In case you missed it, here is my review of Montrio Bistro 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.
Many restaurants have come and gone over the years, but Montrio Bistro has stood steady as always inside Monterey’s original brick firehouse on Calle Principal.
For more than 15 years, it has set the standard for casual dining around town, earning a number of accolades along the way.
Montrio’s success lies in its jack-of-all-trades approach — it’s a restaurant for all sorts of occasions. There’s a vibrant bar scene, with great deals during happy hour (daily from 4:30 to 6:30). An eclectic selection of small bites makes for a good light dinner. If you’re in the mood to linger, there are a number of hearty entrees to choose from too.
Small bites seem to be pretty popular at Montrio, and over three visits, I’ve tried a number of them.
The roasted pork (with sweet butternut squash and an apple gastrique, $6.50) captured the best wintertime flavors.
The bite of pork was tender and juicy, though its savory flavors got a little lost in the sweetness of the squash.
The pancetta-wrapped prawns ($6.50) are one of the more popular small bites on the menu, but one I’d never ordered until recently.
When they arrived, they looked beautiful. But looks can be deceiving — one bite in, I realized they were overcooked. That’s the risk with a small bite — the smaller size leaves no room for error.
The truffle tater tots — with Grana Padano cheese, $6.50 — were a sophisticated interpretation of the frozen tater tots I ate as a kid. These little nuggets of mashed potato were breaded and quickly fried, accented with a subtle hint of truffle.
The bacon bruschetta — served with goat cheese, greens and apple slices ($11) — was an indulgent bite that showcased chef Tony Baker’s English-style bacon that’s taken from the back of the pig, not the belly.
The apple was a nice sweet touch to cut the fat and salt of the bacon.
When my friends and I dropped by Montrio for a proper dinner a couple weeks ago, I skipped my usual small bite favorites.
Instead, we started with the bacon and egg salad — warm greens with smoked bacon, a poached egg, oven-dried tomatoes and mustard vinaigrette ($11.50). The rich, runny egg yolk accented the earthy greens and salty bits of bacon.
For my entrée, I ordered the herb-crusted steelhead trout — a substitution for the evening in place of the usual Arctic char ($26.50).
The large fillet was dusted with herbs and breadcrumbs, applied with just the right touch not to overpower the fish.
The accompanying confit potatoes were so tender. The carrots had a slight hint of sweet maple. And the tarragon butter really pulled together the flavors of the fish and the sides.
I stole a couple bites of the roast duck breast — served with cornbread stuffing and a sour cherry reduction ($26). The meat was cooked perfectly, the sour cherries a perfect partner for the duck.
The secret to Montrio’s continued success isn’t just in the kitchen. The bubbly hostess, Francesca, instantly makes any diner feel welcome.
It’s amazing how lasting the first impression of a restaurant can be — a friendly face when you walk in can make the entire dinner that much more enjoyable.
From start to finish, Montrio knows how to charm diners, from a smiling hostess to a diverse array of savory bites.
Montrio Bistro is at 414 Calle Principal in Monterey. 648-8880. www.montrio.com.