Old Fishermen Know Best
Gail loves abalone, and being in Monterey is always an excuse to have some. It used to be that only a very few places served the elusive dish, because they had to buy it from divers and the supply was completely erratic. With the advent of modern aquaculture, abalone are now farmed and much more consistently available.
Gail’s preferred abalone house is the Sardine Factory, but they are closed for a couple of weeks. I asked the hotel concierge, who told me she would call the abalone distributor, see who got a delivery today and make a reservation.
And that’s how we ended up dining on the wharf at the Old Fisherman’s Grotto, for a fantastic meal we hope to repeat Saturday.
Old Fisheman’s is about in the middle of the wharf, still decorated in the old style of dark and heavy wood with thick carpet and napery to keep the sound down. There is a sign in front declaring no high chairs, strollers, baby seats or crying children. This is a place for adults to have a solid meal in peace.
There are perks to having the hotel make your reservation. The waiter brought us an enormous appetizer with shrimp, calamari and artichokes on the house to start–they want to keep getting referalls fom the Hyatt.
Gail began with the crab cocktail–which is a huge boat of crab, imported fresh from Oregon because of the bacteria problem with local crab this El Niño year.
I chose the crab tower– more crab meat, mixed with lemon aioli, avocado and mango. Wonderful beyond words, in a delightful presentation.
The abalone on the menu is two abalone and two giant prawns. Gail told the waiter she wanted three abalone, no prawns, charge what you have to. I think many people take what is written on the menu as carved in stone, but restaurants will almost always accommodate any even moderately reasonable request.
Her dish was stunning:
Farm raised abalone may actually be better than wild. They are consistently sized, properly fed and well maintained. Gail says the flavor is excellent.
This dish was made better by the inclusion of some perfect vegetables. The abalone were on a bed of spinach in the shell, drenched in butter and the juices from the abalone. There was also broccoli rabe, brussels sprouts and carrots, along with a spinach risotto, all fresh, local and properly cooked.
I had the seared ahi tuna.
My dish was also excellent, sesame crusted local Ahi tuna briefly seared, served on a bed of udon noodles and more of those great veggies.
No dessert was needed after this–we had way too much food in the first place.
Service was slightly more casual than I would have expected in a place so dark and formal, but no real complaints. The iced tea was perfect.
Abalone is always expensive, and Gail had 3 of them, so the bill was stiff, but not at all unreasonable. Wine was offered at 25% off, perhaps because it was Thursday, and we had a full bottle (bringing back to the hotel the excess). There was a further $10 “VIP” discount on the bill, I assume because we booked through the Hyatt.
We loved the meal and the setting. I’m serious that we will be back on Saturday night. Anybody else want to join us?