Point Pinos Grill
Sweet as Sunset: Dory Ford’s new Point Pinos Grill deserves wider hours – and now has them (at least temporarily).
Wednesday, November 23, 2011
It all started with the ice water. It must have been filtered. The slice of fresh Meyer lemon was a refreshing and classy touch. Whatever the case, I can’t remember enjoying complimentary water more.
This simple yet important detail worked as a fitting microcosm for the experience to come at the Point Pinos Grill, where the small details are almost all very well in order.
Owner Dory Ford has been around the block on the Monterey Peninsula, chefing for big names like Ventana and the Aquarium – and relatively recently started his own company, Aqua Terra Culinary, focusing on fresh, sustainably prepared food and catering (literally) to schools, while keeping up with other special-event gigs and still somehow running the show at the Point Pinos Grill next to the Pacific Grove Golf Links. Just to keep everything particularly lively, he signed up to run Carmel Valley Athletic Club’s food earlier this month.
The roaring fireplace was cozy on a rainy weekday, and Carmel stone walls with panoramic ocean views – through big windows beneath high ceilings – give the feel of a resort. The many varieties of succulent centerpieces on each table provide a classy low-maintenance touch.
We were the only ones in the restaurant at 4pm hoping for some happy hour love, and discovered a range of wines, a nice beer selection, Soju and Champagne style cocktails, but no hard stuff. Unfortunately, no happy hour either. I had never heard of Soju, but further research led me to find that Tyku Soju is actually 100 percent fermented Asian barley, not just the girls in a Gwen Stefani song. I would have liked to try a cocktail made from this alcohol – PPG offers Soju drinks like Bloody Marys ($8), margaritas ($7) or Mojito ($7). I got stuck with a Chamisal Pinot when the first two wines I asked for weren’t in and our server decided to pour me the Pinot they did have without consulting the table. Not cool. This is one detail – especially at $9 a glass – in need of remedy.
Back to the food. There was a combination of eight offerings on the “salads, sandwiches and entrees” lunch menu. A classic Cobb and a roasted apple and butternut squash salad complete with candied walnuts, a vanilla bean vinaigrette on endive and frisée ($13.95 each) both sound delightful. Same goes for the natural beef options: An 8-ounce burger ($11.95) with a line-up of well-curated toppings (tomato relish, California cheddar, smoked bacon, avocado, onion rings) and an open-faced steakwich ($14.95) with gruyère, arugula and horseradish, accompanied by fries. The only veggie entree option, a San Francisco sourdough grilled cheese ($9.95), melts together fontina, gruyere and white cheddar and comes with an organic heirloom tomato soup; the two pescatarian options are a market-fresh fish and chips in a Firestone beer batter ($11.95 with coleslaw and fries) and the U.S. pole-caught albacore tuna melt ($12.95) on deli-style rye with house pickled vegetables and slaw.
My friend and I decided to share the crispy U.S. long fin calamari ($9.95) which sounded more exciting than average thanks in part to the smart sourcing that’s long been a Ford hallmark and the accompanying deep-fried Meyer lemon slices and shaved fennel. I loved the fried bonus accents and the abundant mix of tentacles and meaty body pieces as much as the bright aioli dunking sauce.
On a chilly day we couldn’t pass up the butternut squash Napolean ($9.95), a beautiful presentation of sliced butternut squash containing house-made ricotta betwixt the layers of squash, with a crisp pancetta slice atop, finished with a brown butter sauce and brandied cherries. The fall flavors fell together delightfully.
On our second visit – another rainy day – we came in drenched from our run on the nearby beach. I was hoping to snag the table by the fireplace so our clothes could dry; the welcoming waiter did one better, moving the table right in front of the fire. He proved knowledgeable about the breakfast menu too – and confirmed my hopes that the inventive huevos rancheros ($10.95) would satisfy with black beans mingled with diced ham, English peas, avocado and fried plantains in a ranchero sauce. The ingredients arrived unconventionally – between two tostadas – and the dish was perfect: the peas and plantains offer sweet balance next to the chunks of salty ham, poached eggs and beans.
My friend chose the chicken and waffles ($9.95). Green chiles and corn are baked into the waffle, which comes with three small breast meat pieces of fried chicken and maple syrup. We both liked the idea but agreed the fried chicken could use some spice. A bite containing a little bit of everything tasted good though, and along with two lattes, the addition of a perfect waiter and a warming fireplace, we were beyond pleased.
Ford has made a smart move into a lodge-like restaurant: Point Pinos Grill is an uncrowded, romantic place for locals to go for a glass of wine and appetizers and watch the sunset, and for golfer clientele to enjoy better food than they’re used to. All the dishes offered would please due to the high quality – local organic tomatoes, housemade cheese, natural meats, PC tuna, cage free eggs and homemade granola ($5.95). Until last week’s City Council meeting, though, Point Pinos was open only until dark. Fortunately the city has granted Ford and friends a 120-day exemption to see how longer hours – as late as 10pm, which they’ll do Thursday to Sunday starting Dec. 1 – fare in the traditionally quiet spot. I’m thinking it’s a not-so-small detail that will, like the setting, calamari, Napoleon, huevos and ice water, work very well.
POINT PINOS GRILL 79 Asilomar Blvd., Pacific Grove • 7am – 11:30am breakfast, 11:30am-sundown lunch Mon-Fri. • 648-5774, www.aquaterraculinary.com