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Let's eat.

From Big Sur's killer cliff-clinging eateries to Salinas' unparalleled produce, this blog aims to sniff out all things Monterey County can stomach, via picture and prose, curiosity and appetite, hand and mouth.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Hidden Gem #1 of 2010 (and Three Other Top Tucked-Away Treasures)

There are different reasons each of these qualify as undetected treasures—maybe they're off the beaten path, or enjoy a chef with credentials you might not expect to find there. But they don't differ when it comes to taking care of people and clearly loving what they do. You can taste it.

1. Viva La Crepe (601-4847)

It's not uncommon to hear small places compared to closets, but in this case, that might be a disservice to closets.

VLC rents space inside an ice cream and coffee joint that's already petite, on the first horizontal branch of Fisherman's Wharf, where few locals would ever think to look for food, let alone thoroughly authentic and delicious, sweet and savory crepes made with unbelievable buckwheat batter.

Owner-operators Thierry Crocquet and Daniel Peron clearly love what they’re doing. I do too—try the homemade caramel apple sweetie or the seasonal veggie with two kinds of cheese.

2. Courtside Café at Chamisal (484-1135)

Chef David Frappeia could cook in any kitchen in county, but here—where few realize the restaurant is open to the public (and the courts, pools, saunas and such are too, for $20/day)—seems to fit since he's such a fitness nut.

He also loves great ingredients, which makes for great crab benedicts, sandwiches, salads and even French-inspired dinners. The sand dab sandwich I had in the Corral de Tierra sun was heavenly; the robust cobb (above) was on its game in a major way. He's actively evolving the wine list, continuing wine dinners and generally kicking ass.

3. Element Tasting Bar and Pizza Bistro (998-7045)

Buried in a strip mall next to gas station on River Road, this place bursts with familial affection, thanks to welcoming owner-operator Misty Romassa and the hardy but deferential growers and vitners from the neighboring plots who have made it their regular spot.

Massive prime ribs, tasty pizzas and excellent tastes from a solid selection of wines—featuring family label Addamo Winery—rank among the main draws.

4. Brophy’s Tavern in Carmel (624-2476)

Anyone who can tell a a pint from a piña colada knows this is one of Carmel's favorite watering holes, and a good place to watch the game and grab a bite too.

But they may not realize the man behind the quietly excellent—and still improving—menu is one of my favorite chefs anywhere, Brian Christensen, formerly of landmark Stokes Restaurant in Monterey.

Sneaky: a top chef simmering greatness at a little bar-grill. I love it—like I loved the fried chicken sandwich and unbeatable Kobe sliders I had New Year's Eve.