Before us on our table, bedecked with fresh flowers, sits a magnificent Grand Marnier soufflé — airy and sweet-smelling — a delicacy, to be sure. My husband, Jerry, takes a spoonful and his eyes roll.And then suddenly, the soufflé is gone!
Fandango Restaurant owner Pierre Bain, a native of Provence, has swooped in and snatched it away when he realizes that I had not finished my entrée. He was adamant that my spouse and I enjoy dessert together.
Despite our protests about wasting a culinary work of art, Bain insists that I be allowed to finish my tasty Petrale sole, one of tonight’s specials at this favorite Pacific Grove eatery, just a few minutes from both Monterey and Carmel.
It’s a Monday evening and there isn’t an empty chair. Fandango patrons are enjoying Mediterranean and European cuisine in an World environment as appealing as its menu.
“I came to this country via (hotel) school in Bermuda,” says Bain who speaks three languages and whose family has operated a Provencal inn since 1737. He and a partner purchased Fandango in 1986 after Bain had managed the famed Club XIX at The Lodge at Pebble Beach for many years.
“We never even thought of changing the name,” he explains, because the fandango is a “lively and passionate dance” that reflects the kind of restaurant he wanted to own. The soufflé is a fitting end to a perfect day.
From the Hofsas House in Carmel, we drove a few minutes east to Tarpy’s Roadhouse in Monterey. A century-and-a-half ago, it’s doubtful that anyone could’ve predicted that a popular restaurant would carry the name of a convicted murderer. But today, locals and visitors alike make their way to Tarpy’s for cuisine that ranges from hearty meat dishes to flavorful vegetarian fare.
We read about the restaurant’s history while enjoying a fire-roasted artichoke drizzled with a basil-pesto aioli, Tarpy’s take on classic meatloaf (a la Marsala-mushroom gravy), and perfectly grilled salmon topped with a tropical fruit salsa.
The short-version of the saga is that Matt Tarpy, an otherwise reputable Monterey businessman, had a real estate dispute with another businessman, which led to the shooting of a Mrs. Nicholson. Tarpy claimed it was self defense, but the community didn’t buy it. He surrendered, was jailed, and the next day, an angry mob extricated Tarpy from his cell. Within the hour, he was hanging from a tree in what became known as Tarpy Flats.
Today, the impressive stone building that is Tarpy’s grew from the former homestead of the Ryan family, who came to the area in the early 1900s. The property has enjoyed many incarnations, and today it is bright and open — the perfect place for dining after wine-tasting at Ventana Winery next door.
Fortified with Tarpy’s olallieberry pie, we head south a few minutes to Point Lobos State Reserve on Highway 1, a spectacular piece of California coastline that is sometimes as elusive as it is beautiful.
We’ve tried more than once to see Point Lobos, but the fog always thwarted our attempts. This, however, is our lucky day. There are only enough clouds to make our photos look great.
This wild and rugged coastline is nothing less than breathtaking, and the trails are not difficult. We follow the Cypress Grove Trail (.8 miles) that takes us along a bluff that affords stunning views of ocean, mist and black rock. The Pacific’s multi-hues of greens and blues are mesmerizing and always changing, depending on the playfulness of the sun.
The trail also skirts “one of two naturally growing stands of Monterey Cypress trees remaining in the world, which draw sustenance from the cracks and crevices in the rocks,” according to the brochure. The trees seem to mimic dark figures with their backs to wind and spray, trying to protect themselves from the fury.
We next take the Sea Lion Point and Sand Hill trails (.6 miles) which give visitors an inkling of the natural forces at work shaping rock and creating beaches. We can see and hear sea lions playing in the surf and sunning themselves on the offshore outcroppings, and another visitor shares his telescope.
Through it, we watch a sea otter enjoying lunch on a rocky perch, oblivious to all the excited lookie-loos.
E’Louise Ondash is a veteran, award-winning journalist who was an investigative reporter, feature writer and columnist for the Times Advocate and the North County Times. She has written travel features for The Coast News since 2003.