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.