sweetened sun-dried tomatoes, olive caper tapenade, and goat cheese come in four little bowls. On delicious crostini, the Mediterranean nibbles make for an ideal entry into the flavorful and artsy culture here—the tangy garlic, ripe tomatoes and rich tapenade all worked with the cheese wonderfully.
Scampi Prawns ($9.75), three large prawns in a garlic sun-dried tomato butter with potato mash, and a bottle of Ventana Syrah Monterey 2001 ($27) completed the entry experience.
The Stuffed Pasilla Pepper ($7.75) appetizer we tried on a subsequent visit was nearly as satisfying and equally imaginative (our server also suggested the popular Toasted Roasted Pepper Soup, with chicken, roasted pepper and tortilla soup with sour cream, $5-$7). The pepper comes black and shiny from the grill and loaded with three cheeses (cheddar, goat and asiago), pine nuts, and dates. The robust combination complements the spicy, smoky shell of the pasilla suprisingly well, especially when cooled by the creamy polenta that comes with it (along with very fresca salsa fresca).
Before re-entering the flavor mosaic with some signature entrées, Alex and I paused to pull a couple of glasses of wine from the chalkboard: a return to the Ventana Syrah Monterey 2001 ($5.75) for Alex, an Estancia Pinot Noir Pinnacles 2004 ($7.25) for me. The wine list here, a tour with stops in California, Spain, Italy and Argentina, merits a toast—Pajaro has received the Wine Spectator “Award of Excellence” for four consecutive years, and proudly wears its distinction as the first and only restaurant in the history of Salinas to earn that award.
My entrée spun the flavor kaleidoscope in a carnivorous, but no less creative, direction with the dynamically sauced Mixed Grill ($21), a quarter slab of ribs, a chunk of southwestern chicken, and a quarter of barbecued duck plus polenta and fresh grilled vegetables. The beefy but lean ribs enjoyed a straight-ahead barbecue sauce and bonus raspberry syrup; the charred chicken a tangy red barbecue sauce of its own (the tastiest of the trio); and the moist and dark duck meat, an intriguing orange zest marmalade glaze.
In tribute to the art all around us, I completed an abstract work with the sauces on my napkin, then asked for some tangy barbecue sauce (from the chicken) to take home.
Alex, meanwhile, tabbed the lone daily special, a sherry-flambé filet mignon penne pasta with sun-dried tomato cream sauce ($15.75), and discovered another work of art. The sweet tomatoes gave the rich and creamy sauce vibrancy—especially paired with the Pinot—and the screamin’ tasty filet gave us bite-sized bits of tender reverie. We left with a lot more barbecue than pasta.
In short, seven years since Deamer Dunn and his then-wife Lisa converted a former dry cleaning joint into their hub of flavor and fabulousness in June of 1999, Pajaro Street Grill remains a formidable landmark on the county’s restaurant road map. But new and progressive facets of the Pajaro creative mosaic demonstrate that the place is not ready to rest on its rep. A brand new heated patio extends the experience to the outdoors. A new martini list—built around Korean, vodka-like 48-proof spirit called Soju (because Pajaro owns just a wine and beer license)—now livens up the adventure with creations like the Martini “Han Solo” (lemon-infused Soju alone with just a splash of Vermouth) and the Bellini Martini (Soju with peach purée and sparkling wine). The price is a little stiff—$8, or two-for-one during happy hour (4:30-6pm)—but so are the drinks: double shots come standard.
Simultaneously, Pajaro Street’s festive theme nights—Tuesday’s attractive corkage-free BYOW night and other specific wine club nights among them—continue to reinforce a warm, familial feel.
The schedule of events and a fat buffet of other information are available on the restaurant’s Web site, psgrill.net, a portal that rivals any eatery’s site I’ve seen, and really relays the warmth and spirit of the place well. There visitors can study the menu and wine lists, look at amateur photos of the menu items (including the celebrated Apple Bread Pudding, $6.75), and link to recipes and a wealth of other food and wine information. The site reminds me of the entertaining stimuli on the walls: it’s much appreciated, but not completely necessary—there just in case locals needed another reason to like this place.
PAJARO STREET GRILL
435 Pajaro St., Salinas • 5-9:30pm daily except Mondays • 754-3738.