A Visit to Monterey’s Coastal Kitchen
When Chef Michael Rotondo left San Francisco during the pandemic, it was surely Monterey’s gain.
The former executive chef of Parallel 27 in the San Francisco Ritz-Carlton, former executive chef of Charlie Trotter’s in Chicago, and the U.S. Bocuse D’Or “Most Promising Chef” of 2008, moved south to open Coastal Kitchen in February 2022.
That new fine-dining restaurant at the Monterey Plaza Hotel is right next to its long-time casual restaurant, Schooners.
Unlike the latter, though, there is no outdoor dining space. The white cloth-draped tables inside Coastal Kitchen’s warm-wood dining room are spaced out amply, though.
This is a tasting menu-only restaurant. In fact, it’s thought to be the sole tasting menu-only restaurant in Monterey. At $145 per person (with an additional $95 for wine pairings), it delivers a lot for the buck.
You’ll want a table right by the window especially once Daylight Savings time takes effect to be lulled by the crashing waves of the Pacific.
Dinner begins with a glass of Champagne Nicolas Feuillatte “Reserve Exclusive” Brut (if you opt for the wine pairing) plus a quartet of canapes, arranged on a large, sectioned plate.
There are nuggets of fried calamari sporting a gossamer crisp batter dotted with creamy avocado ranch and nori vinegar that perks up the palate in the same way that malt vinegar does with fish & chips. Beside it is a tiny cauliflower tart with Moroccan flavors, holding a filling of walnut oil-accented couscous and a soft quail egg with a runny center.
Also on the plate is a voluptuous oyster, warmed ever so by buerre blanc and enlivened with shiso. Lastly, a shatteringly crisp rye tuille with diced “beet tartare” and a touch of pickled chile. It’s like the flavors of a Russian deli wrapped up into a two-bite nosh that looks like a festive holiday wreath.
While my husband enjoyed the first course that followed as is, Rotondo subbed out the sea scallop (owing to my allergy) with seared ahi instead seasoned with black sesame seeds and a touch of Sichuan peppercorn. The meaty pink slices get finished with sunchoke puree, apple sabayon, and crunchy diced apples, bringing together the warmth of peppers with the nutty, almost water chestnut-like taste of the sunchoke and the sweet, winey taste of apples.
The wood-roasted local black cod might have been my favorite dish of the night. Smoky, silky, and moist, the black cod fairly melts on the tongue. There’s sweetness from a squiggle of yam puree and a hit of spice from house-made chorizo. Blood orange supremes plus a tangle of pea sprouts add a fresh vitality to the dish.
With it arrives glossy milk bread rolls, pillowy as can be, and subtly redolent of anise from fennel seeds. Four arrive warm in a silver pan, and believe me, you will eat every last one of them.
Next, a raviolo in brodo that hides underneath slices of juicy seared duck and a hail of julienned basil. Once you find the raviolo, you’ll discover its supple pasta wrapper is filled with delicious duck confit. The broth, made with both duck and chicken, is profoundly poultry intense. Take some of that soft milk bread and drag it through the broth.
The final savory course is 14-day, dry-aged Flannery ribeye. It’s a compact rendition of a steakhouse staple only with some twists. It’s all piled high with onion rings, smoked spinach, candied onion, and pickled turnips, and sits on “risotto” made from peas and finely diced zucchini in a creamy green sauce. Lastly, there are squiggles of aged balsamic lining the plate. There is a lot going on here, and you will have to collapse this tower to cut into it. Then, it’s your call on how to construct the perfect mouthful. But the balsamic plays especially nicely with the beefy steak.
Dessert is airy, floral, and tangy Meyer lemon mousse gilded with nasturtium blooms and a crunchy candied ginger tuille. A sweep of salted milk jam, like dulce de leche, and pear slices complete this light and refreshing dessert.
It was paired with a glass of Malvira Renesium Vino Ottenuto da Uve Stramature (a mouthful with a beautiful label), a botrytized dessert wine that was light-bodied, nutty and honey-like, and full of apricot and peach notes.
The mignardise were Valrhona dark chocolate cigars that ate like an upscale Kit Kat with crisp, cookie-like pistachio feuilletine inside layered with sweet-tart cherry jelly.
Should you be in need of a midnight snack after all of that, there’s the gift of a bag of caramel popcorn to take with you. It’s nutty from sesame seeds, sweet from white chocolate, and gets a wonderful hit of citrus here and there from fragrant yuzu.
No surprise, the majority of diners are visitors to the area. So, the next time you’re headed down the coast for some R&R, follow suit and treat yourself to a special meal here.