This weekend, Friand & I spent four luxurious days at The Montery Plaza Hotel & Spa in Monterey Bay, CA. Located on Cannery Row, walking distance from the famous Monterey Aquarium, you’ll find what amounts to a little slice of heaven overlooking the beautiful bay.
The city of Monterey, once a sardine, and seafood, canning empire, is now a huge tourist trap touting the Steinbeck connection. Slightly on the tacky side, we were in no mood to put up with sidewalk advertisers, and after a run-in with a particularly annoying one, we decided that we would limit ourselves to the Plaza for all our vacation needs.
The Plaza Hotel boasts two fantastic restaurants, at which we dined daily.
Lunch each day was had at Schooner’s. At best, I was hoping for some good french fries & perhaps a salad, but no! On the seafood heavy menu there was a grilled portabello sandwich – vegetarian, but easily made vegan by asking to have the garlic aeoli (which contained mayo) & monterey jack cheese removed. Personally, I find grilled veggie sandwiches to have an adequate amount of natural juices in them to prevent the bun from being too dry, so I had no worries about removing the “lubricating” aeoli!
The traditional grilled portabello sandwich usually includes a roasted red pepper, but in a fun and unique twist, Schooner’s uses a roasted yellow pepper, which adds a very sweet element to the sandwhich. The portabello was tender and not overcooked, paired with a slice of grilled eggplant and a hearty pile of spring greens. Of course I had to have french fries (don’t even bother asking if I want fruit or salad as a side to a sandwich please!!) and to top it all off, I had a fantastic mojito. Quite possibly the best mojito I have ever tasted – sweet & sour in perfect balance. To close out the meal, I had my favorite decaf soy latte, which was also expertly made!
The salad menu looked promising, it’s all too easy to create a vegetarian or vegan salad from the menu options, but for those who have been following me for the last few years through my Vegas adventures know that I do not order salad unless it is the absolute last resort. There was a garden burger option, which I briefly considered on the second day, but that portabello sandwich was so good that I had to have it again. I knew it would be one of the few regrets I have in my life to pass up an opportunity to eat that sandwich one last time…
The crowning culinary achievements of The Monterey Plaza Hotel’s restaurants occurred not once, not twice, but three times at The Duck Club Grill. Obviously any resort located on oceanfront property is going to offer many seafood dishes, but I was determined to have a wonderful vegan meal. If this was truly a top notch establishment, then the chef should be highly trained which means *I* expect him/her to be creative with their ingredients regardless of the parameters.
We were seated by a window overlooking the bay & Friand politely informed the server that I was a vegan. She assured me that the chef would be able to prepare something for me and went off to the kitchen to inform him of his vegan customer. Our server returned to ask if there was anything in particular that I would like the chef to attempt and I said no, I wanted him to do whatever he wants, how he wants it, and I had no demands whatsoever. Friand is not a vegan or vegetarian or really anything but a true foodie, so he is absolutely open to eating anything a professional chef prepares with no expectations. When our identical vegan meals arrived, he was probably more excited than even I was!
I wish we’d taken a photo of each meal every night… any chef is obviously only able to work with the ingredients on hand, and although the three meals he prepared for me this weekend were quite similar in nature, he managed to present them each in a unique way every night.
Meal #1: Stuffed Portabello Mushroom with Red Pepper Puree
Inside this grilled mushroom we we could only identify shallots, zucchini, garlic, red pepper – I wish we’d asked exactly what was inside this veggie concoction because it was fantastic! It was all topped with microgreens, served with a red pepper puree and a side of lightly steamed veggies. It’s difficult to impress a vegan with steamed veggies, but these were so close to raw that they were unbelievably flavorful with some tooth to them. An extra board of bread was needed to mop up the remainder of the
pepper puree. We ended the meal with dessert – Friand partaking in a very unvegan dessert of key lime tart, while I enjoyed the palate cleansing mango & raspberry sorbets.
Meal #2: Stuffed Tomato with Spinach Puree
On our second night, there was no doubt where we would be eating. Friand made the mistake, he admitted to me as soon as he saw my meal, of ordering grilled salmon and not partaking in the vegan offering of the day. I was served personally by Sous Chef Sanchez, who stood beside our table and told me exactly what was in my stuffed tomato.
Zucchini, asparagus, green beans, shallots, carrots, lentils, wild rice, pignolis, spinach and microgreens*, paired with a spinach pesto (spinach, olive oil & garlic). There was a dark, sweet, luscious balsamic reduction on the plate which actually reminded me of pumpkin oil in both taste & texture.
Again, I’m sure there were many other items in this stuffing, but I was so overwhelmed listening to this man proudly describing his creation that I was distracted, and it was so tasty that I practically breathed in the food, and, let’s face it, 2 glasses of wine don’t exactly help the focus. Again, bring on the bread to finish off the pesto, though after this meal, it was a miracle that I didn’t actually put my face into the plate & lick it clean.
*I may not like salad, but microgreens are like catnip to me!! Trust me: microgreens are welcome at each and every meal!
Meal #3: Stuffed Artichoke with Sweet Tomato Ragu
Yes yes, by this point we realized that we were probably going to get another stuffed vegetable, but who cares!! Friand was not going to take any chances on another fish dish, he wanted vegan and he was going to be very clear with the waitress that we wanted two of whatever the chef was making! And we got it.
Again with the stuffed vegetable, this time the stuffing more delicate considering the vessel was an artichoke. Mostly shallots, pignolis, wild rice and tomato, the artichokes themselves were grilled to perfection, and surrounded by a very sweet ragu with basil & garlic. Oh, and yes, topped once again with microgreens (yay).
The manager visited our table and asked if we were satisfied with our presentation. Absolutely! She even asked me if I found it difficult to dine out when traveling and I said absolutely not! In fact, the more open minded I am about the food I *could* be served, the more freedom I entrusted to the chefs, the better food I was served and the more satisfied I would be. Though I did make a point of telling her that The Duck Club was probably the fanciest restaurant to present me with a gourmet vegan meal in a long long time! (lest we forget the great disappointment that was Rosemary’s)
Although all three dishes were basically just variations on the same theme, the chef showed that he could make something delicious for a vegan that not only excited the vegan, but also her non-vegan partner, and drew many looks from the people at the tables near us. Yeah, that’s right people: I’m eating off menu and my thing looks better than yours.
Whether or not you’re staying at the Monterey Plaza on your vacation, both Schooner’s Bistro & The Duck Club need to be visited. If you’re vegan, you’re going to be pleasantly surprised by both the service & the kitchen staff and completely satisfied & excited by the food you’re presented. And if you’re not a vegan, who cares! Try dining on vegan food anyway! These people do it right.
Monterey Plaza Hotel & Spa
400 Cannery Row, Monterey, CA 93940
For reservations, please call (831) 646-1706