Splurge a little

In case you missed it, here is my review of Restaurant 1833 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.

Nearly a year ago now, Restaurant 1833 made a big splash on our local food scene. The new restaurant at Stokes Adobe was abuzz on opening night — and that buzz hasn’t quieted since.

Despite considerable accolades, I know a lot of people who still haven’t tried Restaurant 1833. Many find the restaurant a little intimidating — they’re reluctant to visit because it feels too fancy, too formal. And there’s the price — a delicious dinner at Restaurant 1833 doesn’t come cheap.

Restaurant 1833 might be a bit spendy, but it’s a worthwhile splurge.

At first glance, Restaurant 1833 can seem a little stuffy, but the food and drink are a worthwhile splurge.

Restaurant 1833 offers complimentary truffle popcorn during happy hour, weekdays from 5:00 to 6:30.

The other day, my friends and I were enjoying drinks in front of the fire pits. We snacked on our usual favorite small bites — bacon cheddar biscuits ($4), deviled eggs ($4) and truffle popcorn (complimentary during happy hour).

The deviled eggs are a must-order when I’m at Restaurant 1833 for happy hour.

On a whim, we splurged on seared foie gras, served with mandarin, arugula and ginger ($25).

The foie gras appetizer was a rich indulgence.

Each bite of fatty liver was a decadent indulgence. I loved the mix of flavors — earthy foie gras accented with a touch of sweet acid and bitter arugula.

As the sun set, we moved inside to the bar for a proper dinner.

The barbecue chicken pizza was actually a bit spicy.

We split the barbecue chicken pizza ($16) — tender chicken freshly pulled and paired with spicy barbecue sauce over a thin, wood-fired pizza crust.

The gnocchi may have been a little gummy, but the rabbit was cooked perfectly.

We shared the gnocchi, with braised rabbit, favas, pancetta and tarragon ($22). The gnocchi was a tad gummy, but the flavors of the succulent rabbit made up for any shortcomings. And I loved the addition of the crispy pancetta, elegantly propped above the gnocchi.

We finished with a tribute to The Hunger Games — food on fire, with a flaming baked Alaska ($8) and hot buttered rum ($12).

I found myself back at Restaurant 1833 for dinner just a few days later.

This time, we started with beet salad, with mache, hazelnuts and Greek yogurt ($12) — one of the few light dishes on a menu that’s heavy on rich meats.

The beet salad is one of the few light spots on a menu that’s heavy on rich meats.

The slightly sweet beets paired nicely with the tart yogurt.

I was in the mood for a hearty entrée, so I ordered the Parmesan-crusted chicken, with salsify, lemon butter and basil ($23).

The chicken was nicely cooked, but too lemony for my tastes.

While the chicken was cooked perfectly, the flavors threw me a little. The chicken and the salsify roots packed a seriously pungent punch of acidic lemon. I would have preferred something more subtle.

We finished with a couple desserts.

The buttery bourbon pudding is one of my favorite desserts. So simple, but so tasty.

The dark chocolate bread pudding ($8) was a little disappointing, but the Booker’s butter bourbon pudding ($8) was quite tasty. The pudding was sweet with a light buttery touch — though dry, crumbly cookies weren’t the best accompaniment.

While the food at Restaurant 1833 is certainly impressive, I’ve found service to be inconsistent.

Eating in the dining room the other day was a bit too pretentious for my tastes. Our server stood watch over us uncomfortably through most of the meal. We found his lingering a bit awkward and unwelcome as we tried to enjoy our dinner.

I’ve much preferred snacking on small bites outside at the fire pits or grabbing dinner at the bar. The servers at the bar are attentive, but not intrusive.

(And major kudos to John, who’s been our server many times outside at the fire pits. I think he’s still reeling from the time we crammed 14 people around a single fire pit. But he and Nicole were absolute pros about it and didn’t even break a sweat.)

If you’ve been apprehensive about trying out Restaurant 1833, I’d recommend starting small. The fire pits are a great spot to grab a light dinner of small bites and cocktails on these sunny spring afternoons.

The cocktail program at Restaurant 1833 is impressive, with many unique drinks, like this milk punch ($11).

The weekday happy hour (5 to 6:30 p.m.) is the perfect opportunity to sample some of bartender Mike Lay’s inventive cocktails without the pressure of a formal dinner.

Select cocktails, like the crowd-favorite “Gold Rush” with Ancient Age bourbon, lemon, honey and rocks, are even discounted to $5.50.

Sample some small bites, then work your way up to dinner for those special occasions. Sure, dinner is a little spendy, but certainly worth a splurge.

Restaurant 1833 is at 500 Hartnell St. in Monterey. 643-1833. www.restaurant1833.com.

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