This weekend, we celebrated our first wedding anniversary at the scene of the original crime: The Monterey Plaza Hotel & Spa on Cannery Row in beautiful Monterey CA. Walking distance from the Monterey Bay Aquarium and plenty of touristy shops, the Plaza is by far our favorite place to go for some sorely needed R&R.
From the beginning, our trip was jinxed. And by “beginning”, I mean June 12th 2011: the day we embarked on our honeymoon, found ourselves bumped from our flight, and given $800 in travel vouchers from United Airlines. For our 1st anniversary, we cashed in those vouchers, naively believing it would be a simple process. I dare you to cash in travel vouchers. No! I triple dog dare you!! Let’s just say that flying on United is about as painful as sticking your tongue to a frozen lamp pole, maybe more.
But on to more pleasant things! The Plaza! This was the first time we’d been to the Plaza since the Duck Club & Schooner’s were combined into one restaurant Schooner’s Costal Kitchen & Bar: which makes a real effort to use only sustainable seafood and local vintners & growers. We made our reservations, eager to try the new revamped menu, almost 3 weeks in advance of our trip.
We arrived at Schooner’s only to be escorted to a very dark corner. Actually, it was the only dark corner of the restaurant with a tiny window overlooking a small sliver of the bay, and only if you were sitting in one particular seat. If you were in the other seat, all you could see was yourself in the mirror or the side of the building out the same small window. We quickly brought this to the hostess’ attention and requested a better table. She brought out the manager, Noelle, who politely and gracefully handled our request for a table with a view.
While at the dark table, we ordered drinks and asked questions of the new menu. I was very excited to learn from our first server, Beau, that both the Roasted Tomato Chowder and Mushroom Stew were completely vegan. I ordered a glass of the “One Hope” Pinot Noir, and learned that 50% of the proceeds of each sale go to The Children’s Miracle Network.
We were moved to our new table which had a panoramic view of the bay, and met our new server, Sarda. To say she is a gem is an understatement. I wished she could have pulled up a chair & dined with us; a true foodie with an unmatched enthusiasm for food, her energy was contagious.
The mushroom stew arrived, and I accepted the fresh pepper offered. The stew was unbelievably rich and touched some deep dark happy place in my animal brain. Chock full of portabello, enoki, shitake and something which looked like sugar mushrooms. The broth was oily and dark, perfect for soaking into the fresh bread brought to the table. I could go back to Schooner’s and happily eat this stew all evening – might I suggest a bottomless bowl and endless bread option?
What’s next? Well… regular readers of this blog know that A) I don’t eat salads unless there is no other option, and B) I usually whine & moan about pasta and vegetables being a “vegan option” on any menu. BUT, when that pasta & veg is prepared this well, who can complain?
Underneath that perfectly cooked bucatini (spaghetti-like pasta with a hole running through it like a little tiny hose) are roasted tomatoes, artichokes, mushrooms and asparagus all in a very delicate tomato sauce. It is very difficult to make a dish like this interesting or unique, but I believe that our favorite chefs Waller and Sanchez have knocked this ball right out of the park. Even if there aren’t a ton of veg*n options on the menu, never fear: this pasta dish is nothing like the “vegan option” we’re all too familiar with. I tried to conserve bread so that I would have at least one piece left to dip in the remaining sauce.
I ate every.last.bite. of this meal, and although it was probably way more than I should have put in my stomach, it was well worth it!
We returned the following day for lunch and to my delight discovered a “Mediterranean Vegetable Medley” on the menu! Hummus? Ok, now my vacation is complete. Asking for no feta was the only change I needed to make. The veggies were roasted, and not exceptionally exciting but definitely a great addition to the lemony-garlicky-sesamy hummus and perfectly grilled pita bread. I added my favorite Schooner’s drink (soy latte) and had a perfect lunch!
Our last day in Monterey, I ordered an old friend: Grilled Veggie Burger. The recipe has since changed. Instead of being that lovely golden light ricey burger, they’ve changed the recipe to include shredded cabbage & carrots, almost like a cole slaw patty. Um, I don’t like cole slaw, at all, but this was actually very good! A little squishy and didn’t keep it’s form very well, it was quite tasty. The patty had smushed itself almost completely out of the picture before I even ate 2/3 of the bun, but that’s what forks are for. For the vegan option ask to have the cheese and “chef’s sauce” removed, which turns out to be Russian dressing. I actually asked for a side of hummus instead and used that to lube my sandwich and my fries.
Again, nothing but glowing things to say about The Plaza from the treatment of the manager Noelle, our servers Sarda and Beau, the chefs James Haller & Gonzalo Sanchez, and everyone else we came in contact with.