Restaurant 1833 uses setting and gold-plate-pedigree chef to match the hype and then some.
Thursday, September 8, 2011
Monterey’s 1833 Restaurant, named after the building’s year of origin, is the latest in a series of restaurants to occupy Stokes Adobe, the home of former mayor James Stokes, whose name stuck with it.
The owners of 1833, David Bernahl and Robert Weakley (who founded Pebble Beach Food & Wine and Cannery Row Brewing Company, as documented on the Weekly website), have transformed the old house impressively.
The interior is filled with invigorating contrasts of elegant-antique-contemporary-thrift store finds. Modern furnishings and poster-sized black-and-white photographs are accented by old books, apothecary bottles, antique mirrors, Baroque chandeliers, adding up to something very Euro and very cool.
The adobe is alive with energizing house music, three sophisticated dining rooms, one private table, an outdoor dining deck and drinking areas galore. Besides the main bar, a small bar upstairs handles overflow, and the “Library” lounge is done living-room style with sofas and coffee tables. The front yard entrance has a new patio with fireplaces and a second-floor balcony with views of historic Monterey.
A bar menu and full dinner menu are served Sunday through Thursday in all locations. On weekends the full menu is limited to the dining rooms and deck; the bar menu covers the rest.
The theater of it all translates to a dramatic, sprawling production. Four out of five employees whom I asked moved here from someplace else to work at 1833.
A photo negative poster of Stokes is a ghostly vision—a clever idea, since many former tenants believe he haunts the building along with a later resident, Hattie Gragg. The signature absinthe served tableside involves fire, twirling snifters, blue vapors and inhaling through a straw. Choose from 15-plus absinthe producers ($15-$25).
Mike Lay, the spirit behind the spirits, has made certain that the bar is not an adjunct. A mixologist’s and connoisseur’s dream, the shelves are stocked with artisanal and small-batch producers—a wellspring of hard-to-find bourbon, tequila, rum, gin and more. Housemade cocktail ingredients are barrel aging as I type. Recently invented cocktail recipes, surely hoping to become famous, are categorized humorously on the menu. Drinks called Penicillin #1 and #2 are under “Aphrodisiacs.” I guess a cure for syphilis could be arousing.
Wine director Ted Glennon emphasizes quality over quantity. A fair inventory of local and Central Coast boutique winemakers are offered, and every wine on the list was tasted and represents 1833’s effort to bring the best varietal from each region. Bottles include plenty below $50, and around 30 wines by the glass. I asked for a glass of dry red wine and had two, both priced on the low end of the list, and both impressive: the local Pelerin Syrah ($11) and the Core Hardcore blend from Santa Barbara ($9).
Executive Chef Levi Mezick has worked in more top kitchens than perhaps any local peer: Per Se, Daniel and Café Boulud in New York; Jockey Club in DC; Michel in Virginia. While his modern American fare at 1833 is casual comparatively, the menu is ambitious. The offerings change regularly, so I won’t describe items in detail, but will give a sense of what to expect.
Prices are fair considering the labor-intensive complexity, decent portions and diversity of ingredients. The flavor combinations are exciting and, to appease rich tastes, there’s a big leap in price from most of the menu to a foie gras appetizer ($25) and a whole lobe served “family style” ($200). (There are four family-style entrees that serve two to three; from $38 for a whole chicken.)
On three visits with various friends, we tried small bites ($3.50-$6.50) of squid salad, caramelized endive, watermelon gazpacho shooters, and bacon cheddar biscuits. All were exceptional. Appetizers include roasted corn soup, vegetable salad, bone marrow, oysters, and goat cheese custard (most $9-$15). Of those I tried the soup (delightful) and vegetable salad (a little dull).
The pizza has a nice, not-too-thin, chewy crust. The North African flavors of the lamb merguez sausage pizza and its mint, roasted garlic and ricotta ($17) is most recommended. The wild mushroom and prosciutto pie ($16) topped with poached eggs was enjoyable except that the wild chanterelles, porcini and trumpet shrooms were overshadowed by strong prosciutto and parmigiano.
The touted bacon-wrapped sturgeon on black lentils with brown butter spinach ($25) was quite good, but the cod with fava beans and farro ($26) was especially delicious and unique. A sweet ending was provided by the excellent almond gateau with cherry marmalade and praline Irish cream ice cream ($8).
In general, the food improved considerably during the two-week course of my visits, and my last meal was best. On one visit, though, two of our dishes were oversalted.
I ask a lot of questions, and Mata, our waiter on two occasions, amazed me with his deep knowledge of the menu and wine. Random note: If you visit the co-ed bathrooms, be prepared to arrange your hair and check yourself out in the mirror in a mixed-gender environment.
There are so many ways to enjoy 1833. If you don’t like one room or one dish, try another. And be glad that this audacious homegrown team has chosen to diversify the dining scene in Monterey County with its bold, creative talent.
1833 Restaurant 500 Hartnell St., Monterey. • Dinner 5:30-10pm Sun-Thu, until 11pm Fri-Sat; bar menu 5-11pm Sun-Thu, until midnight Fri-Sat.; bar 5pm-1am Sun- Thu, until 2am Fri-Sat • 643-1833, www.restaurant1833.com.