Salinas Californian

Monterey Cookhouse Offers Good Eats

The Salinas Californian, July 21, 2011

Ricardo A. Diaz, Food Writer
Most of the time, I whine that it's too cold, but lately I have been loving the sight of the fog rolling in, something to cool you off after a day of summer sun. Today, I am treating the fog as a late-afternoon sign to relax and slow down. I'm at the Monterey Cookhouse to sneak in a late lunch.

This is a sharp and clean-looking place, with wooden tones and a green marble theme running through the tables and extending to the bar. Although the place is airy and fresh, it has faint traces of smoke in the atmosphere, making me feel like having an early dinner instead of a late lunch.

I consider a skirt steak that comes wood-grilled with a caramelized shallot sauce, but I hold off. My body has natural reactions. Just as daytime drinking and happy hours have come to mean early bedtimes as I age, a steak in the late afternoon might put me in lounge mode for the rest of the day, if not sedate me completely.

So I start with a Salinas Wedge salad: one-quarter of a big head of iceberg lettuce, drizzled with a house-made blue cheese dressing, garnished with chopped bacon, diced tomatoes, green onions and crumbled blue cheese. I could have swum in that pool of blue cheese with floating buoys of bacon. The fattiness of the bacon mixes with the creaminess of the cheese to keep either flavor from clinging to your palate for too long. That salad was enticing: cold and fresh with the aroma of warm bacon coming off it. I felt like diving in.

The waitress who recommended the salad also told me to go with the club sandwich, and she wasn't wrong. It's made with house-smoked turkey, so when I look down at the sandwich, it looks like what's the best part of Thanksgiving for me: the sandwiches afterwards. This stuff is carved about a quarter-inch thick and piled nicely as a heavy base layer, with bacon again all over the place along with jack cheese and avocado. You may have ordered a club sandwich in other places, but this one makes you feel like Monterey Cookhouse has perfected the art of not cutting corners.

And now a slice of the double chocolate torte, an extra-rich chocolate cake layered with chocolate mousse with freshly whipped cream on the side. I get that itch to tap out and say I had enough. But just then, I look down and see I have finished the last bite. So now I'm thinking that dessert was the perfect size, providing a blast of sugar to keep me going through the rest of the day.

As I'm leaving, the place is just getting going. Tuesdays, the restaurant hosts wine tastings (different vineyard each week). You can help yourself to the wine while the servers talk about which wines would complement which dishes. I will say it again: No charge to come in here and ask someone questions about wine and learn things that you will regurgitate to oohs and ahs at your next dinner party.

Or maybe just catch happy hour, from 4 to 6 p.m. daily. You can get an amazing burger with fries and a draft beer for $10.

The Monterey Cookhouse features California cuisine, a delicious fusion of cooking styles and ingredients from around the world. We are well-known for our wood-fired cuisine. Our house specialties include delicious flame broiled steaks,
lightly smoked and barbecued ribs and briskets, and fresh seafood.
Traeger Smoker - Oak-fired Grill - Wood-fired Pizza Oven - Family friendly
Barbecued ribs, brisket, & pulled pork. Oak-grilled steaks. Smoked prime rib. Fresh seafood. Wood-fired pizza.