Restaurant: The Monterey
Location: 1127 S. Alamo
Executive Chef: Quealy Watson
So yes, I'm late to the show. The Monterey, or El Monty as it's affectionately referred to, has been listed by Texas Monthly as one of the Texas restaurants to try in 2012 (see http://www.texasmonthly.com/2012-03-01/feature2.php for the article) and is making a splash in the whimsical, Austin-influenced crowd of young San Antonian foodies. Oh well, that's a bandwagon I'm happy to hop on!
El Monty bills itself as a cool hang-out for "food lovers, beer nerds, and wine geeks." The menu is small, diverse, and open to last-minute additions and changes based on the chef's whim. The food is American heavily influenced by Asian ingredients, and funky organ meats abound! In theory at least.
Why was the photo taken from here? Because it's from El Monty's parking lot! Where you at, downtown? Oh yes, you're right there. And El Monty still has its own parking lot! (I can't emphasize enough how much of a draw this is. Seriously. I happily paid the amount that I DIDN'T have to pay for parking into the waiter's tip.)
This place is so Austin. Observe the kitschy decor and funky bathrooms (men's and women's respectively).
I loved our seating because I got to hear the occasional blurb from the kitchen. Tavis isn't so sure what he's in for.
We arrived in time for "the happiest of happy hours," so I enjoyed a $2.50 bottle of Shiner's new selection, Wild Hare (tasty!). I don't think anything on the food menu was discounted, unfortunately. We listened to the off-menu specials of the day, which included a salmon head (only two of those left!), an okonomiyaki (think Asian savory pancake) made with Chinese sausage and clams which I REALLY wanted to try and sort of wish I had, and a corned Wagyu beef tongue. Which I ended up getting. Which should come as no surprise to anyone who knows me well enough to read this blog!
Our first course was actually my favorite, and it came as quite a surprise because it was brussels sprouts. Unfortunately it was my phone's favorite dish as well, and it ate the photo. Whoops! I ordered the brussels upon reading several rave reviews, and homygoodness were they incredible. Tavis and both gobbled them like there was a secret decoder ring at the bottom of the plate. I would eat these every single day. They were roasted, swimming in a sweet chili oil, sprinkled with peanuts. Sweet, umami, salty, utterly addictive. (And invisible.)
Tavis ordered the pork belly bahn mi, which is a sammich served with various pickled vegetables and spreads. I think one of them was a sriracha mayonnaise and another seemed like some sort of bean spread. I thought it was awesome, very tangy and tasty, with the crispy pork belly all nice and juicy in the inside, but it was not to Tavis's taste.
This is the corned Wagyu tongue, with a mustard-breadcrumbs coating on one side, covered in some awesome pickled veggies (are those beets? Did I enjoy pickled beets?) and swimming in what was probably some of the same yummy sauce as the bahn mi. It tasted like corned beef, just juicy and tender. I might not order this again, but I certainly enjoyed it this time.
Since Tavis didn't really like his bahn mi, he ordered a second dish, which were greek chicken meatballs. The flavors were pretty much identical to any gyro, with the garlicky dill tzatziki and the feta playing nicely together. He still wasn't stoked, and honestly this was a very forgettable dish.
It's been a long time since Tavis just hasn't had a meal he enjoyed; I maintain that the bahn mi was simply not to his taste. (For reference, he is a man who wants his sammiches as follows: bread, meat, cheese, bread. Yeah. I married that.) There were a couple other items on the menu that sounded interesting to him, but with a strong Asian influence comes sour and spicy, two flavors that just don't really agree with him. So this may just not be his sort of place.
I digress. Here's some dessert.
It was an espresso "panna cotta," the quotations because it was crunchy as much as creamy. I really think it was filled with Grape Nuts. If you've ever eaten them, you know their rather unique crumbly texture. This was tasty even though I'm not a huge coffee fan, but still pretty forgettable.
Overall: I wanted to like this place more! It's adorable, the service was friendly, I love the concept and the quality of the ingredients and the versatility/playfulness of the menu items. I think I would come back here again, but probably with different company. (Blasphemy!) Either that, or order 10 plates of those tasty sprouts (the ones that they call Brussels). I'll definitely give El Monty another try, and I think you should too.
Thursday, March 8, 2012