Birthdays on the Bay
Abalonetti’s gives itself a makeover at 60, Domenico’s throws a party at 30.
Thursday, July 21, 2011
Last year, World’s Strongest Man competitor Mark Felix set a world record in London by dead lifting almost 500 pounds. With one arm.
Forgive the folks at Abalonetti’s (373-1851) if they are unimpressed. At one of the fave spots for Monterey’s flagship fare, calamari—Weekly readers have given ’Netti’s the nod in our annual poll four times—they have been lifting 70,000 pounds of calamari annually.
And it’s more complex to clean squid than it is to clean lift a barbell: Abalonetti’s has to employ two guys five days a week just to trim tentacles and squirt out insides.
Moreover, Felix, at a rather ripped 45 years of age, has only been doing World’s Strongest Man action for seven years. Abalonetti’s has been doing the World’s Strongest Squid for six decades.
They’re celebrating 60 this week by rebranding themselves as Abalonetti’s Bar and Grill instead of a seafood trattoria.
“Nobody knows what ‘trattoria’ is,” Managing Partner Kevin Phillips says. “And seafood’s a little limiting. ‘Bar and grill’ is much more accurate—it’s casual, there’s a bar scene, and we grill almost everything. We want to maintain a casual waterfront dining feel.”
The new waterside patio stands to help, especially as they add heaters, a fire pit, an outdoor bar, and maybe retractable covering. New awnings, colors, signs and designs will refresh the brand of one of only three original wharf eateries still cookin’ (Fisherman’s Grotto and Rappa’s are the others). The signs go up in a month, and a big benefit for Peace of Mind Dog Rescue piled high with calamari, raffles, Hahn wine, and a dress-your-dog-as-sea-life costume contest goes down Sept. 29. A full 100 percent of the $30 entries (capped at 125 people) goes to PMDR.
Fortunately all the changes aren’t eroding Abalonetti’s fabled elements, like the Marty’s Special ($16.95-$18.95) with flash-fried calamari fillets layered with fried eggplant, Sicilian marinara, Parmesan and mozzarella.
The most delicious part, though, for this indigenous dude: top locals specials.
Five of us descended the other day and started with, well, calamari at the bar, paired nicely with English Ales 1066 ($2.99) under the Abalonetti’s Pale Ale name. All day every day, drafts like that and mango margarita are $2.99.
The tasty marinated ’mari ($8.95) offers a super-tender and lighter alternative as it revels in olive oil, garlic and herbs, not that the 20-year barkeep Stuart Babcock’s recommendation—a split plate of garlic-fried and Baja-style golden calamari (tossed with pico de gallo) with bits of Gilroy greatness and chipotle aioli, respectively—didn’t make us happy as sustainable clams.
Locals specials—a choice of sand dabs, salmon and mahi mahi with pilaf and grilled veggies—are a steal at $8.95. An easy $4 adds soup/salad plus a pick from a pair of desserts, and a glass of house Cab or Chard (Salmon Creek) is $2.99 with the special.
With a half antipasto plate of more marinated squid, grilled fennel, artichokes, roasted garlic, olives, mushrooms and more from the bar ($9.95) plus another couple of beers—and standout service from celebrity-server-in-the-making Joe Sanchez—the tag was still less than a Ben Franklin.
It’s a lot to lift at that price point, and a lot of fun to do. Call it a strong deal.
Also-adored Domenico’s on the Wharf (372-3655) celebrates 30 years starting 11am Wednesday, July 27. Owner-operator Dominic Mercurio was already getting amped about what he was going to pull from his personal 7-acre plot when we spoke last week.
“We’ll do something fresh out of the garden,” he said. “Risottos with all the fresh vegetables—a primavera, perhaps…
“And when you think of anniversaries, you have to think desserts. Giant banana splits—you ever seen one of those? I did one for John Madden and Kenny Chesney once.”
The first 100 customers get a t-shirt featuring the F/V Time Bandit from Deadliest Catch. There will also be bargains on apps and entrees and $3 margaritas, $3 Buds and $3 Zin.
Other seasonal treats will have folks salivating all summer. Spot prawn season starts within a week, which means things like the mesquite barbecued prawns, traditional scampi and marinara over linguini will be back, as will Mercurio’s own heirlooms in the caprese, the tomato-ginger soup and marinara. Mercurio is also stoked on the bay salmon from Mike Ricketts, who supplies Domenico’s and its sister restaurant Cafe Fina (372-5200).
“The salmon is unbelievable right now,” he says. “They hit their limits three days in a row.”
Chopstix Two in Monterey (372-BOBA) is pumping. I swung by for bahn mi on a Thursday and the marble bar and comfortable padded booths were full, as were the limited outside tables. While owner Mikey Nguyen helped the kitchen brave the lunch rush, his grandpa was landscaping out front. Learn more at mcweekly.com/edible…Wild Thyme (884-2414) is rocking summer hours 10am-5:30pm Monday-Saturday. Artichoke bisque and eggplant-prosciutto-mozzarella panini for all!…The Monterey County Vintners and Growers Association has a new home for its 19th Annual Winemakers’ Celebration Aug. 13: The Barnyard in Carmel…“Quickly, bring me a beaker of wine,” ancient Greek Aristophanes said, “so that I may wet my mind and say something clever.”