Robert Kincaid has been one of the outstanding chefs on the Monterey Peninsula for years. I first tasted his efforts at Fresh Cream, which he founded and then sold long ago. More recently he opened the White House in the historic Hart Victorian on Lighthouse in Pacific Grove. In the past, I have had several fine meals there though occasionally some dishes were not up to standard. But since he raised the price of the 3 course pris fixe dinner to $37 (courses are also available ala carte), I had not returned – after all I am just a college professor, and the Monterey area has numerous excellent dining options.
This year, however, as prices have been going up everywhere, I figured that the 3 courses at the White House were the equivalent of a 12 gallon fill-up, which actually made the dinner relatively less expensive than the $24 he charged when he first opened (my mind is good at justifying dining). The dinner was well worth the dollars.
Steve, Helen, and I were seated at a 4 top next to a window, and I noticed that all the rooms had been repainted a pleasant burgundy color; for whatever reasons, I have always liked the understated ambiance of the place – the combination of hominess and restaurant elegance. The Sinatra tunes wafting in the background added to the feel of comfort. We were quickly brought ice water and partial loaf of excellent crusty French bread accompanied by a subtly flavorful tapenade of sun-dried tomato, bread crumbs, herbs and olive oil. A great start.
Helen and I both went for all three courses, Steve opted for an appetizer ($9) and main ($23), knowing that he could share Helen’s salad ($8, if ordered separately). Since we chose to bring a bottle of Charles Krug 1996 Generations from Steve’s cellar, we paid a reasonable $15 corkage for excellent wine service and the use of fine stemware.
Helen’s dinner began with a creamy and flavorful onion tart, which looked like a wedge of flan accompanied with Robert’s signature dual sauces and garnish and was redolent of onions. Steve ordered the fried shrimp dumplings with soy ginger sauce. My thought was why order dim sum here. But I was wrong. The two dumplings were bursting with shrimp flavor, and the thin, browned skin seemed to melt away in the mouth. The sauce complemented the dish perfectly. My appetizer was the lobster ravioli – a standard appetizer that has been on the menu at the White House since it first opened. This year, instead of pure lobster meat inside, the lobster had been pureed, pressed and formed into a block. It still tasted fine, but not quite as good as the lobster ravioli of my memory. The rich bi-colored sauce was still delightful.
Helen and Steve shared a Caesar salad composed of whole crispy interior leaves of romaine. It was OK, but Helen felt that she should probably have chosen the greens with roasted beets, candied pecans, blue cheese, and oranges. My second course, cold artichoke soup, was nearly a religious experience. Wow! While living in Monterey for a dozen years, I had experienced many artichoke soups, but none could compare with this one. Presented in a small cup surrounded with ice, the cold soup tasted more like artichoke than artichokes do. At the same time, the soup had not been pureed to smoothness, leaving tiny bits and flakes of artichokey goodness for a complex mouthfeel. In the middle of the cup a single quarter of artichoke heart reemphasized the fresh vegetable quality of the dish.
All of our main courses were equally outstanding and very beautiful. Each plate was a work of art, garnished beautifully, decorated with deep fried potato latticework, and touched off with a gorgeous edible lavender flower.
Steve chose one of his favorite things – rare ahi filet, which was crusted with herbs and accompanied by pineapple rum and beurre blanc sauces. The tuna was excellent and perfectly seared without being cooked inside. Helen’s rack of lamb was also first-rate, roasted to medium rare with just a hint of gamey lamb taste.
I had planned on osso buco, but the kitchen had just run out, so I, with some disappointment, ordered the roast chipotle glazed pork filet. Once I had a mouthful, all disappointment vanished. The pork was juicy and not overcooked, leaving a light rosy blush at the center of each slice. Again the meat was double sauced with a creamy buerre blanc and a tan gravy side by side on the pork and plate. The kitchen’s use of chipotle was perfect for such an elegant dish. The chile flavor was subtle, the hot and smoky spice accents lurking in the background rather than dominating the meaty goodness of the pork. Just as outstanding were the accompanying sides: a tart cranberry relish, creamy mashed potatoes, barely wilted spinach leaves, and two outstanding spears of asparagus.
Service was excellent. Our server was friendly, competent, and engaging. Water glasses were usually kept full, wine was poured when necessary. Robert Kincaid himself twice came into the dining area, looking around and greeting some guests. His concern and attention to detail radiated throughout the entire dining experience. While I cannot say that everything was absolutely perfect, our meals and our overall experience earned an A+ grade in my book.
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