Highly-Regarded Restaurant Popular Among Locals for Its Drinks and Tasty Appetizers 7 Days A Week
One good thing about drinking wine, as I was at the Terranova Fine Wines tasting room in Monterey, CA, is that when you start talking with people they offer suggestions of place where you can, well, drink even more wine.
And so that is how I found myself at Montrio Bistro. I was told to go there for Happy Hour (daily, including Saturdays and Sundays, from 4:30-6:30 p.m.) because you get a good sampling of the restaurant’s food without paying the full dinner price. It’s owned by the same people who run one of my favorite Monterey restaurants, Tarpy’s Roadhouse, a classy roadside stop slightly out of town on Highway 68 on the way to – or from – Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.
So I knew the setting would be classy, the mood would be casual and expected the food to be outstanding.
In most cases, it delivered all of the above and not only did I leave satisfied, but I will return again next time I’m in this cozy little central California town backed up against beautiful Monterey Bay.
To be more specific, here’s my impressions of Happy Hour at Montrio Bistro.
First of all, wine and beers are just $5. I had the house chardonnay – normally I’m a beer drinker and I bobbled slightly when I noticed they have Longboard Lager on draft but I had just been at a wine tasting room – and it’s quite good. A bit light but with good flavor. That’s a plus, especially for a Happy Hour house wine.
The appetizers are $3, $4 and $5. One thing I do when I go to a new place is look at what other people are having. The table of four ladies next to me were all having full dinners, so they were of no Happy Hour help (though the roasted chicken on one plate looked so awesome I came within an whisker of chunking my appetizers plan, but I focused hard on my research for you readers). To my right was a 50’s something couple of youthful exuberance that obviously knew their way around the menu.
It appeared that by the size of the portions that two meat dishes and a couple of sides would be sufficient to be filled, and one their choices was the fries with smoked chile and onion. They were tempting looking, to be sure, but I really wanted to avoid anything fried. So on the first order, I went for the prawn bite and the lobster mac ‘n cheese ($4 each). Obviously, I could not pass on the lobster mac ‘n cheese, and my neighbors had ordered it, as well.
Well, the prawns – two large prawns wrapped in pancetta – were outstanding. I was immediately tempted to order it again, but since it was my first time I wanted to try other things on the menu. You can bet it will be on my ordering agenda my next visit.
The lobster mac ‘n cheese, on the other hand, was disappointing. I hardly expected a full tail to be included, but if any lobster was in there, it swam away before it got into my dish. But the real problem was that the noodles tasted as if they were from that Kraft box you see in the grocery store and the “cheese” was a runny liquid kind of thing that had little flavor. I did like the fact they put in small peas – it gives it a bit of a crunch – and the baked bread crumbs on the top are a nice touch. But overall it was a disappointment My neighbors said that the consistency of the mac ‘n cheese is an issue.
Back on the good side, the braised pork with butternut squash and something called apple gastrique ($4) was excellent it has two nice portions of pork, though I’m not a fan of butternut or squash, so I would have preferred to have it over some type of gourmet cole slaw, perhaps including something along the gastrique name that nobody knows what it is but sounds nice all the same. The sauteed mushrooms come with grilled polenta and are a tasty $3 selection.
In all there are five appetizers for $3, and four for $4. For drinks, in addition to the house chardonnay, merlot and cabrernet (all $5) and beers ($4-5) there are five different margaritas for $6, and 10 specialty drinks for $5.50. My table neighbors informed me that the guy making drinks is considered one of the top bartenders in all of Monterey County. So a mixed drink is certainly something I’ll consider next time (depending on how many wine tasting rooms I hit in advance!).
The overall decor of the place is nice, a bit subdued and certainly classy. The hostess is quite friendly and once I got the attention of the waitress, she was attentive.
The problem with Happy Hours in good restaurants is that they are only good in the bar area, and most bar areas of fine restaurants are small. All the eight or so barstools were taken and I had to squeeze into a small table between groups, one of only two available. The entire Happy Hour seating capacity is somewhere around 20. I was there on a Wednesday; I can only imagine it’s hard as heck to find a spot on a Friday or Saturday.
But hey, go on a Wednesday. O better yet, on a Sunday. Have the prawns and just about anything else that catches your eye. Just pass on the mac ‘n cheese.
Montrio is located at 414 Calle Principal (just down from the Marriott). Phone: (831) 648-8880. Website: www.montrio.com.