Coastal Kitchen turns the tasting menu into something more than a night out. – Monterey County Weekly

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Dishes are a spectacle at Coastal Kitchen in the Monterey Plaza Hotel & Spa. And each course catches a diner’s attention.
Dishes are a spectacle at Coastal Kitchen in the Monterey Plaza Hotel & Spa. And each course catches a diner’s attention.
At Coastal Kitchen, dining is an experience.
Yes, dishes are served, drinks are poured. There are tables, booths and an open kitchen. The recognizable fundamentals have not been overturned. Yet there’s something in the manner of the place that coaxes guests to open themselves to the courses, to the staff and to each other.
For an hour-and-a-half, you are in communion with the succession of courses and the conversation they evoke. It’s not something so indistinct as “atmosphere” that envelopes diners. The meal – dining – is the entirety. Sunchoke bursts with fruit after bathing in apple, billowy diver scallops rest in a buttermilk ponzu that embraces the bittersweet char from the flattop. A serving of black cod teeters delicately between evanescent and substantial.
Chef Michael Rotondo prepares a five-course tasting menu – six if you count the three-part amuse-bouche – with a maritime theme, drawing as much as possible on local ingredients.
And it is upscale, with rarities such as red frill and moonflower dressing the plates. The restaurant is not, however, a stuffy place. Wait staff engages with you casually. Simply put, dining at Coastal Kitchen is effortless.
The restaurant is a breakaway from Schooners in the Monterey Plaza Hotel and Spa on Cannery Row. When Rotondo took over just a little more than a month ago, he revamped the Schooners menu, keeping the casual attitude, then turned his attention to Coastal Kitchen. “It’s two different brands, two different menus, two different experiences,” he explains. “Why have two venues that are similar?”
Coastal Kitchen is next door to Schooners, but a great distance apart in terms of presence. The menu is fixed, apart from substitutions for food allergies. And the trade-offs – a beautifully crusted ahi in place of scallops, for instance – can leave tablemates envious.
Rotondo builds the menu as movements flowing from a vegetable treat to a genteel appetizer, fish and pasta toward Wagyu beef with toasted rice and charred cabbage on one recent night. He’s not reaching for a crescendo, as each course is equally captivating. And there’s a dessert coda that brings the evening to a satisfying close. “Five courses is a good number,” Rotondo says. “It enables you to have proper portions.”
Each course here comes with a wine pairing option, from houses such as Gascon Chiquet, Simonnet-Febvre and Diszókö, selected by sommelier Conrad Reddick.
While the wine list may not feature local names, Rotondo takes full advantage of the regional catch and harvest. The diver scallops on the current menu are sourced in Maine, but the goal is for 98 percent of the ingredients to meet a 100-mile radius mark.
“We have some great purveyors,” he points out. “The farmers are the true artists here. I don’t like to manipulate much.”
For Rotondo, the tasting menu is a canvas that cannot be finished. There are so many brushstrokes available. On a Thursday night he deviated from the menu presented online in small ways, such as buttering a spread of whipped potatoes with uni or tempura shiitake to accompany the wood-fired black cod.
Expect more of that as the weeks progress. “The menu will change, probably monthly,” the chef says. He prefers to be guided by the ingredients available. “It could be more based on what I get inspired by.”
Rotondo arrived in Monterey from San Francisco, where he served as executive chef for the Ritz-Carlton’s Parallel 37 restaurant. Much of his career has been among the stars – Charlie Trotter’s in Chicago, L’Auberge du Pont de Collonges in France. When he received the Most Promising Chef award at the Bocuse d’Or in 2008, it was presented by Daniel Boulud and Thomas Keller.
Response to his work at Coastal Kitchen has been positive through the soft-opening period. People are finding out about it by word of mouth, and returning.
“People are thanking us for an experience that has been absent,” the chef notes. “I’m surrounded by great people who are passionate. It’s fantastic.”
The article you’re about to read is from our reporters doing their important work — investigating, researching, and writing their stories.
We want to provide informative and inspirational stories that connect you to the people, issues and opportunities within our community.
Journalism takes a lot of resources. Today, our business model has been interrupted by the pandemic; the vast majority of our advertisers’ businesses have been impacted. That’s why the Weekly is now turning to you for financial support. Learn more about our new Insider’s program here.
Thank you.
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