Best Bites: December 6, 2012

I may no longer be writing for The Herald, but that doesn’t mean the fun has to end. You can continue to follow my foodie follies here on my blog. To kick us off, let’s find out who made the best bites this past week . . .

Best Bite: Calamari with smelt at La Balena Cucina Toscana (Carmel)

After a tasty first bite at La Balena a couple of weeks ago, I returned last week to sample more of the menu. Everything chef Salvatore Panzuto prepared was delicious, but the true standout was the calamari ($10).

I actually approached this dish with a little trepidation—experience has taught me that breaded calamari is often best left to fish houses. But any doubts disappeared once I took my first bite. This calamari was superb!

I loved the addition of crispy smelt to the calamari at La Balena.

I loved the addition of crispy smelt to the calamari at La Balena.

Tender tubes and tentacles were lightly breaded—just a dusting, really, to give the squid a little crunch.

But the real star of the dish turned out to be the little fried smelt thrown in with the squid. The crispy fish added a nice acidic bite to complement the calamari.

And the dipping sauce—a very garlicky marinara—was a great touch, so much more appreciated than the standard tartar sauce.

La Balena Cocina Toscana is on Junipero Avenue, between Fifth and Sixth, in Carmel. 831-250-6295. labalenacarmel.com

Honorable Mentions:
Abalone at Alvarado Fish and Steak House (Monterey)

When I sat down for dinner at Alvarado Fish and Steak House, I was impressed when our server listed off a lengthy number of menu additions for the evening. I was starting to glaze over when I heard “abalone.” I was sold—I love this mighty mollusc!

The appetizer portion (two abalone medallions, $17.50) was available breaded and fried or served with a white wine butter sauce, with a touch of lemon. I chose the latter.

The abalone at Alvarado Fish and Steak House was so buttery in texture and flavor.

The abalone at Alvarado Fish and Steak House was so buttery in texture and flavor.

The abalone was so tender, melting like butter in my mouth.

And speaking of butter, that white wine butter sauce was such a rich complement to the meat. Without any shame, I grabbed some bread to sop up every last bit!

Alvarado Fish and Steak House is at 481 Alvarado Street in Monterey. 831-717-4468. www.facebook.com/AlvaradoFishAndSteakHouse.

Boquerones at Crema Espresso and Wine Bar (Pacific Grove)

I was thrilled to hear the arrival of dinnertime tapas at Crema Espresso and Wine Bar. It’s a much-needed boost to the nightlife here in sleepy Pacific Grove. A couple small bites eluded my grasp on my first visit, so I returned with some friends last Sunday night for a proper sendoff to the weekend.

The marinated boquerones were the tastiest of the tapas at Crema Espresso and Wine Bar.

The marinated boquerones were the tastiest of the tapas at Crema Espresso and Wine Bar.

The marinated boquerones ($6) were my favorite. Too often, anchovies are served with a heavy helping of lemon, which overpowers the delicate fish. I was thrilled to see chef Jon Moser take a more reserved approach, a light touch of lemon that still let the flavors of the fish come through.

The accompanying herb salad was a nice touch to cleanse the palate.

I’m looking forward to trying more of the menu at Crema—the menu will change week to week, so I can’t wait to see what’s in store this week!

Crema Espresso and Wine Bar is at 481 Lighthouse Avenue in Pacific Grove. 831-375-1300. lacrememonterey.com.

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One Response to Best Bites: December 6, 2012

  1. Pingback: Best Bites: January 13, 2013 | Off The Menu

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