Thursday, August 2, 2007
The first testimonial for the Wild Plum awaited us as we entered the modest eatery: Bill occupied one of the butcher-papered tables against the wall, waiting for lunch. His high expectations positively lit the room. He comes once a week for lunch – Mediterranean Sandwich, always with salad and roasted potatoes. He grinned when he talked about the roasted potatoes.
My colleague Hampton and I sat at an adjacent table and asked him for recommendations. While Bill waxed enthusiastic I scanned the other diners for a similar attitude, and found it – the people sharing good food and companionship in this friendly, upbeat environment just emanated a warm glow. The ambience is casually hip, a kind of adobe-industrial look with high ceilings, plastered and bricked walls, a very fine mural and a design that muted the sound of people talking to a pleasant hum.
This daytime eatery does a brisk trade in take-out, the way I first experienced Wild Plum. A counter in the back corner of the room is wedged between tall cases filled with colorful pasta salads, couscous, mashed potatoes, potato salad, grilled veggies, quesadillas, wraps, green salads and other cold savory dishes on one side, and desserts and muffins on the other, all attractively presented. Everything is organic, wild, fresh, prepared each morning. Chalkboards spell out an extensive list of soup, sandwich, wrap, quesadilla, salad and catch-of-the-day choices along with a few special dishes and desserts. Anything can be combined to create custom sandwiches, wraps or quesadillas.
This day, however, we ordered from the table. Hampton ordered the Box Lunch ($9.50) with a Mediterranean Sandwich (we had to try it), the House Salad, chips, fruit salad and dessert. It was huge. I ordered the wild local salmon Catch of the Day prepared as a sandwich ($8.95), which came with a choice of salad or the soup of the day, tomato soup ($4.95/large; $3.95/small if ordered separately). Hampton’s House Salad ($5.95/small; $6.95/large if ordered separately) was a meal in itself. A generous portion for a side dish, the heaping plate of crispy greens, carrots, avocado, tangy roasted pepper and red onion, baby tomatoes and parmesan was served with a vinaigrette so rich, creamy and redolent of olives that it could have been dessert. I nabbed a few bites and agreed it was one of the best salads I’d eaten.
I turned to my cup of tomato soup and found it much more interesting than I dreamed it could be. Made of organic tomatoes, it was unaccountably rich and complex, with none of the acidy taste that is common of cooked tomatoes...all pureed coarsely for a texture like a gazpacho. Nana’s bread accompanied...a light, puffball dusted with flour. The much-anticipated Mediterranean sandwich arrived bulging with flavor-packed roasted eggplant, onion, zucchini, mushrooms, provolone and pesto sauce, all enclosed in the café’s rightly famous house-baked foccaccia bread. The bread was fluffy with a little flavor snap from the shaved parmesan on top, crust delightfully crunchy but not tough. My grilled salmon sandwich was also full of flavor, the salmon a bit dry, but the roasted pepper, avocado and Swiss cheese made up for that inside the crispy foccaccia.
Though they have a full coffee/espresso bar, I tried the house coffee to finish ($1.95), a satisfying caramelly blend. We took the colorful fruit salad back to the office for later. I ordered apple dalletts ($2.95), or tarts, for our ever-grazing art department – enclosed in an attractive pocket of light floured pastry, the old-fashioned apple taste wasn’t dominated by spices. On my previous visit I’d ordered a vegetarian quesadilla from the case, a great on-the-run package of yum for $4.75. My companion had a tuna salad sandwich packed with celery, red pepper, green onion, kalamata olives and tomatoes with avocado slices and a garlic aoli in a foccaccia roll ($7.95). Wild Plum is happy to combine anything, like a Greek Chicken Salad (House Salad with added red onion, feta, kalamata olives, hummus and grilled chicken, mmmm) served as a wrap ($7.95, with a side). The café is a favorite breakfast haunt too, but that will have to wait for another visit. With doggie bags enough for another meal, we left smiling.
THE WILD PLUM CAFÉ&BAKERY
731 B Munras Ave., Monterey. • 7am-5pm Mon-Sat; Tue-Friday 7am- 6:30pm. • 646-3109 or thewildplumcafe.com