Restaurants & Bars

Monterey/Pacific Grove Passionfish & Stokes

Fine | May 25, 200309:03 PM

I loved Pacific Grove's Passionfish's commitment to both sustainability and supporting local and organic products.

The place was booming at 9 on a midweek evening, one room full of a group of noisy wine people from some event or other. Fortunately, we were seated far enough away not to hear their shouts and applause.

I thought our main course shared as an appetizer, Kaui Shrimp on lemongrass salad with spicy Vietnamese sauce, garnished with cabbage-rice fritters(18), was nigh-on perfect!

Although I had to be quite insistent with the waiter about how I wanted my Monterey Bay Salmon (17) cooked--moist but done--it was worth it: my first piece of salmon since the season ended last year could not have been more enjoyable, with its accompaniment of spring peas, snap peas, and thyme mashed potatoes. We weren't thrilled to pay $20 corkage to drink the bottle of '96 Reverdy Sancerre we brought--though the restaurant claims to split it with a charitable group--but to our taste, it's the ideal wine with salmon.

I think we probably should have also made a point about how we wanted the Monterey Bay Sand Dabs (sic) (16) cooked--they were a bit mushy from undercooking. I also didn't particularly like the rather harsh chickpea/eggplant/basil/horseradish-dill sauce combo they sat on.

A quick look at the dessert list proved that there was no baker in house and nothing jumped up at us, so we passed.

I'd return in a minute and I recommend the place with only that one not-awful, not-very-wonderful exception. But, with the low-mark-up wine list (they say retail + $5 on most), info posted on sustainability, and the staff's friendliness, along with really fresh-tasting and thoughtfully concocted seafood dishes, this is a winner. It seats till at least 10 PM also.

For those poor souls unable to eat seafood, the menu offered a duck, pork, ribeye, and lamb shank.

One caveat: The web site's reservation service was not operating properly. Fortunately, I phoned to confirm.

Stoke's (for some reason it dropped the charming "Adobe" from its previous name) menu made me a bit nervous when I popped by to check the place: I've had countless bad meals with similar-sounding dishes, but, with one exception, the chef truly outdid himself.

It's inexplicable to me that a kitchen with such high standards would offer a dried-out anchovy-olive pizzalike item--here named flatbread (3.85 )--as an appetizer, when it would be so easy to make fresh. The waiter cautioned it was not served hot, but I somehow failed to pick up on what he clearly had intended as a warning, assuming I-don't-know-what in retrospect. My better half's Monterey Bay Sardines en Escabeche (4.85) was one of those dishes that promise to serve in memory as a benchmark--it could not have been more delicious. A fresh, tart, garlicky tomato mixture on toast topped with mild but flavorful cooked, marinated sardines. I mustn't forget to mention the house-made, skin-on potato chips! I'd noticed them on the bar and glanced longingly when I'd stopped by around 6:30, but didn't try one. When I asked about them, the very accommodating waiter went and found a few remaining ones for us--delish!

Likewise, Rosie Farms Organic Chicken (17.95), garnished with a bread and raisin dressing and a great pile of roquette. It tasted to me the way I always hope Zuni's famous version will! Beautifully cooked, very fresh-tasting and juicy but not bloody, crisp-skinned, and no off-flavors in the dressing as, alas, has occurred more than once with Zuni's. Seared Onglet Steak (21.25) with spinach-cheese tart featured a pretty flavorful piece of good-textured skirt steak cooked to the exact degree of rareness requested, a delicious pastry case with a delectable filling (happily, to me, devoid of the ubiquitous nutmeg!), and a welcome mass of perfectly washed and crisped watercress.(As one unaccustomed to much rich food, I applaud the chef's decision to garnish both main courses with raw greens, the perfect foil; I further cheer the pantry's care in ridding them of grit!)

The homemade, rather damp and dense wholewheat sourdough wasn't quite as accomplished as the companion Gayle's Bakery's lighter-textured bread, but, as a home-baker, I nonetheless appreciated the effort.

A tart-apple, buttery crostada (6.50) topped with vanilla bean ice cream and surrounded by too little of a vanilla and a caramel sauce made a perfect to-share dessert.

The waiter declined to charge us corkage for the '70 Leoville Las Cases we brought along.(It's holding up fine.)

BTW, when I stopped by earlier and asked the nice young woman hosting whether the house empahsized local, sustainable products, she looked totally blank; yet, when I glanced at the menu, I saw both mentioned, as well as what we call the "o" word--organic.

Though it was about the same hour and a day closer to the weekend, this restaurant was doing far less business than Passionfish. Based on our one visit, it deserves a loyal clientele. I don't know any place in the Bay Area that's offering better-thought-out and -prepared food at anywhere near such reasonable prices.

I've been visiting the Monterey Peninsula periodically for decades, but we had practically stopped doing so because of the dearth of good food, especially when we could pop up to the Napa Valley in less time and eat so well. It's a joy to have discovered these two spots and I extend warm gratitiude to those posters who recommended them.

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