Stokes is located in downtown Monterey in an historic adobe that has housed many restaurants over the years. Having read several recommendations of the place on Chowhound, I decided to make it the first nice restaurant experience of my vacation in Monterey.
The place is attractive and management wisely is using all or most of the rooms, so we did not feel like we were cheek to jowl with other guests, and spacing patrons out over the space kept the noise level acceptable, though it did seem a little loud.
Unable to decide on one appetizer we opted for the chef's choice. It came with four appetizers each in three portions which was helpful in dividing it up. The bright green fava bean crostini (vividly colored and flavored) may have been my favorite. It was accompanied by potato and sweet corn croquettes--another nice dish contrasting the deep fried crunchy outside with the softly textured mashed potato interior that was sweetened with corn kernals like chocolate chips in a cookie. A large portion of grilled mushrooms was topped by three browned polenta sticks, and another sizable portion of lightly cooked lentils was topped with three slices of seared tuna topped with a whitish sauce. I thought the last two items were less successful. The tuna slices were OK, I guess, but their flavors seemed lost with the lentils. The mushrooms were also adequate, but no better than I can do at home. The polenta sticks were well prepared but didn't add much to the dish. What's more I was disappointed at the overall look and composition of the combined appetizers. Except for the crostini, the appetizer plate was a study in grays and browns--there was little color or visual appeal. Covered with the sauce, even the tuna seemed to show its gray edges more than the reddish interior. In addition, the combined appetizers seemed heavy--potatoes, lentils, grilled mushrooms, & polenta all seemed to add to the heaviness of the first course.
The main courses were interesting and perhaps more appealing overall. Helen had vegetable canneloni (I believe that's what they were called) that contained nice grilled veggies and was covered in fresh arugula. Following the heavy appetizer, I thought this was a good choice. Steve had an interesting halibut presentation. The fish was perfectly cooked, the small filet sitting on top of fresh heirloom tomatoes, brought together by a light sauce. I enjoyed the tastes of his meal, though the items didn't seem fully unified. But I could see how someone might really love the dish. Of the main courses, I chose the heaviest--a lamb shank tajine on farro, a barly-like grain, with a "mango chutney." The shank was perfectly cooked, tender and juicy. The grain was a nice touch adding to the peasant feel of the dish. Yet I was not wholly pleased. Unlike most Moroccan tajines that I've eaten, the spicing seemed one dimensional. Also the mango chutney was more like diced mangoes that merely added to the sweetness of the dish, and like the sauce, lacked complexity or tang or additional flavor notes. Perhaps if the appetizer had been lighter, I would have responded more positively to the robust nature of the tajine.
What's more I was disappointed in the the service at the restaurant. The service was perfectly adequate, but it was not warm and friendly or especially
attentive. Our waitperson gave off the feeling that he had done this before and that we weren't worth extra effort. We had to ask to have coffee cups refilled at the end of the meal. Based on my quick survey, the wine list seemed very good--with many interesting selections and a number of wines priced over $100--and we enjoyed a less expensive Galante cabernet which I thought was excellent.
It is difficult writing about a restaurant after only one visit. And I had enough good food and wine at Stokes that I can see how someone would give it very high marks and think it an outstanding place. All I can say is that my results differed and since I don't plan to return to Stokes, at least again on this vacation, Stokes is going to have to get a one visit review.