A beautiful thing happened to Monterey County eaters this year. Several beautiful things, in fact, in the form of the striking Salt Wood Kitchen & Oysterette and soaring Seventh & Dolores, two of the most hyped restaurants to arrive here in a generation, and deservedly so.
It’s not all hugs and kisses, though, as these spots’ prices make them hard for everyone to embrace. To wit, the cheapest appetizer (marrow-roasted mushrooms, $15) a dozen oysters and a cocktail with a friend at 7D runs $85, before tax and tip.
That serves a hint at what’s on the menu here: Value helped decide who gets the top nod in this, the second half of the year’s top local restaurants, which allows existing-but-redone restaurants but eschews chains. Numbers 11-20 appear on the blog, mcweekly.com/edible.
10 • Mulligan Public House
The interior benefits from vintage lighting fixtures, polished wood, weathered brick and a beautiful long bar. A patio adds appeal. The whiskey selection earns approval. Most importantly, though, the people who made the original Brophy’s go have cultivated the same welcoming atmosphere, aided by comforting (and smart) pub selections such as the beer-bacon tasting flight, fried-chicken-ham-and-eggs plate, smoked salmon Benedict, tasty Kobe sliders and artichoke fritters.
Dolores between Ocean and Seventh, Carmel; 250-5910.
9 • Aabha Indian Cuisine
A spot named for a mom and son serves upscale takes on typical Indian fare – think mango scallops, salmon tandoori, boti lamb kebab and avocado masala rice – while sourcing consciously and prioritizing gluten-free dishes. The lunch buffet gives wider Carmel a big, flavorful value, and a linchpin property for the garden-setting Barnyard shopping complex has a new tenant with staying power.
3690 The Barnyard, Carmel; 250-5940, aabhaindian.com.
8 • the Sur House
In some ways, not all that much has changed. Popular Executive Chef Paul Corsentino still runs the kitchen. The unparalleled perch over the Pacific remains in place. But with new Alila resort managers and some time to kill with the Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge out, Ventana renamed the place, reinvented its deck with slick design and a stellar new bar and overhauled the menu, bringing things like chickpea panisse, smoked pastrami beef tongue and squid ink-octopus fettuccine to bear.
48123 Highway 1, Big Sur; (800) 628-6500, ventanabigsur.com.
7 • Pescadero
The tapas spot formerly known as Mundaka experienced a rebirth inspired by owner-operator Gabe Georis’ many forays into – and chef friendships in – Baja California. The mezcla of Cali-Mex cuisine starts with freshly-fried chips and an array of four house salsas, tipping off the handmade quality to come. Favorites include Baja-style rockfish tacos and the steaming queso con rajas, strips of poblano pepper with molten mozzarella and queso fresco.
San Carlos and Seventh, Carmel; 624-7400, facebook.com/pescaderocarmel.
6 • Jacks Monterey
This place is a major operation, what with the large lounge, restaurant, group events and Peter B’s to oversee, but it is smaller in many ways than new Exec Chef Danny Abbruzzese’s last spot at Asilomar Conference Grounds. The sustainable ethic is strong, made manageable by the chef’s extensive relationships with local purveyors. Enticing dishes include the swordfish BLT, veal cheeks with celery root puree, scallops three ways, insane calamari tempura and falafel salad, many dished in various sizes to encourage sharing. The re-creation of the restaurant is something to see, thanks to the pretty bar area and the way the new space maximizes the tree-studded atrium.
2 Portola Plaza; Monterey; 649-7830, portolahotel.com/jacks-monterey.
5 • Portobello’s
The relocation of this sturdy community staple gave it a much more central Oldtown location, and the opportunity to add a full bar, dinner service and expanding entertainment. To go with the bigger appetizer and entree lineup (including items like Buffalo wings, pizza and sand dabs), the seemingly endless salads remain (black-eyed peas with feta and basil), as do the rustic sandwiches (meatloaf, ribeye), as does the unique Salinas-centric familial feel. The patio in back and clean design in the ground floor of the relatively new Taylor Farms building help too.
150 Main St., Salinas; 753-0797, portobellossalinas.com.
2 (tie) • Salt Wood Kitchen & Oysterette
The setting is striking, featuring a live-fire kitchen at the heart of the bar, redone outdoor decks and soothing coastal colors and sea-shore props throughout the space, giving humble Marina the swank spot it hasn’t had for years. Fans of raw and wood-fired food will delight in the options here, with partners like the Caviar Company and Monterey Abalone and goodies like Dungeness crab mac ’n’ cheese, whole-grilled fish, and fried chicken with house biscuit and braised greens. Chef David Baron and friends have a contender for number one – and could claim that retroactively with a little more consistency and value.
3295 Dunes Drive, Marina; 883-5535, saltwoodkitchenandoysterette.com.
2 (tie) • Seventh & Dolores
The spot also known as 7D delivers peerless dimension and vibrancy in Carmel. Chefs Todd Fisher and Jeremiah Tydeman embrace their creative freedom with plates like marrow-roasted scallops and hand-cut steak tartare with foie gras. Combine that with lots of light, elegant angles, vaulted ceilings, a raw bar, a craft cocktail bar, steaks dry-aged in-house via a first-of-its-kind partnership with Niman Ranch and this could easily rank number one, if it were easier to afford (specialty cocktails run $16 minimum).
Seventh and Dolores, Carmel; 293-7600, 7dsteakhouse.com.
2 (tie) • Carmel Valley Chophouse
Chef and co-creator Fabrice Roux cracks a big smile when he says, “We’re having fun,” and you can taste it – in the playful “crispy quacks” (think duck chicharrones), the bacon-cheddar biscuits and the indulgent poutine. Joyful approach aside, this is a serious steakhouse (with serious caloric impact). Certified Angus filets, ribeyes and New Yorks are aged up to five weeks, and things like the Wagyu brisket and beef back ribs are smoked two days, to delicious effect.
13762 Center St., Carmel Valley; 659-5886, carmelvalleychophouse.com.
1 • Heirloom Pizza Co.
The place has been beautifully remade over months of hard work, transforming the greasy abandoned spot into a fun and fresh addition to downtown Monterey. The menu transcends pizza with a good wine list, local and exotic draft beers, local yum (including “bomb” beets, roasted cauliflower and arugula salads), but the main event is the pie (like the namesake “Heirloom” with garlic, mushrooms, bacon and spinach), done with Chicago depth – or thin crust – and without gluten for wheat-free peeps. A large pizza, at $27, can satisfy a crowd, giving it the edge in value, and the number-one slot.
700 Cass St., Monterey; 717-4363, heirloompizzapie.com