Thursday, January 26, 2012
This weekend a big fish gets bigger. And fresher.
Schooners Bistro on the Bay (372-2628) has long charmed visitors and locals alike with a combination of sturdy sustainable snacks, lively cocktails and on-top-of-the-ocean views of Monterey Bay. Now the perennial winner for Best Drink With a View in our annual readers poll – BTW, 2012’s voting starts next issue – has an inspired new look.
Schooners Coastal Kitchen will expand the casual nautical spirit of the bar and grill into the big neighboring space which was once stately Duck Club, giving the Monterey Plaza Hotel a multi-dimensional destination. Its first day open to the public arrives this Saturday, Jan. 28.
“Soup to nuts,” longtime Executive Chef James Waller says, “everything is different.”
From an eye-catching exhibition kitchen, Waller and team will dispatch a new wave of tastes: chipotle-zested scallop ceviche ($10), “shrimp in a bag” baked in parchment with artichokes and baby spinach ($30), spaghetti and clams with a chili kick ($12), seared California lamb chops with Medjool date jam ($30).
“Simple, straightforward food,” Waller says, “with some punch in flavor.”
Six different chowders and stews include a fisherman’s cioppino with scallops and shrimp and crab and clams and the day’s catch in a fennel-tomato broth ($28; $55 for two). Like that stew, many plates are meant to be shared, including the broiled oysters with smoked bacon and tomato-barbecue sauce ($10), the angry prawns ($12) and the “Go Fish!” assortment of oysters, shrimp, scallops, crab claws, crab legs and lobster tail ($40 for two).
“Dining has changed,” Waller says. “More eat like people in the business – four entrees and four appetizers between four people, pass the plates. We give you that kind of option.
“Sharing is good.”
Fortunately Waller, an early adherent to the Aquarium’s Seafood Watch guidelines, is as conscious as he is creative. (And, he notes, a new 2012 guide is out this week. Cooking for Solutions tickets, meanwhile, go on sale to members this Monday, Jan. 30.) His menu will actually list the origin of featured fish, and how they were caught.
The original Schooners bar is also getting a retooling with its own menu, which will carve out its own character independent of the restaurant. A sailor’s special bundles “gonzo-style” sliders (normally $12), whiskey and beer into a $25 package. A flight of chowder shots offers roasted tomato, artichoke and “coastal” takes. Weekly promotions like Kamikaze Tuesdays, with $5 sushi rolls and $5 “SakeKazi” cocktails, and Wednesday Pizza on the Pier with $5 pies and $5 23-ounce drafts, will help draw locals. They also happen every day except Saturday; Monday’s Go Nuts! Martini Night even features $5 Skyy martinis and spiced nuts. Thank God It’s Fry-Day end-of-the-week offer, meanwhile, is more promising than the corny branding, with $5 fish and chips and $5 fried calamari. Managers are even booking live music in the bar 6-9pm Tuesday through Thursday.
The biggest difference next door, according to Director of Sales Doug Phillips, is the contemporary-casual feel furnished by hardwood floors, white-and-black tile and a new bank of raised booths that further seize upon the restaurant’s grandest asset, the view.
“There’s not a bad seat in the house,” Phillips says.
He adds that the most striking upgrade might be atmospheric blue-and-white ceiling art-design that clicks thematically with Waller’s state of mind.
“For James, it’s a dream come true,” Phillips says. “It’s what he wanted to do since he got here in 1998: To move away from Duck Club, to put his signature on a restaurant. It’s his baby.”
And – oh baby – it’s looking good.
• Downtown anchor Cibo Ristorante (649-8151) is more inviting after a menu makeover. “We are pretty much a new restaurant,” GM-owner Mario Catalano says. Lobster and filet carpaccio ($13) appears on the appetizer menu with things like the panzanella ($8), barbecued baby octopus ($11) and grilled baby beets with Prosecco panna cotta ($9). Also: New happy hour deals 5-7pm every day, with small plates like grilled prawns with salsa verde and black garlic ($6) and polenta caprese ($3). Specialty cocktails – normally $9-$12 – are half price.
• David Frappeia is teaming with DeTierra Wines for a strong wine dinner at the best-kept secret on the grade, Courtside Cafe at Chamisal. Five wines, most estate grown, paired with things like poached shrimp, tarragon gnocchi, steamed pheasant and wild mushroom-stuffed sturgeon. Saturday, Jan. 28, $95, 261-8834.
• Different type of event from Cajun Coastal Catering (373-1285): a New Orleans lobster boil 5:30pm Friday, Jan. 27, at the Elks Lodge – lobster, prawns, sausage, artichokes, corn, potatoes. $65 includes warm-up cocktails and DJ Louis DePretoro.
• What better spot to rock a book talk for a work called Monterey Fire Department than Montrio Bistro (648-8880), former-firehouse-turned-hotspot-for-smokin’-food. Author Mike Ventimiglia hangs there 6-8pm Friday-Saturday, Jan. 27-28.
• A Good Morning America/SodaHead.com poll reveals the answer to an age-old quandary, which Girl Scouts cookies are king. Thin wins: Thin Mints captured 49 percent of the vote, followed by Samoas (28), Tagalongs (11), Do-Si-Dos (6) and Trefoils (6).
• A half-century-plus of pastrami rolls on Thursday, Feb. 2, with the 56th Annual Kosher-Style Take-Out Lunch at Temple Beth El (424-9151). A big ol’ corned beef or pastrami sandwich, cole slaw, kosher pickle and home baked cake run $11. This year the benefit might move 7,000 sandwiches.
• “Fish, to taste right, must swim three times,” goes the Polish proverb, “in water, in butter and in wine.”