Hyatt before Sea Root renovation

Inside Monterey's Hyatt Regency before the dining room was transformed into the sleek, inviting Sea Root restaurant.

“Things happen so strangely,” Chef Dan Elinan says.

He’s sitting in the dining room musing on the whims of a pandemic year as a waiter clears plates from a meal of simple yet stunning offerings. Bread and butter, both made in house—the former sturdy with smoky wisps, the latter rich and tangy, as if the cows ranged on wild grasslands. Tender chicken with a haze of smoke on a pilaf studded with sausage, apricots and dates so compelling it becomes a distraction.

Little pops of unexpected flavor can be found throughout the menu—pomegranate bursting brightly from the char of an eggplant spread, fresh mint and sweet peas vying for attention in an earthy, al dente tabbouleh.

The menu at Sea Root in Monterey’s Hyatt Regency Hotel and Spa results as much from the pandemic as the chef’s unwillingness to sit still. “I’m never happy enough,” Elinan says in a tone that conveys certainty, promising frequent changes.

And he’s had a lot of time to consider possibilities.

The team at Hyatt Regency took down TusCA, their centerpiece Italian restaurant, with a new concept in mind. They planned for both remodeling and rebranding, with a splashy opening scheduled for the July Fourth weekend.

In 2020.

With more time than Elinan, Sous Chef Kevin Fisher and hotel management had expected on their hands, they could play with the concept. Elinan found there were advantages to downtime.

“We started to explore cuisines that were trending,” he says—it’s a business, after all. “But we turned away from trends and went to what each of us look for in a restaurant.”

They agreed on diversity, both in range of cooking and the actual practice of dining. As they continued to think about it, Elinan says, they realized it could be accomplished by taking a broad regional approach: Mediterranean—not a novel idea, unless they roamed widely through the region while narrowing in on local flavors.

“What part of those cuisines have touched us in California?” Elinan says. “We’re in California, how do we keep it familiar? We think we can offer a new level of Mediterranean.”

The region allows them to present guests with favorites from Spain, Italy, Greece or the south of France. But the kitchen can also embrace the street food of Lebanon, slow cooked stews from Morocco, the flavors of Turkey, Israel, Egypt, the legacy of the spice trade. Instead of trading in strict authenticity, however, the idea is to introduce a California vibe—their own creative touches.

“That’s the intention—a middle ground between unfamiliar and familiar,” Elinan explains.

Focaccia bakes in a stone oven and is brushed with olive oil steeped with rosemary and garlic. In addition to the butter they churn in house on a daily basis, they offer a spread buttressed by feta for a briny, mineralic dimension. A bright cucumber salad peals from a platter that roams the senses, from acrid and earthy to sweet and sassy.

Sea Root faced the usual ruffles of a soft opening, but was also hit by the supply chain and staffing woes of 2021. Yet kitchen and service staff were aided by the measured pace as California reopened from its lockdown. Officially the restaurant opened to guests 14 months later than originally planned.

They have already found their stride.

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