Just came back from a fabulous weekend in Monterey/Pacific Grove (fabulous more for the aquarium/tandem bike ride on 17-mile drive than for the food).
Passionfish on Friday night--this was our second visit and it wasn't quite as good as our first a year ago, but it's still VERY solid for the price. The Monterey peninsula seems to be swimming in mid-range price restaurants ($30-40/head), and I've always found this to be the most unpredictable type of restaurant. There's such a wide variation of quality. Passionfish is at the higher end of the quality to dollar ratio. We had the crab cake--very light, a nice contrast to the usual heavy, bready affair--the oysters in passionfish sauce--they could have been colder, as they were the first time I had them and was wowed by them--and a goat cheese salad with candied pecans and apples. All very good. FOr entrees my wife had a fish called Ono, which was really good--a nice meaty white fish--and I had trout, which was cooked to perfection. Dessert was an absurdly large mint/coffee mud pie. The only problem was that service was a bit off. Granted, we came in about two minutes after the debate ended, and the place was slow, so maybe the waiters hadn't quite warmed up yet, but our first waitress took about ten minutes to appear, and she was replaced not long afterward.
Night two was Max's, which I vaguely remembered reading about here on Chowhound. It was NOT good. It's the perfect example of a mid-range restaurant promising too much and delivering far too little. The waiter was very excited that it was our first visit and made it seem as if we'd arrived at a 3-star establishment. He explained that everything was made on the premises with top quality ingredients. Well, when the bread finally came, it was cold on the inside and tasted just like the calzone dough we used to eat in the Bronx. My wife had a lamb loin that had almost no taste of lamb. I got the surf and turf, which was a combo of filet mignon (with a really insipid mushroom and red wine sauce) and shrimp (cooked with coconut). The flavors went together really poorly. We had to laugh when, as we left, we read the newspaper write-up hanging outside the front door. It claimed that the chef/owner was twice voted Tokyo's favorite chef! I think that chef/owner must be named Pinnochio.