September 11, 2012
Foodies can debate who's got Monterey County's dopiest drinks, best burgers and top sirloins all they want, with plenty of argumentative ammunition on all sides.
Best lunch, not so much.
When you consider both taste and number of tops, Tarpy's Roadhouse (647-1444) does the most robust midday meal in the area, which makes it the rainmaker of a very successful family of Downtown Dining restaurants (the other two: Rio Grill and Montrio Bistro, who also underwent savvy upgrades on anniversaries in the last few years). It's swept our readers' vote for Best Business Lunch in Monterey County for years. A combination of old world setting, daily specials, Wine Down Wednesdays and very sturdy entrees—plus strong service and a deep wine cellar—keep it hummin' at night too.
So Tarpy's ain't broke. But I'm digging most all of its new fixin's.
They come as part of this autumn's 20th anniversary celebration, which owner Tony Tollner is using as inspiration to refresh the menu and the feel of the bar. Soon a week's worth of closure will allow for some other tweaks to open up the bar area, and a new raft of swanky craft cocktails will elevate things simultaneously.
A new happy hour will come into play too, aiming at a younger demographic, while the daily specials—steaks, meatloafs and roasted chicken among them—will keep the veterans coming through.
Quiet craftsman Michael Kimmel, one of the more underrated chefs in the area, is getting a chance to add a range of menu items.
The Weekly sat down for lunch a couple weeks back to try some of the new drinks and dishes.
Cocktail clairvoyant Anthony Vitacca of sibling Montrio Bistro (648-8880) is already retraining the five bartenders on fragrant, high-craftmanship sippers starring fragrant herbs, flowers and fruit from the on-grounds garden like the "Russian spring" ($9) with Russian Standard Platinum vodka, agave, lemon juice, muddled fresh thyme, blueberries and blackberries.
The griddled polenta ($9.95) enjoys just the right amount of salt and savory, plus squash, carrots and tomato around its base and tender slices of thick roasted portabella in a memorable Madeira wine reduction. Polenta is rarely this good.
The "Mexican monk" ($9) with Herradurra blanco tequila, green chartreuse, agave, muddled pineapple and jalapeño proved the cocktail of the meal, supremely subtle with its spice and thoroughly balanced. A revelation.
Wood-grilled Maine dry-pack sea scallops ($29.95) with an edamame-garlic puree plated with a cherry tomato and sweet corn, plus edamame, carrots and baby spinach in a balsamic reduction worked wonderfully.
Lead bartender Andrew Boggan (above) and night tender Kit Nicholas are helping develop tastes like the serviceable-if-not-remarkable "Cherub's cup" ($9) with Nolets gin, St. Germain elderflower viscous liquer, lemon juice and strawberry puree. Boggan's "twisted hound" ($9), with fresh grapefruit, peach Ciroc vodka, a dash of bitters and touch of housemade rosemary simple syrup is almost as habit-forming as the Mexican monk.
The maple-brined Berkshire pork chop ($19.95) with a dried cherry Merlot reduction was good; the sensational sage stuffing beneath was better.
A robust New Zealand elk loin with apple-pear-port reduction paired with an elk sausage and roasted garlic whipped potatoes flanked by haystack onion strings ($34.95) dazzled the eye and its appetite. I liked the sausage's kick and texture more than the heavy loin.
Then came the clincher, a peanut butter and dark chocolate mousse cake with surrounding raspberry and strawberry sentinels and a little whipped cream and spicy peanuts on top ($8). As good as it sounds and looks.
And speaking of looks, from here Tarpy's future looks very good. Check back for word on the 20th anniversary celebration in October.