Apr
01
2012

Around the Bay

Fire pits under a massive oak tree

The Magic of Monterey’s Restaurant 1833

View from booths above the bar

There’s nothing quite like Monterey’s Restaurant 1833 in San Francisco. Yes, our city boasts fantastic food, cocktails, wine and beer lists, competitive with the best in the world. But 1833′s magical setting sets it apart, truly the whole package – and worth a drive from SF. Housed in an adobe structure from 1833 (hence the name), I was captivated by 1833 from the moment I stood under a massive oak tree sprawling over a patio lined with firepits. A giant palm tree and redwoods tower over an expansive side deck. 

From the top of the stairwell, a tweaked photo of the house's original owner

1833 evokes New Orleans or haunted Savannah in Spanish-influenced California architecture.

Enter a broad wood door unfolding into one enchanting room after another. Red velvet antique couches sit in front of a roaring library fireplace, an absinthe bar is tucked away upstairs, dining rooms are presided over by ghosts that have haunted the house over a century (note Hattie’s Room upstairs).

There’s an intimate, one table dining room (Gallitan’s Room) with a boar’s head standing guard over the fireplace and relics from the restaurant’s former incarnation as Gallatin’s, a restaurant where presidents and movie stars dined in decades past. Vintage and modern pieces combine, each room claiming a distinct personality. The bar is equally mesmerizing: an illuminated white onyx bartop glows under slanted roof rafters with coveted booth tables above gazing down over the bar.

Gallatin's Room, presided over by a wild boar

But what about the food? This is no LA style-over-substance scenario. Chef Levi Mezick’s menu wanders from whole-roasted meats to pizzas and pastas. There’s bone-in ribeye for two ($75) or a real splurge (temporary until the foie ban kicks in this June) of whole roasted lobe of foie gras ($150). Whole truffle chicken ($38) is a blissfully decadent. The chicken is brined for two days with truffle butter injected under the skin. Pizzas ($16-17) are topped with Dungeness crab and leeks or pineapple and sopresatta, while dense, pillowy gnocchi ($22) rest in Parmesan cream with Swiss chard, chanterelles, pickled onions and crispy croutons.

Roasted chicken w/ truffle butter injected under skin

Appetizers shine, like a delicate beet salad ($12) accented with Greek yogurt and hazelnuts, or a heartwarming helping of bone marrow ($16) with horseradish crust. Bites offer more gourmet delights, particularly fresh, raw hamachi ($6) dotted with pickled jalapenos, avocado, oranges. Among the best items on the entire menu are $4 biscuits: sundried tomato feta biscuits with roasted garlic basil butter or bacon cheddar biscuits with maple chili butter. Both are flaky, dreamy delights, warm and soft under a smear of butter.

1833's magical exterior

Michael Lay flames hot buttered rum tableside

Generous portions leave you fat and contented, while drink offerings threaten to outshine the food. Wine director Ted Glennon curates a playful, sophisticated wine list highlighting the best of the Central Coast and the world. His passion and palate have deservedly led to accolades such as being named one of 2012′s Food & Wine’s Top 10 Sommeliers. Glennon’s wine list is whimsically annotated with comments such as this one about Chardonnay: “The blonde bombshell has taken the hearts of so many…”

There’s no slacker in any of his pairings. I was absolutely smitten with 2000 López de Heredia Viña Tondonia Rosé ($50 bottle). This stunning rosé is unlike any I’ve ever had, crisp and acidic, yes, but also funky, earthy, with notes of mushroom and ripe cheese. As it sits it sweetens, evoking sherry while maintaining its crispness.

Fireside seating in the library room

Local highlights were 2006 Caraccioli Cellars Santa Lucia Highlands Brut Rosé, a dry, floral, sparkling beauty, and 2007 Pelerin Wines Rosella’s Vineyard Pinot Noir, from a Santa Lucia micro-winery producing age-worthy California Pinot. With acidity and body, green tea and licorice notes play with cranberry and dark cherry – lovely with the truffled chicken.

On top of everything else, 1833 is a cocktailian’s destination with no equal in the entire area. Bar manager Michael Lay oversees aging cocktails in barrels with colonial names like Betsy and Abigail. Lay’s talent is apparent in a range of classically-influenced cocktails like Commander in Chief ($11): Bulleit Rye whiskey, Carpano Antica sweet vermouth, Campari, Cherry Heering, and orange bitters with a peaty Laphroig Scotch rinse.

Barrel-aged Negroni duo: Abigail & Ruth-Anne

Besides a tableside absinthe cart (brilliant), offering some of my favorite absinthes like Duplais or Vieux Pontarlier, Lay makes a mean Hot Buttered Rum prepared tableside. His recipe is perked up with pumpkin pie spice and lemon peel. My favorite cocktail here is a twist on the Penicillin, a Penicillin No. 2 ($11). Instead of Scotch, Lay uses Tres Agaves Reposado Tequila and tops the drink with smoky mezcal, alongside the usual lemon and candied ginger. Further fun is had comparing barrel-aged Negronis, a 9 week-aged Abigail ($12) using Tanqueray gin, Campari, Amaro Nonino, Carpano Antica sweet vermouth, and Ruth-Anne, a more gin-forward Negroni.

We’ve seen each of these parts, yes, but not this exact whole. I long for more settings in my own city as bewitching and multifaceted as 1833. Thankfully, Monterey is not too far away.

Commander in Chief cocktail

Cozy bar booth

Further Monterey/Carmel Stops

View from Schooners' bar deck

While in Monterey, you won’t find another quite like Restaurant 1833, but here are a few more notable options:

MONTEREY PLAZA HOTEL & SPA
Monterey Plaza Hotel is the most elegant on Cannery Row, thankfully removed from the Row’s touristy bustle, though only a short walk from the Aquarium. In addition to stunning views from oceanfront rooms jutting out over the sea, the hotel offers one of the better spas I’ve ever been to. A striking rooftop with hot tubs and radiant ocean views feels like a Mediterranean escape, while I enjoyed a superb deep tissue massage. Even the workout room is blessed with views of the Monterey coastline and Pacific.

Schooners' oysters

Just remodeled and re-opened, Schooners restaurant is downstairs in the hotel, with waves lapping underneath and blue and white ceiling contrasted against wood walls, plus sunny outdoor patio off the bar. Open all day, there’s plenty of seafood, chowders and stews, alongside steak, braised short ribs, and satisfying desserts.

HAPPY GIRL KITCHEN, Pacific Grove
Just down the street in the idyllic town of Pacific Grove is Happy Girl Kitchen. Happy Girl has long been a favorite in San Francisco, selling their pickles and canned goods at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market. It’s a pleasure to see their full range of products, including candied lemon peels in cayenne and sugar, in their open cafe and bottling space. They serve Blue Bottle coffee and a few breakfast and lunch menu items.

View from my room at Monterey Plaza Hotel

CANTINETTA LUCA, Carmel

Cantinetta salumi platter

We experience a lot of “real deal” Italian food in SF, from house charcuterie to Neapolitan pizza, but for the Monterey/Carmel area, Cantinetta Luca is a rarity. They form a fine duo with Salumeria Cantinetta next door offering salumi, cheese, paninis, sandwiches and pizzas to go. Besides a strong charcuterie platter including house spicy Calabrese salame and Italian-imported speck and mortadella, they serve solid Neapolitan pizzas, and comforting, authentic, housemade pastas such as pappardelle alla bolognese ($16.95) and pumpkin ravioli ($16.95). Another selling point? Their Italian-centric wine list.

Under a giant palm outside 1833

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