In the red

In case you missed it, here’s my review of Red House Cafe in Pacific Grove that appeared in Thursday’s Go! section of the Monterey Herald. I’ll be reposting my reviews and stories from my weekly column for the Herald here on my blog along with extra photos that didn’t appear in print.

I could wax poetic about how the banana and Nutella panini at Red House Cafe makes for the perfect, sweet, morning indulgence, or how grabbing a sandwich and a glass of housemade lemonade on the patio is my favorite summer pastime. Instead, I find myself sitting down to write about dinner at Red House Cafe.

The Red House Cafe is a charming spot to grab a relaxed dinner.

Red House Cafe always seems to fly under my radar when I’m looking for dinner. And yet I had dinner there twice this past weekend.

The first time was out of convenience — a quick dinner of crab cakes (two for $10) and the spinach salad (served with poached pears, blue cheese and candied pecans, tossed in balsamic vinaigrette for $9.50) before a movie at Lighthouse Cinemas.

The crab cakes at Red House Cafe are easily my favorite on the Monterey Peninsula.

The crab cakes were packed with fresh Dungeness, along with a kick of spice from diced peppers and red onion. The outside was just barely golden, with a slight little crunch.

Some of their lunchtime specialties--like the spinach salad with blue cheese and pears--join the party for dinner too.

The spinach salad is one of my lunchtime favorites that makes an appearance at dinner. The sweet pears were so juicy — perfect against tart and tangy crumbled blue cheese. I swapped out balsamic for champagne vinaigrette instead; it pulled the flavors together far better.

It had been hard to pass on my perennial favorite, chicken Parmigiana, so I came in to snag it for dinner the next night.

On a Saturday night, the restaurant was packed. Without a reservation, I wound up on the back patio. But take it from me, on a busy night, I prefer this back patio to the bustling restaurant inside.

A delicious bowl of soup was perfect for a foggy Saturday night.

Red House Cafe is known for its soups — they’re always so smooth and creamy. I started dinner with a bowl of the night’s curried cauliflower soup ($6.50). The addition of chicken stock added body, and I loved the hint of curry spice. It was a generous portion served in a bowl with an image of a lion on it! Rawr!

I’d come for chicken…and then I heard about one of the seafood specials — sea scallops in a saffron beurre blanc sauce with mashed potatoes and sautéed vegetables ($23).

Sorry, chicken Parm, I was sold on the mere mention of saffron beurre blanc!

Scallops in a saffron beurre blanc were a sophisticated dinner--but the sides fell short.

The scallops portion was unusual — there were a generous number of scallops, but they weren’t terribly big. But that sauce made up for any shortcomings in portion — the light touch of saffron gave the buerre blanc an incredible color and flavor.

The sides, however, disappointed — the sautéed veggies and mashed potatoes were kind of bland.

With a dessert case packed with a plethora of pies, I chose the Dutch apple pie ($6.50). The apples were tender, with a generous sprinkling of cinnamon. However, I would have preferred more of the crumbled streusel topping — my favorite part of Dutch apple pie.

Service both nights was friendly and attentive, even with a full house. But I do have to say, Red House Cafe has never been known for speedy service. I’ve never been able to get in and out in under an hour.

Sure enough, it took full disclosure of movie plans to the server on Friday night to get out in time for the movie.

If you’re in a hurry, it’s probably best to skip Red House Cafe. But this hidden treasure in sleepy Pacific Grove is worth the wait.

And just a word of warning for those of us who usually pay by plastic — Red House Cafe is now cash-only, so make sure you stop by the ATM beforehand to pick up money.

Red House Cafe, 662 Lighthouse Ave., Pacific Grove. Info: 643-1060, www.redhousecafe.com.

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