It’s been a busy summer over in Carmel with the city welcoming three new restaurants.
First came Carmel Grill House, which opened in late June with a menu of Mediterranean favorites. Start with some traditional meze — baba ganoush, hummus, kizartma fried vegetables and tzatziki (each $9.95 or get a sampler for $34.95) — or small bites like stuffed dolmas ($9.95) and octopus ($16.95). Then try one of the heartier entrees like the signature grilled lamb chops ($33.95), grilled branzino ($33.95), vegetarian moussaka ($27.95) and more. Weekends add lunch service featuring a selection of salads, sandwiches and pastas.
Then the tides of change brought a new sushi spot to town — Toro. The sushi and sake bar takes the place of Etats-Unis French American Bistro, which shuttered this spring. Look for a menu of simple sushi — sashimi, nigiri and a handful of rolls. Order omakase and enjoy chef’s choice of 16 nigiri ($60). If raw fish isn’t your favorite, try bento boxes featuring chicken teriyaki ($22), salmon teriyaki ($26), miso-marinated blackcod ($22) or vegetable tempura ($22). And don’t forget the sake! The sake flight (five sakes, $25) is your best bet, but don’t sleep on the sake cocktails.
Last week saw the debut of Le Soufflé. Construction on the new French restaurant wrapped up this summer, but the grand opening has been on hold while the state and county restrict indoor dining — soufflé isn’t exactly takeout-friendly fare. With no immediate plans for indoor dining to resume, the restaurant added a parklet and is now open for outdoor dining. Dinner is prix fixe — two courses for $60 per person or three courses for $75 per person — with French appetizers, savory soufflé and sweet or cheese soufflé for dessert.
Meanwhile, in Monterey, Elroy’s Fine Foods is now open in the historic Monte Vista Market. The new community market features locally farmed produce, humanely sourced meats, sustainable seafood, natural wines, a curated selection of groceries and more. Check out prepared foods and pastries, plus coffee and juice bar too.
Carmel Grill House
- Ocean Avenue between Mission and San Carlos, 831-574-8991, carmelgrillhouse.com. Open 4–9 p.m. Tuesday–Thursday and 11 a.m. – 9:30 p.m. Friday–Sunday for outdoor dining and takeout, closed Mondays.
Etats-Unis French American Bistro
- Dolores Street, between 5th and 6th, Carmel. 831-574-3255, torosushicarmel.com. Open 11 a.m.-9 p.m. daily for outdoor dining and takeout.
- Corner of Dolores Street and 5th Avenue, Carmel. 831-250-5314, lesoufflecarmel.com. Open Thursday – Sunday for outdoor dining with seatings at 4, 6 and 8 p.m., closed Monday – Wednesday.
Elroy’s Fine Foods
- 15 Soledad Dr., Monterey. 831-373-3737, elroysfinefoods.com. Open 8 a.m.–8 p.m. Monday–Saturday and 9 a.m. – 7 p.m. Sundays.
Coronavirus casualties among local eateries are starting to add up. August brought news of three major closures.
Beloved brunch spot Crema in Pacific Grove will be closing on Sept. 30. Negotiations for rent relief stalled, so the popular eatery has been forced to close as profits have waned during the pandemic. The countdown is on to get your last taste of Crema’s famous chicken and waffles, huevos rancheros and bottomless mimosas.
Down the coast, the historic Deetjen’s Inn has confirmed it’s closing indefinitely, felled by road closures, floods, fires and, of course, the coronavirus pandemic.
And last week, The Bull and Bear Whiskey Bar and Taphouse in downtown Monterey announced it’s permanently closing.
I fear the worst news is yet to come as the coronavirus crisis continues with little hope for federally funded relief for restaurants in the immediate future. Now more than ever, I’m savoring every (takeout) meal I enjoy around town — who knows if it could be my last.
Sad to hear news of the passing of two local tastemakers last month.
Tommy Q. Lee — co-owner of Tommy’s Restaurant in Marina with his wife Judy — passed away peacefully at his home on Aug. 10 at the age of 84. Lee opened his eponymous restaurant in Seaside in 1977. The low-frills breakfast joint was famous for its “Working Man’s Breakfast” — two eggs, hash browns and toast — served for just 99 cents for more than 40 years. (Rising costs finally forced the price to increase to $1.49 four years ago, still a steal of a meal.) In 2002, Tommy’s moved to Marina and remains a popular pick for its bargain breakfasts.
And local chef and pastry pro Guillaume D’Angio was tragically killed in a motorcycle accident on Aug. 3, just days after his 37th birthday. D’Angio opened Provence Bakery in Prunedale with his brother Greg, serving favorites from the brothers’ hometown of Marseille, France. He left the bakery and went on to work in several local restaurants, including The Beach House, Chart House and, most recently, The Sardine Factory. D’Angio’s wife, chef Brianna Sammut, has organized a GoFundMe to cover costs to return him to France.
Coffee and cocktails
Bars have been hit especially hard by the coronavirus pandemic, with state regulations keeping most closed unless they offer food service. But with a little creativity, Monterey’s Pearl Hour cocktail bar reopened last month.
The state’s orders to close provided time for a remodel of the outdoor courtyard and bar. Pearl Hour reopened and pivoted to providing a different sort of buzz — coffee. The bar now serves coffee, tea and herbal elixirs on the outdoor patio. Pearl Hour is open as a coffee shop 7 a.m.–3 p.m. Wednesday–Friday and 8 a.m.–3 p.m. on weekends. (And due to liquor license restrictions, Pearl Hour is strictly 21 and over, even for coffee service.)
But what about cocktails? Thankfully, Pearl Hour found a creative solution to meet the state’s requirements that cocktails come with food. Each weekend, Pearl Hour teams with a local eatery for a two-week residency. First came a partnership with Pacific Grove’s Cafe Guarani and now the cocktail bar has teamed up with Ad Astra Bread Co. for flatbreads — with a guest appearance by PigWizard and Other Brother Beer Co. too. Food and cocktails are served 5 p.m.–midnight on Friday and 2 p.m.–midnight on the weekend.
If you go for coffee or cocktails, do remember Pearl Hour is cash only.
Must see TV
Foodies will see a familiar face when the new season of Halloween Baking Championship debuts next week. Local pastry chef Michelle Lee is among the new crop of competitors for the Food Network cooking competition show hosted by celebrity chef Carla Hall.
Lee’s desserts have wowed locals at hotspots like Montrio Bistro, Restaurant 1833 and Cannery Row Brewing Company. Most recently, she was sous chef at the C restaurant + bar inside the InterContinental The Clement Monterey hotel on Cannery Row and guided the waterfront restaurant’s pastry program until the hotel was forced to reduce staff during the coronavirus pandemic.
Tune in for the premiere on Monday at 9 p.m. to see if the judges are wowed by her spooky sweets.
Raúl Nava is a freelance writer covering dining and restaurants around the Monterey Peninsula. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram: @offthemenu831. Send any news tips, questions, curiosities or just friendly notes to [email protected]