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Munching around Monterey (long)

e.d. | Jul 29, 200512:40 PM

Sometimes I don’t get a chance to eat at a place often enough or get to taste enough dishes to do a full post. So I decided to put together notes on other meals I ate during my two weeks on the peninsula. I have expanded my comments on Taste a bit since some hounds have asked for more information. Except for Taste, these comments are based only upon a recent visit. Remember also that these days I am an explorer on the peninsula, not an expert.

India’s Clay Oven – this has always been a local favorite of mine, and more than once in the past I have overstuffed myself to the point of pain with their lunch buffet or the evening buffet (Tuesdays and some other nights) because the food is so good and varied I just couldn’t stop eating. This year we went for a regular dinner, and the food was as good as I remembered. The shrimp vindaloo was spicy without being burningly hot with firm potato chunks and medium shrimp in a dark reddish brown sauce with profound flavors. Helen’s lamb korma was a good combination of tender lamb and the rich, creamy korma sauce. Steve’s tandoori shrimp disappeared quickly and he assured us they were tasty.

Petra – this Middle Eastern restaurant now has a location in downtown Mty as well as a larger venue on Lighthouse in PG. I remembered how good the falafel was on a combination plate I had a couple of years ago, so I ordered a falafel sandwich at the downtown location for lunch. I got the combination that came with a Greek salad. The salad was OK, though nothing special, with pitted kalamata olives, decent feta, ordinary tomato wedges, and romaine lettuce. The sandwich was a bit of a disappointment. The falafel, which I remembered so fondly, seemed lost in the pita bread, sauce, etc. It was not unpleasant, just unflavorful. Sigh – one precious meal wasted.

Taste - I only managed one visit to Taste this year, but I had a wonderful lunch. The salmon carpaccio was a nice starter. Served with brioche toast, the thinly sliced salmon was dotted with capers, adorned with small red onion slices, and drizzled with a light mustard dill sauce. My main dish was the red oak leaf lettuce salad. The large mound of lettuce leaves were absolutely fresh and were served with crumbled blue cheese, pecans, and thin slices of pear. Even sharing the carpaccio, it was more than I could eat. This was the fourth or fifth time I have eaten at Taste, and every meal I've had there has been very good. In particular, I especially remember a chicken apple sausage plate with red cabbage that my German grandmother would have envied. Two years ago, my friend Chris spent a week in Monterey and her favorite meal on the whole trip was the salmon on a bed of veggies in parchment paper. The parchment allowed the flavors of the fish and veggies to infuse the buerre blanc sauce, making one very tasty main course.

Thaihawaiian Bistro - Right after this place opened, I tried their poke, which I thought was adequate but not outstanding. Having seen some positive comments about the place on this board, I decided I needed to try it one more time. The menu offers a number of intriguing choices, but I finally decided on the kahlúa pork plate lunch. It was truly outstanding. I chose to get the pork as a sandwich, and when the plate arrived, there was a huge pile of smoky pork in the middle of a split French roll. KirkK has told me how good kahlúa pork is, but the only time I had tried it (elsewhere), it seemed very ordinary. This time, however, I finally understood what he meant. In places the meat was slightly charred and all of it was smoky. It was like a great pulled pork barbecue sandwich. The meat was so rich and juicy that halfway through I had to turn the French roll upside down because the bottom had gotten so soggy. The sandwich was served with a flavorful and colorful macaroni salad dotted with bits of red onion and chopped bell pepper. There was a small clump of shredded cabbage that I tossed onto the sandwich for texture and a small portion of superbly flavored, slightly sweet kimchi. This was a great lunch for $7.95.

As good as all of these other lunches were, my best midday meal on the entire vacation was at the Red House in Pacific Grove. Steve and I had walked over to PG from downtown Monterey, so I was hungry. The menu was full of interesting choices, but I finally decided upon the Dungeness crabcake, which was served with a salad. I couldn't believe my plate when it arrived. I had been expecting a small salad—much like the dinner salads I had had in other restaurants. This salad, on the other hand, was huge and full of fresh, tasty Salinas Valley greens. It was also the best dressed salad I had on my vacation. There was exactly the right amount of dressing on the lettuces. The salad had been perfectly tossed and each lettuce leaf had a bit of flavor from the dressing, but the stars of the salad were the various flavors of the different lettuces. It is such a rare pleasure to have a salad in which the dressing plays only a supporting role, allowing the lettuce to take center stage. As good as the salad was, the crabcake was even better. I cannot imagine how a crabcake could taste any more flavorful than this one. The outside of the cake was rich brown and crispy. The cake itself was packed with Dungeness crab, and the flavor of the crab screamed out in every bite. Flecked with tiny bits of diced multicolor bell peppers, red onion, and chives, the crabcake contained only the minimal amount of binder necessary to hold the mass of fresh crab together. This lunch ($12.95, I believe) was one of the best meals on this vacation and one of the finest lunches I've ever eaten anywhere at anytime.

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