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Massaro & Santos, Monterey

Melanie Wong | Jul 20, 200311:06 PM

Finding a nice but not too expensive place for a seafood lunch on a Sunday turned out to be harder than I expected, even in a town driven by tourism. Today is my mom’s birthday and we wanted to take her somewhere that was special enough but would still be comfortable for one as thrifty as she. I contacted all the usual suspects for Carmel, PG and Monterey recommended on this board, and in the end came up with but ONE that serves a full lunch menu. And, we were delighted with the choice.

The harbor views from the Coast Guard Pier were unobstructed on this blue sky day. We enjoyed watching the amphibious tour shuttle put into the water here. The room itself is contemporary and uncluttered.

As e.d., describes, the food is old Monterey Italian fisherman style seafood, the kind that we grew up eating on the wharf with a nod toward the times. That is, fish is just done and not overcooked and pastas and vegetables taste fresher and less mushy.

We started with an order of lumpia and steamed clams to share. The lumpia were overly greasy, the oil may not have been hot enough for the first order of the day. But it was garnished nicely with a fresh pineapple salsa that added a nice kick of acidity. The steamed clams were very good with a delicate white wine and garlic-laced broth studded with big chunks of dead ripe red tomatoes and bright green scallion pieces. The serving of eight clams was a little skimpy for the $9 tarriff perhaps, but we certainly enjoyed that broth with the basket of ciabatta bread and in fact packed up the last half cup of it to take home with us.

Clam chowder is neither red nor white, but a tan caramelly color. My sister described it as New England meets Italy. It was rich with cream and no floury starch, and was very robust with smoky bacon, chopped carrots, celery, caramelized onions, lots of garlic and herbs. The chopped pieces of clam were sweet and very tender. We liked it so much, we bought the equivalent of six bowls ($7.95/bowl) to take home with us!

My parents both had the sand dabs, which at $9.95 was the deal of the day. Four boneless filets (equivalent to two fish) were dusted and gently sauteed in butter then presented in a stack. Also on the plate was the house pasta – rigatoni in a tomato and fresh mushroom cream sauce – and sauteed veggies. The accompanying tartar sauce had the old-fashioned taste of sweet gherkins along with sour dills.

William had sauteed scallops with mushroom Pernod cream sauce, $19.95, on the day’s specials. The scallops had a metallic, preserved flavor, but were just barely cooked staying soft and tender. The sauce had a nice anise flavor, and while somewhat oversalted, was very good mopped up with bread. This was also accompanied by the pasta and veggies.

Stephanie had the combination seafood pasta, $17.95, which was fresh linguine tossed with green-lipped mussels, a giant roasted prawn, clams, dark meat halibut, salmon, and very tender calamari rings. Instead of the marinara sauce described on the menu, she ordered it with the white wine and butter sauce with olives and tomatoes used for the house seafood pasta. It was an enormous portion and she took half of it home.

I had cashew-crusted halibut with fresh mushroom sauce, $18.95. The portion of halibut was thick and enormous. This would have been two servings anywhere else. The prep was delicious and the fish was just the right doneness for me. My one quibble was that the sauce was ladled over the fish, which soaked the crispy crust. It would have been better under the fish. My plate also came with a separately plated serving of the house pasta and veggies.

Our server brought out a complimentary crème brulee with a lit candle on a plate decorated with “happy birthday” in chocolate sauce. It was a little bit stiff but we polished it off. Much better was the flaming Bananas Foster ($14 for two) prepared table side. Very rummy and alcoholic and the server took his time cooking the bananas to softness and coating them with brown sugar sauce.

Service was competent and friendly from the host, our server, the bus boy and tableside cook. Our bread basket was refilled twice (all those sauces!) and with the “heels” when we requested them.

I’ll note that the wine glasses on the table were whisked away when we sat down and no wine list was offered. When I asked for the list of wines by the glass, the wine list was presented but with the comment that only full and half bottles are offered. This was a shame as my sister and I would have shared a glass of wine with lunch if it were available.

At mid-day, most of the public parking lot was full. However, there are a couple spots next to the restaurant reserved for its use. Also, there are two handicapped parking spaces and a wheelchair lift available.

My mom was really happy with her food and the value today. She asked for a menu to take home and I’m sure she’ll be returning with friends and family soon.

Massaro & Santos
Coast Guard Pier
32 Cannery row, Suite H-1

P.S. Any intelligence on Breakwater Deli on the ground floor? The deck seating was packed and we could smell the smoke from the pit. The menu board notes that the pastrami is housecured and pit-smoked. Our host upstairs at M&S said that he’d tried everything on the deli menu and it's all good.



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