Irresistible spot lights up Monterey with ghosts, Negronis, quality fare -- and tableside Absinthe service
APPETITE There's nothing quite like Monterey's Restaurant 1833 in San Francisco. Yes, we boast fantastic food, cocktails, wine and beer lists that are competitive with the best in the world. But 1833's magical setting sets it apart, truly the whole package. Housed in an adobe structure from 1833 (hence the name), I was captivated from the moment I stood on the patio lined with firepits, beneath a sprawling oak. A giant palm tree and redwoods tower over an expansive side deck. 1833 evokes New Orleans or haunted Savannah in Spanish-influenced California architecture.
A broad wood door opens onto a series of enchanting rooms. 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 guarding relics from the restaurant's former incarnation as Gallatin's, a restaurant where presidents and movie stars dined in decades past. The bar is mesmerizing — an illuminated white onyx top glows under slanted roof rafters, imbibers perched in coveted raised booths gaze down at the scene.
But what about the food? This no 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 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 sopressatta, while dense, pillowy gnocchi ($22) rest in Parmesan cream with Swiss chard, chanterelles, pickled onions, and crispy croutons.
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 a bacon cheddar biscuit with maple chili butter. Both are flaky, dreamy delights, warm and soft under a smear of butter.
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 and 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.
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.
As a cocktail destination, 1833 has 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 Laphroaig Scotch rinse.
Besides a tableside absinthe cart (brilliant), offering some of my favorites 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 nine-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. *
500 Hartnell, Monterey
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