Thursday, May 31, 2007
Since I came to Monterey County only a short time ago, many people have mentioned Favaloro’s in the course of conversation. It seemed such an integral part of the Pagrovian life that I was surprised to hear that the restaurant had been closed for several years and had only recently reopened at the former Scotch’s Bakery site across the street. Three friends and I decided to meet there on a Thursday night to experience the local institution ourselves.
First in my party to arrive, I found Favaloro’s residing in an intimate space. The welcome began outside, where the glow of candlelight spilled onto a quiet part of Lighthouse Avenue and the handsome couple seated at a window table could easily have posed for the cover of a romance novel. A hostess greeted me warmly and guided me through the main room, where eight small candlelit tables were filled almost to capacity. The room was quite lovely and cozy, walls filled with paintings, all made even more intimate by a dark-painted ceiling. Jesse, our waiter, described the idea. “We want it to feel like an Italian living room,” he said.
It did, so I was a little disappointed to be led to a room at the rear, separated from the main dining area by a half wall and illusory arches. Here were two larger tables sharing a quilted bench—but we were facing quite a lovely bar area.
My companions soon arrived and we set out to explore the Sicilian-leaning menu, which offers Oyster/Raw Bar options along with selections that reflect the crossing of cultures in that island at the southernmost tip of Italy. These included popular veal dishes like Veal Scallopini ($20), Parmigiana ($20), Saltimbocca ($23) and alla Fiorentina ($21) as well as a few pork, beef or chicken options and an extensive pasta menu. There was also a broad selection of seafood prepared in French or Italian (not necessarily Sicilian) style. The accompanying wine list was unremarkable, but our designated wino, Patrick, selected a bottle of pleasant Lockwood Pinot Noir ($34) that successfully accompanied our diverse dishes.
Jesse was attentive and happy to discuss the menu. We ordered two House Salads ($5.95) and a half dozen Charbroiled Oysters ($11.95) to start. The salad was plentiful: Two orders satisfied our party. The greens were crisp, the arugula aromatic, with pan-fried walnuts, pear slices and a shaving of romano cheese helping make for a tasty, well-balanced beginning to our dinner.
The half dozen Pacific oysters presented on their half shells were large, sweet and a little smoky, with a toothsome texture that was very pleasing. We agreed that they were tasty but would have been content to eat them raw ($9.95 half dozen). We soon eyed the Clams Bordelaise ($9.95) that just arrived at our neighboring table. The aroma was intoxicating: Steamed in garlic, butter and wine, the dish was generous in proportion and was met with enthusiasm.
My companions Jean and John asked Jesse about their favorite dish from the “old” Favaloro’s. He assured us that Spotted Prawns would be offered as soon as they were in season, adding that there were so many requests for this dish that he was thinking of establishing an e-mail list to notify customers when they became available.
For the main event, Jean ordered the Porcini Mushroom Agnalotti ($15). Served in a sage-cream sauce, the dish arrived plainly presented, and Jean found the distinctive porcini flavor lost in the sauce. John, meanwhile, ordered a robust Halibut Siciliana ($18). Baked lightly and topped with a marinara and wine sauce and a whisper of grana cheese, the dish made him happy that the marinara didn’t dominate the flavor of the halibut, which was perfectly delicious and not overly seasoned.
Patrick ordered Monterey Bay Sandabs ($17), which were breaded a bit too much for a fish with such delicate flavor and texture, and resulted in a very ordinary dish.
In my corner, the Veal Saltimbocca ($23) was buttery-tender and full of flavor, the wine sauce adding a touch of sweetness offset by thin prosciutto di parma on top. Pretty and friendly creamy scalloped potatoes brought the dish to full satisfaction.
Even with Sicily’s prodigious reputation for sweets, Favaloro’s didn’t disappoint. We were unable to resist a plate of cannoli. These slightly crunchy pastries, filled with sweetened ricotta cheese and little flakes of chocolate, were divine. But it was the almost transparent delicately flavored domes of Panacotta I loved the best. All desserts are $6.95.
By the time we asked for our check we had shared several conversations with Jesse, who worked for many years at the “old” Favaloro’s. He told us what our authentic meal had demonstrated—that the owners Nino and Marie are from old Sicilian families, and that Nino, the chef, was born in Palermo.
Our table lingered long enough to see the staff gather to share a meal family-style, as they do every evening. But rather than hurrying us out, Jesse poured us a complimentary glass of dessert wine. It made us feel like welcome guests—leaving only to return again soon.
545 Lighthouse Ave., Pacific Grove • 11am-3pm, 5pm-9:30pm Tue-Sat. • 373-8523.