In case you missed it, here is my review of Sandbar and Grill that appeared in last 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.
When it comes to waterfront dining, many locals eschew the hustle and bustle of Fisherman’s Wharf for a more intimate dinner along the water at Sandbar and Grill on the municipal wharf.
The Sandbar and Grill isn’t much to behold from the street, but descend the stairs to the dining room and you’re sitting right along the water. It becomes a truly sublime scene watching the boats go by against the setting sun.
The dinner menu tends toward seafood, including many of the familiar favorites — calamari, clam chowder, fish and chips — as well as more gourmet fare. And don’t worry, landlubbers, the menu includes chicken breast ($16.95), pork tenderloin ($17.95) and New York strip steak ($29.95) too.
We started with an order of calamari ($9.25), a favorite among many locals.
The calamari was made with squid steak — tubes and tentacles are reserved for other dishes. The meat was thin and tender, with a flavorful breading.
The barbecue baby back pork ribs ($10.65) sounded appealing — especially when our server described them as “fall off the bone” tender.
The appetizer portion included a half rack of ribs, about five ribs. The meat did indeed fall off the bone as promised. But the flavor fell a little flat — the barbecue sauce was sweet, but lacked the usual smoky and spicy undertones.
We ordered a combination of mussels and clams, steamed with white wine, garlic, fresh herbs and cream ($10.95).
I loved the cream sauce — it was so rich, but not heavy. I would have happily ordered another basket or two of Parmesan garlic bread ($4.85) to sop up all the sauce. (With entrees on the way, we begrudgingly sent the leftover sauce on its way.)
Most entrees come with a choice of salad or a cup of clam chowder — I opted for the latter (also available as an appetizer; cup for $4.95, bowl for $7.50).
The chowder was thick, but not dense. The texture was velvety smooth, accentuated with thin strips of clam, chunks of crisp celery and wedges of potatoes. My one complaint — and minor at that — was the heavy hand with potato.
After much debate, I landed on the sea scallops — oven-roasted with Madeira, mushrooms and cream ($24.75) — for my entrée.
The scallops, while a little small, were cooked perfectly. And what they lacked in size, they made up for in quantity — the dish was packed with scallops and mushrooms.
I was a little perplexed by the pasta pairing — the lightly sweet Madeira cream sauce didn’t seem to play well with the garlicky pasta.
I snuck some bites of the Sandbar Curry, with shrimp and scallops or fresh fish and a risotto cake ($22.95). This was easily one of the best dishes of the evening.
It was a French-style curry, reminiscent of the sweeter curry dishes from Southern cooking, with the curry adding just a little bit of spice and color. I was pleased that the curry didn’t overpower the delicate flavors of the shrimp and scallops.
Sadly, the risotto cake was seared a tad too long, giving it a slightly mushy texture and crunchy bottom. But the curry sauce more than made up for any errors in execution.
One of my compatriots ordered the classic fish and chips, made with beer-battered cod ($17.95).
The fish itself was nice — flaky and flavorful — but the beer-battered breading was mushy and soggy. Alas, the crispy fries couldn’t make up for the shortcomings of the fish.
The restaurant was packed, bustling with locals and out-of-towners alike even on a Monday night — reservations are strongly recommended. Yet our service rarely skipped a beat, an impressive feat given the full restaurant and bar.
With great seafood and a great view of the harbor, it’s easy to understand why this hidden gem tops many locals’ lists.
Sandbar and Grill is on Municipal Wharf II in Monterey. 373-2818. www.sandbarandgrillmonterey.com.