Although our honeymoon began by being booted off our flight out of LAX, resulting in us spending 6 extra hours “vacationing” at that very luxurious airport, Friand & I had a fantastic time on our vacation!
To say that losing our seats on our original flight was upsetting is an understatement. It was all I could do to keep from stomping my feet like a 4 year old & screeching “But it’s my honEEEEEEEEmOOOOOOON!!!” We were put on a later flight, though our seats were not together. I ended up in a seat next to a very sweet woman named Gloria S., who empathized with our shitty luck with the flights & my enthusiasm for getting this honeymoon started!
As we talked about our families & careers, conversation turned to this blog. That was when she gave me several restaurant recommendations in nearby Carmel. As a native (upstate) New Yorker who is still learning LA and the general geography of California, as far as I knew Carmel was 600 miles from Monterey Bay, but her enthusiasm for these places had me excited to give this a shot.
Once checked in to The Monterey Plaza Hotel, we did make a point to visit our two usual haunts: The Duck Club Grill and Schooner’s. The only problem was that we did not call ahead to make the reservation nor did I email the manager days before to let him know that we were staying in the hotel. I cannot say that I was disappointed in my pasta w/roasted vegetables at The Duck Club the first night, but it was the only night we actually ate there. Daily, though, we visited Schooner’s for lunch, where I discovered the joys of their veggie burger, grilled portabello sandwich, and veggie pizza of the day. In fact, one of the best things I’ve ever had at Schooner’s (in all our visits) was a wild mushroom pizza during this trip!
We booked a Carmel Valley wine tour with Ag Ventures, and had a chance to sample the wines that the valley has to offer. Distinct wineries on the tour were the Bernardus & Morgan wineries. We enjoyed the personable atmosphere of Bernardus and the passion with which the servers presented their wines. Kudos to Morgan for having a very elegant tasting room in Carmel, along with the very best bread sticks on the planet! On a tip from Evan of Ag Ventures, we received a suggestion for a local Monterey tasting room walking distance from our hotel.
It is imperative for me to point out that the Pierce Ranch Vineyards wine was some of the best wine we had tasted all week! So delicious & exciting in fact, we bought a case of wine consisting of Cabernet Sauvignon, Tourbillon, Petit Sirah, Cosechiero, & Tempranillo, and couple bottles of Vinho Doce which is probably the BEST dessert wine I think I have ever tasted. Also, it didn’t hurt that Breann had served us a plate of chocolates to go with it… If I weren’t a chocoholic, I’d say that was bribery of the highest level! We bought ourselves a bottle of Cab for the evening at the hotel, but found ourselves wandering back to Pierce Ranch’s tasting room the next day looking for more wine!
This is when we crossed paths with Jesse, who would recommend to the amazing Thai Bistro II on Central Ave. His enthusiasm for this local favorite compelled us to walk directly from the tasting room to the restaurant.
Tired of hotel food, now coming to grips with the fact that we would not be taking a cab to Carmel to try Gloria’s suggestions, and that the only other tip we’d gotten, The Sardine Factory, was a terrible bust, we were like thirsty wanderers in a desert when we stumbled our lightly buzzed asses into Thai Bistro for lunch that Friday afternoon.
The lunch menu looked promising, twenty one lunch combos with a little note at the bottom that says “All of the above can be prepared with tofu, prawns or calamari”, we took no time at all choosing our entrees. I went with the #11: Tofu with peanut sauce & mixed vegetables, while Friand went with #12: Chili & curry paste sauce with calamari. Sounded simple, and a perfect reprieve from the salty fried food we’d been pouring down our throats for 4 straight days.
Although we were looking forward to our meal, nothing, and I mean NOTHING could have prepared us for the soup we were about to be served:
TOM KHA HED & TOFU: mushrooms, coconut milk, lemongrass, galangal, mint, onion, kaffir leaves, cilantro & chili lime juice.
It was like nectar of the gods… and I don’t know about all you other vegans out there, but I always question the validity of the coconut milk claims on a menu because it is so rich & silky, it seems like it should be dairy. But no! Way sweeter & richer, coconut milk feels like the most sinful thing to pass one’s lips. And all I knew was that from that moment on, I would need a bowl of this soup every day until we left Monterey.
Our entrees were absolutely delicious – Friand said that his sauce was very reminiscent of the soup, while mine had that nice earthy nutty undertone and texture of peanut. The crispy vegetable egg rolls were divine little pockets with a perfect balance of savory vegetables inside and crispy, lightly greasy, pastry outside. The plum sauce was expertly done – seems like it should be an insignificant condiment on the plate, but it wasn’t to be overshadowed by any of the other elements of the meal.
From this moment on, we became obsessed with Thai Bistro and ate there 2 more times before leaving on Sunday. In fact, we pushed our check out time at the hotel back 2 hours so we could walk to Thai Garden for lunch first!
We didn’t limit ourselves to just those two dishes, we did branch out and try different meals at each visit. In fact, at Sunday lunch, I accidentally ordered the Tom Yum Hed… As the server was putting it down on the table, I felt my heart sink: “Where is the coconut milk?!?” But one taste and we were very surprised! It seems to be the same basic broth sans the coconut milk, so I suppose if you are on a strict low-fat diet this is an excellent option.
I highly recommend checking out Thai Bistro II next time you are in Monterey. Each time we were there, there were less than 20 other guests in the dining room. It’s in a converted house for a cosy seaside feel. You can even see the bay from the front window. The service was friendly and prompt, and after reading the review on the Thai Bistro homepage, it is plain to everyone that the owners truly do love their customers, but most importantly love what they create.
Be sure to check out all the businesses mentioned in this article: