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Identifying the biggest and most important food stories of Monterey County’s 2013.

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Mark C. Anderson, The Monterey County Weekly

The Biggest Food Story of 2013

The very first restaurant I ever reviewed, Jose’s Mexican Bar & Grill in New Monterey, closes this week. One of my top spots for a sunny (and superb) brunch went dodo bird whenToast folded. Pho King fled. (Phuck!) Breaker’s Cafe went broke. Maha’s is no longer, though they still do the farmers market.

We lost a share of our restaurants in 2013, but the biggest plot development was how many we gained. It was an unprecedented boom of restaurants that were new and good.

One way to illustrate that would be ranking the best newbies of ’13. And while it’s fair to debate the order I give them, there’s no denying they cumulatively represent the strongest bumper crop in a decade – at least. There’s been so many yum ones, in fact, there are no fewer than seven – seven – new to the list since I first did it just two months ago. Send your thoughts to edible@mcweekly.com. My top 20 appear here

3. Beach House at Lovers Point (375-2345) •The landmark in the former Bathhouse has earned a loyal following fast for its legendary location and harbor views, big value seafood, pasta and American comfort food like firecracker shrimp, linguine and clams and bacon-wrapped meatloaf.

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The firecracker shrimp ($8.90), a unique take on a classic dish, with locally inspired name and strong value, works as a metaphor for the wider place.

Beach House at Lovers Point

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Shiho Fukushima, The Monterey County Weekly

Before Beach House at Lovers Point opened for business, surviving an inhuman wait period thanks to ADA and other permit delays, its team had plenty of time to talk a lot about how they’d strive to be a locals-oriented establishment in a place that could easily target tourists and tack on a few bucks for its prime location.

It wasn’t talk.

Take their Sunset Suppers, well-portioned entrees for $9.90. Add a soup, salad or a glass of house wine or beer for another $2.90 if you are seated by 5:30pm and order by 6pm.

The suppers include rigatoni with garlic cream sauce, sun-dried tomatoes, fresh basil, shallots and Parmesan cheese; sole almondine, a grilled fillet with lemon butter sauce, wild rice pilaf, toasted almonds and green beans; and panko-crusted chicken breast with “smashed” potatoes, garlic spinach and rosemary jus.

We enjoyed the flame-broiled pork loin chop supper – tender and juicy atop Yukon Gold mashed potatoes and topped with an electric medley of pink and purple braised red cabbage and apples. The French cider sauce rounded out this eye-catching dish with a wonderful thick consistency from apples, not flour. Brilliant.

I learned that from our server Donna, who “Rock”-ed – which fits, as that’s also her last name. A hospitality natural, she is well-versed with the menu and its ingredients. Another fitting element: The young, attractive co-executive chefs that run the Lovers Point kitchen are lovers, and soon to be married. Briana Sammut is a local native comfortable with California comfort cuisine; her partner Guillame D’Angio is from Marseille, Provence, studied and worked in Paris, and provides a world of pastry expertise. Jeremy Phillips is the general manager, guided by his father Kevin, a master manager with years of experience overseeing several local restaurants (including Abalonetti) and also a managing partner along with longtime area restaurant-maker Jim Gilbert.

One of Rock’s recommendations was a grilled Alaskan salmon filet ($18 after 6pm), nicely charred and sitting on a bed of forbidden (black) rice with a garlic spinach saute in a lemony beurre blanc sauce. The salmon was firm with a nice kiss of smokiness, a deal for under $20, and the rice was a nice surprise, moist and having absorbed the lemon butter sauce, giving it a tropical essence.

The bacon-wrapped meatloaf ($15.90 after 6pm) has proved one of the most popular dishes so far. It comes with a crown of fried onions, butter braised carrots, smashed potatoes and a mushroom gravy – and pairs nicely with the house red wine ($4.75) from Sycamore Lane, which does wine solely for restaurants so house wines don’t have to be iffy. Not a bad idea from Napa’s Trinchero family, who knows a thing or two about wine. The flourless mushroom gravy stood out and balanced out the slightly overpowering cumin in the loaf. They are ahead of the game in creating food that everyone can enjoy, even those with a restricted diet.

Bread arrives once diners are seated, a rustic ciabatta from Golden Sheaf Bread Company, soft and airy in the middle with a crusty outside. The Caesar ($7.90) is similarly delightful and simple, in keeping with their nothing-too-chic-chic approach, a conscious departure from the property’s days as the fancy Old Bath House. Nevertheless, there’s a butter-roasted lobster tail ($32/one half pound tail; $58/two) and a ribeye with Parmesan fries, garlic spinach and hotel butter ($27). On the first of two visits, my gentleman friend and I went for the center cut filet mignon with a lobster tail ($54). The tail was smaller than ones I’m used to and a swim in drawn butter helped bring out a sweeter flavor, while green peppercorn sauce gave the steak the zing it needed.

The welcoming, spacious dining room and its full bar, heated patio, natural light and a 180-degree view of the Pacific Ocean and neighboring Victorian style homes – which scream Pacific Grove – also serve a lot of other reasonably priced appetizers. Those include the garlicky and steaming escargot ($9); the flagship firecracker shrimp (small crispy shrimp tossed in a spicy cream sauce, named for the Feast of Lanterns, $8.90); fresh oysters ($12.90 for six); locally sourced Sicilian sausage ($8) grilled and served atop lentis; clams and mussels Pernod ($12.90); salmon rillettes ($11.90); and even steak tartar ($11.90). Oysters roasted in a garlic-dill butter ($11.90) were good but could use a bit more oomph. Scallops crudo ($11) call me toward my next visit.

In short, there’s something for everyone, like the spaghetti clams ($18) and Maple Farms duck breast pan-roasted with an apricot relish and balsamic reduction sauce ($27) to the wild arugula with roasted beets with a blue cheese vinaigrette ($8) and the all-American burger Beach House-style made with Angus beef on a toasted bun ($12.90).

Something else everyone can appreciate: The chance to pretend you own a house by the beach, with a friendly personal chef and service staff to boot. The view, like good value, never gets old. It’s a casual cool spot that’s budget friendly, where I can see myself as a regular and a place where I can meet other locals. Consider their mission accomplished.

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The Beach House at Lovers Point Makes Her Debut

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by Dorothy Maras-Ildiz, Cedar St Times

Finally, everyone can stop asking that infernal question “When is the Beach House going to open?” The old gray gal is open, up and running like a champion filly with carrot dangling in front of her nose. Making her debut just two short weeks ago, The Beach House has been jam-pack full of the curious, the hungry and of course…those damned critics.

So far The Beach House has been met with nothing but positivity where ‘the experts’ on Yelp are concerned. Comments range from – “Gourmet dining, Gourmet Service (just a side note-do we really ‘eat’ the service?), without the gourmet price tag.” And the obvious, “What a view! Fabulous French Martini!”

Yelp ‘experts’ aside, here are my personal observations on my first visit to the newly opened Beach House:

As I made my way up those familiar stairs to the front door, I was filled with that wonderful anticipation of dining at a ‘brand new restaurant’. What will it be like? What does it look like inside? Will the food be impressive or god-forbid….ghastly? Will the service tick right along or be clumsy and inept? Ohhhh, how I love seeing a ‘new restaurant baby’ being born!

With my two favorite critics in tow, my mother and my sister, we entered the foyer of the BH and were greeted by three friendly faces at the host stand. First impression of the inside re-do was …WOW! What a great job they did of erasing the old and making it new again. This is no easy task given the physical restrictions of the space, but they sure did one helluva job.

As I walked through the newly strange and crowded bar and dining room areas, I was struck by the number of local diners, including city councilmen, mayors, etc. enjoying ‘their view’ of Lovers Point on a uncharacteristic, spectacularly clear and warm day. While the place was busy, not every table was full all at once, showing me that the front of the house were handling the flow of reservations properly to insure that service and food would be arriving in a timely manner and no one would be overwhelmed.

Now, here is where Dorothy meets the Tin Man, The Scarecrow, The Cowardly Lion and the Wizard of Oz…upon approaching my table I realized that the handsome guy behind the bar , my server Philippe and more than a few others in the room, used to work at the Old Bath House and it was ‘old home week’ for me. Good move! Familiar places and faces always make a place feel comfy.

The menu and wine list represented a broad-range of prices and choices. Most of them hit all of the right notes with me, but a couple seemed to be a stretch. But …who knows what the public will dictate? If anyone out there has learned to accurately foretell the tastes of the general populace, you are worth millions to thousands upon thousands of restaurateurs.

From the semi-open kitchen I could see the Chef Christopher Groves, moving deftly about his shiny new kitchen. I can always tell a talented chef by the way they move in their native surroundings. Quick, efficient, focused and in control were my first impressions. The rest of the kitchen staff appeared happy, calm and equally focused at the task at hand. Overall, a very professionally run kitchen for ‘day four’ of the new baby restaurant’s life.

Our bottle of properly chilled Pessagno Chardonnay, (29.00) arrived and was poured into what I am going to say is Not-My-Favorite-Wine-Glass choice. Short, stout, sturdy, this wine glass was designed to take a beating in a high-volume restaurant, but elegant or pretty…it is not. In fact, I think I just described myself ….Oh well, hooray for utilitarian glassware. Without it, we’d all be broke(n). haha!

Let’s talk food – I ordered the zucchini soup, my sister had the Spincah- Roasted Beet salad. Both were good and flavorful. The soup was a little too refined (ultra-pureed) for the casual nature of the place but hey, that’s just my opinion. Chef was generous enough to send out a couple of appetizers to try – The Salmon Galette, which was delicious and well-balanced and the Sesame Crusted Tuna Tartar. For entrees, Mom ordered the Special Halibut which was served with about six ingredients I can’t recall off the top of my head and mom wouldn’t let me try any of it, sis had Christopher’s Chicken with Truffle Whipped Potato, Garlic Spinach and Shoyu-Butter Sauce (16.00) and I ordered the Grilled Pork Loin Chop with Whipped Potato, Braised Fennel, Arugula & Apple Salad with Cognac Cream (14.99) (after all, you are what you eat, right??). All of the entrees were well thought out, balanced and represented a good value for the price. Were they perfect? Close. Did I expect they would be considering the new staff, new kitchen, new equipment and a four-day old restaurant? Nope. Did they exceed my expectations? Absolutely! And that folks, is what matters at this point in the process.

The dessert list has most of the usual suspects on it – in fact, it was a little bit of a let-down after reading the rest of the menu. We sampled the lemon-raspberry cheesecake (refreshing, light and tangy) and the chocolate mud pie which was perfect.

Service was professional, warm and knowledgeable. Poor Philippe! Who wants to wait on me on his first day at a new place?

My overall impression….The Beach House at Lovers Point has been a long time in the making but the wait was totally worth it. Are there a couple of odd things here and there and few rough edges? Of course, but nothing glaring or worth pointing out. This is a brand new, baby and it will find its’ legs around the time it turns one year old. What will it be when it grows up? Hard to say, but as far as I can tell, it has inherited great genes from Kevin Phillips, Jeremy Phillips and Chef Christopher Groves et al. The task at hand is to maintain the energy, stay focused and become what your parents envisioned you to be.

Good luck and God Speed. I will revisit and revisit and revisit and then write a ‘real review’. This was based on one visit only, which totally goes against my credo regarding writing about brand new restaurants.

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Nice Setting: The views, affordable foods and prodigious anticipation meant The Beach House was approaching 300 eaters by night three. Photo by Mark C. Anderson

Beach House at Lovers Point Opens and Impresses

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Mark C. Anderson, The Monterey County Weekly

Turns out lingering months longer than expected to open a desperately awaited landmark restaurant can have its benefits.

Or at least that is what The Beach House at Lovers Point (375-2345) has demonstrated in its first week. (The Weekly preview peek, with word about its chef’s background and pictures of the whole place, came last week.)

For one, all that eagerness translates into hundreds of diners a night, no promotions or publicity needed.

Even better, it allows for much of the fine tuning plenty of other restaurants don’t enjoy before the chaotic opening sequences. Instead of it being a baptism by fire, it’s more of a baptism by firecracker shrimp.

Yes, the signature Feast of Lanterns firecracker shrimp ($8.90), plucked from the very top of the menu, was the natural place to start—after a couple drinks at the nice bar between historic pics of Lovers Point Cove and views of it and the deck beyond the bar.

About those drinks. The PG ’77 ($7), a take on the French 75’s Proseco, Cognac and lemon juice, and an old fashioned ($7), were surprisingly large and strong for the price point, the first indication that the Beach House team is serious about making this an affordable locals lair. Only the seame-crusted ahi ($18.90), coffee-rubbed lamb chop ($28), grilled hanger steak ($24) and fire-roasted lobster tail ($32/one; $52/two) are more than $15.

The medium small firecrackers come fried crispy and lightly tossed in a lightly spicy, not too heavy cream sauce ($8.90). Good size for popping.

Six escargot ($7) done just so—slippery, tender, buttery and Gilroy garlicky—also felt like a bargain you won’t see many other places. Plus you get to use those miniature forks and dip as much bread in the little puddles of parsley-garlic-compound butter as possible. A testament to Exec Chef Christopher Groves’ French training at Cordon Bleu.

After a spinach and roasted beet salad with Point Reyes blue cheese in a memorable miso-mustard vinaigrette (though small, that was another value at $6), it was one of my favorite dishes from Bistro Beaujolais (624-5600), where Groves once worked, the round, flat smoked wild salmon galette ($11.90) on a thin layer of fried hash-brown potato, cut in triangles like a pizza, with lemon-dill creme fraiche, fresh chives, a tangle of greens and smoked Maldon sea salt. Glad it made the trip over from Carmel.

Given Groves’ experience as a forager, we almost tabbed the wild mushroom fricassee with sun-dried tomato and goat cheese polenta and “frizzled” shallots ($11.90), but he beat us to it, dropping off some spicy tuna with daikon root on dark nori chips ($8.90)—tasty, though that is coming from a major mayo lover. People avoiding creamier things might not be as enthusiastic.

The bacon wrapped meat loaf ($12.90)—with butter braised carrots, whipped potato, mushroom sauce and crispy onion strings—was sold out so we steered toward the sea instead of Christopher’s chicken ($16) with truffle-whipped potato, garlic spinach, shoyu butter sauce. Instead, the sole amandine ($15) on potato puree with French green beans, toasted slivered almonds fried in a nice lemon brown butter sauce that didn’t overwhelm or over-grease. Another French winner.

The sides are also available a la carte and allegedly enough to share, including the butter or truffle whipped potatoes ($5), grilled asparagus in a balsamic reduction ($6), sun-dried tomato and goat cheese polenta ($5) and pan-roasted foraged mushrooms ($8).

Here’s what I can share: The Weekly named this opening one of the Biggest Food Stories To Be of 2012. We were half right, but it’s a big and welcome enough debut that being wrong tastes pretty damn good. Dorothy Maras-Ildiz, who was GM there when it was the legendary Old Bath House, spoke for more than herself when I saw her and asked, “Back at the old stomping grounds?”

“Nope,” she replied. “At my new stomping grounds.

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A Photo Tour of Exceedingly Anticipated Beach House at Lovers Point

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Mark C. Anderson, The Monterey County Weekly

Local sourcing has become a requirement in the current epicurean area, deliciously enough.

Still, the about-to-open Beach House at Lovers Point (375-2345) employed that ethic with rather exceptional enthusiasm in selecting a chef.

Le Cordon Bleu-trained Christopher Groves not only grew up in Pacific Grove—his kids are fifth generation—he bussed tables at Sardine Factory with Bill Lee (and later cheffed under Robert Mancuso), worked with Mary Pagan at Culinary Center of Monterey, evolved his French skills at David Fink’s Bouchee and helped Firok Shield with his Da Giovanni trilogy by opening Bistro Beaujolais.

But it gets better, and even closer to home, as he points out the window at the Lovers Point pool that is getting rehabbed at the same time the Beach House passes its last health code inspection and Groves tutors his sous chefs on the menu.

“I learned how to swim in that pool,” he says. “The [Lovers Point] break is my favorite [surf] wave. I love to dive the cove too.”

As Beach House anticipation reaches a fever pitch—and the tally of days since the first intended opening date approach 400—Groves concedes he’s not exactly eager to get too connected to locals at the moment.

“Sometime I feel like I need to take my [Beach House] jacket off when I go outside,” he says. “People are ready for us to open.”

Smart money avoids any bets on when the actual official date is, but let’s hope by July 4 soft openings are well underway—and that’s not unrealistic as perishables have already started to arrive for prep practice and trainings.

Connection to place will figure in prominently, beyond the big windows in the sleek bar area and atrium-style main dining room, and the lookout from the heated-floor patio. Fascinating historic photos were arriving as Groves described his influences—portraits of Pacific Grove’s beachy heartbeat when rickety restaurants dotted its cliffs and when Eastern-style skiffs occupied its harbors included.

Around the corner, the kitchen is immaculate. “They definitely didn’t cut corners,” Groves says.

City rules dictate it’s a dinner-only operation, but an early bird/sunset menu kicks in at 4pm with five or six specials for $10.90. The sublime locals’ deals at sister spot Abalonetti’s (373-1851), also owned and managed by Jim Gilbert and Kevin Phillips, bode very well for big value. Even on the entree lineup, only two plates tip past $20.

“We’re not targeting tourists,” Groves says. “My kids are fifth generation of my family here. We have to have locals price points.

The 125-person capacity includes deck seating that will benefit from heated floors and inferred heat lamps that only warm up bodies (and not flatware).

Groves is eager to tune diners into dynamic nightly dishes to balance the casual local focus. He cites his classic French training at CIA and Bouchee and his grandma’s Japanese heritage as a fertile fusion-friendly base for inventive plates.

While an antique Lovers Point Drive-Inn Restaurant menu including $1.50 “native abalone steak” and $1.85 broiled lobster will hang from the wall, Groves’ house specialty will be a Feast of Laterns firecracker shrimp dredged tossed in creamy sweet Thai sauce.

Raw oysters, baked oysters, casual California fare, a strong burger and a rack of lamb with a coffee rub will all come into play. Groves’ background as a forager—he still hunts locally and even ships shrooms to colleagues and friends across the country under the Wild Mushrooms of Monterey label—won’t hurt either.

“People shouldn’t expect the fine dining old Bath House, classical French,” he says. “That’s not us.”

But they should expect something worth the wait.

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Beach House Restaurant Opens

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By Elaine Hesser, Edible Monterey Bay

The wait is over.

For the first time since the Old Bath House restaurant closed its doors eight years ago, customers can dine at the beloved location perched above Lovers Point, enjoying the sunset over a delicious meal served with a beautiful view of the Monterey Bay.

Rechristened the Beach House at Lovers Point, the local icon’s latest incarnation offers an updated selection of well-priced small plates and dinners, but owners Kevin Phillips and Jim Gilbert have treated the location with the utmost respect for its history. Photos of the Lovers Point area taken between 1893 and 1966 grace the walls, including one of the Beach House’s earlier life as Slats Rooftop Dining restaurant: restaurateur David Bindel built the Old Bath House’s Victorian exterior right over Slats—a fact which comes as a surprise even to many locals.

But the art isn’t the Beach House’s only celebration of local. In the kitchen is hometown chef Chris Groves of Pacific Grove, a Le Cordon Bleu-trained veteran of The Sardine Factory and other local eateries, where he’s worked in both the front and back of the house. Groves is committed to using as much ingredients from the surrounding region as possible, including fruits and vegetables from Swank Farms and Golden Rule Produce. He’s also a professional mushroom forager, so the fungi will be fresh and local, too.

In a nod to all things PG, the appetizers menu includes a creamy, spicy “Feast of Lanterns Firecracker Shrimp,” a reference to PG’s annual summer Feast of Lanterns, which will take place this year July 24–28.

Groves’ menu is also surprisingly affordable, in keeping with Phillips’ and Gilbert’s commitment to making the restaurant a place by locals, for locals. Appetizers like Wild Mushroom Fricassee and Roasted Red Pepper Risotto with asparagus, slivered lemon and shaved pecorino are in the $12 range, while entrées range from a low of $11.90 for the Beach House Cheeseburger with pepper jack, pickled red onions and garlic truffle fries all the way to $44 for a hanger steak and lobster tail combo and $52 for the twin fire-roasted lobster tails with braised fennel and risotto. Most of the entrees, though, are in the under-$20 range, with soups, salads and sides priced under $10. Manager Jeremy Phillips (Kevin’s son) says the printed menu will change seasonally, and diners can expect nightly specials that will change often.

The restaurant’s opening had been a subject of much speculation among local foodies—Jeremy Phillips tallied more than 900 inquiries in one week using a clicker app he downloaded for his cell phone and he couldn’t set foot outside the restaurant without someone asking when it was going to open.

The Old Bath House was a sentimental favorite among locals who celebrated birthdays, anniversaries, proms and other milestones in its white-linen, fine-dining atmosphere. Waiters had to pass a nightly inspection that required shined shoes and crisp white shirts perfectly clean and pressed.

Beach House Construction during Summer 2012While the restaurant closed its doors in 2005, its spirit lived on like a phantom in its patrons’ memories, and the new Beach House is striving to preserve it: As the wait staff prepared for a private dinner in the more relaxed and casual surroundings on Friday, June 21, Phillips was heard reminding one of his wait staff on the phone to make sure his shirt was pressed. We can’t help but think the Phantom of the Bath House was pleased.

Beach House at Lovers Point • 620 Ocean View Blvd. at Lovers Point • 831.375.2345 • www.beachhousepg.com or www.opentable.com

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