She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed and I had to go to Pacific Grove the other night and decided to have dinner at some place we had not eaten. And in front of us was Maxs Grill. Boy, does Max Muramatsu have some chops. He was chef at Maxims in Tokyo for 15 years, a very prestigious restaurant in Ginza, a place I have walked by many times without stopping (silly me, but it is expensive). For some reason he re-located with his wife to the Monterey Peninsula and was the Executive Chef at Anton & Michel for 7 years before starting his own place in 2003 in Pacific Grove. He picked up a location near the corner of Forest and Lighthouse Avenues, a central spot that had a few restaurant ghosts hanging about. Max has taken a very low key approach in creating a dining room. The room is a big one that is simply divided in half, which cuts down on the noise. Tables are spaced with enough clearance to feel comfortable. More than likely nowadays you might get real chummy with your dining neighbors, but Max and his wife Yuko seem to have handled that hurdle well. The walls are simple off white decorated with paintings and pictures. I suppose I could get snippy here and say that I wish they had been more creative and added some color but the overall effect was of simplicity.
The menu was also simple. A separate menu for the nightly specials and then a simple set of 5 appetizers, 5 salads, 5 entrees, all of which bespoke of Maxs abilities in the kitchen. While I was eager to order everything, She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed reined me in and we decided on a ravioli appetizer (homemade squash), the Grilled Halibut and the Calamari Steak (something that SWMBO orders whenever possible unless tortellini is on the menu). Soup and salad was also part of the meals so we split on each. I got the Caesar Salad and SWMBO the Cream of Roasted Red Pepper Soup.
The bread was a winner. Not that I am picky about my daily loaf, but this was a good honest loaf of bread that I thought came from Pavels up the street. But I was wrong and it is a loaf of bread baked by Max himself. I sing the glory of freshly made in-house bread. Only a few restaurants go to this minimal extra effort and that is too bad as it is more than worth it. The ravioli were delicious with the only complaint being that there could have been more squash stuffing, but I am being picky. The use of a fresh strawberry and papaya salsa was totally unexpected and totally good. The Caesar Salad was not made at table, but still had just enough of garlic and Reggiano to be a nice crisp interlude. The Cream of Red Pepper Soup was intense. SWMBO only finished half of her cup. Perhaps it could have benefited from a little acid component to cut the richness.
The main courses were very good but a little dated in terms of presentation. You know, the meat, veg, and potatoes in mounds on the plate style. I also noted that even though the menu advertised grilled halibut, mine was floured and panfried. Done well and not overcooked, but still not grilled. The halibut was tender and moist with a tasty Provençal sauce of olives, capers, and olive oil. The surprise to my palate was the polenta pudding accompaniment. Light and airy this pudding was wonderful, and a great side dish.
We avoided dessert but do look forward to another opportunity. The total bill with a half bottle of Renwood Zinfandel ($18 and delicious) came to about $65 without gratuity. Our server and bussers were very professional and provided just enough humor to make the evening delightful.
Max and Yuko have worked hard and they have a nice locals spot. If a few out-of-towners discover them than I suppose that they will be happy with the extra business. For me this was a thumbs up experience. A nice place to go and have a good meal without paying through the nose.
Maxs Grill, 209 Forest Avenue, Pacific Grove 831 375 7997
Tuesday Sunday 5:00 PM to 9:00 PM