Rolling vineyards, vast cattle ranches, copious produce farms, bounteous seafood - Monterey County is a veritable chef’s dreamland which translates into fabulous dining choices for visitors and residents.
Take Montrio, for example. Located only steps from the Monterey Marriott, the restaurant has an interior design that could survive critics in Miami or San Francisco. The historic firehouse, complete with gigantic street-side garage doors, has been totally made over using an eclectic styling that plays off its origins yet infuses the place with a spunky-modern romantic sense of now. The warm, low lighting and cool, elegant design elements include exposed brick walls and an alluring curved staircase leading to the former bunkhouse. Overhead, billowy, organic forms suggest clouds, while clever artwork offers surprises at every turn.
The setting was the perfect antidote to sightseeing overload and a splendid opportunity to indulge in the area’s finest ingredients expertly prepared. After being seated by a beautiful, gracious hostess, our waiter took over. Throughout the meal he remained always attentive and never obsequious, making well-advised suggestions that did not disappoint.
Montrio realizes the significance of region’s vine growers and proves it with a wine list featuring local vintners and other top producers and a number of premium choices as half-bottles. Their "backroom bargains" are exclusive bottles too limited to note on the menu but offered at reduced prices. These aren’t oft-neglected vintages either; they include respected wines from Opus One, Chalk Hill and Bernardus.
Grazers can rejoice at Montrio. Small bites, appetizer-sized entrees at $4.50 per plate, are perfect options for creating your own tasting menu; a sort of Cal-Dim Sum. The chef’s British background is evident in the teeny Yorkshire pudding and filet and oatmeal crusted camembert, while his experience at the Rio Grill is revealed in the Ahi Tuna and Pancetta-wrapped Prawns.
I ordered the baby spinach salad served with warm bacon and locally crafted blue cheese that was extraordinary. My companion tried the baby artichoke risotto and loved it so much that we later shipped a batch of the local specialty (artichokes) to ourselves hoping to recreate the dish.
The restaurant emphasizes a commitment to sustainable seafood, organic produce and prime meats. We challenged this claim to make certain they really meant it by also ordering natural pork chops with cheddar cornbread, and a beautifully prepared wild salmon on Yukon gold mashed potatoes, two of our respective favorite dishes. The verdict on both was two thumbs up. Not only were the essential ingredients of the highest calibre, the preparation was outstanding.
Montrio’s motto is "feel good about what you eat." Social conscience aside, we left Montrio feeling very, very good about nearly everything that night.