Sunday, October 3, 2010

I’ve Just Finished Reading . . .

two of Anthony Bourdain’s (Travel Channel’s “No Reservations”) books – Kitchen Confidential and Medium Raw – and in one he goes on an extended riff about pseudo-Irish (substitute British/Welsh/Scottish) pubs.

Too bad I hadn’t read this before our lunch at the Crown and Anchor Pub in Monterey, CA.

Why, you might ask, when you are surrounded by the freshest of seafood, did you eat in a British pub? That is a very good question. Perhaps I was persuaded by Crown and Anchor’s web site which stated: “A pub is a state of mind, and that alone sets it apart from any other drinking or eating establishment. It is a place where relaxation, stimulation and conversation are the order of the day. In their ‘local,’ as the English refer to them, a sense of being ‘at home’ is very much in evidence and it is the publican's job to ensure the maintenance of that atmosphere… Informality is rampant and many a stout Englishman has fallen to the lure of his local, most notably when walking his dog… Nikolas Pevsner said, ‘The function of the pub is company, human nearness,..snugness not smugness.’” Besides, we were both in the mood for the kind of comfort food that one finds in a diner or pub.

You enter the Crown and Anchor by walking down a half flight of steps so that you are below street level but not quite in a basement. At the foot of the stairs is a large poster of Liz and Phil (the Mount-battens). You may know them as Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip, but they are Liz and Phil to us. The dining area has a low beamed ceiling; the floor is covered by tartan plaid carpeting; the walls are hung with brass (or faux brass) plates; and next to our booth was a large model of the Titanic.

Both of us started lunch with the restaurant’s clam chowder. It was good-–not as good as The Fish Hopper’s (Monterey)-–but good, with lots of clams and small pieces of potato in a semi-thick base. Perhaps we should have stopped there.

I should have known something was amiss when the restaurant decided to be “cute” when describing your food choices. For example, the listing for fish and chips read: “Tender white and flaky Icelandic cod dipped in our own special light beer batter and fried to a crispy golden brown served with English cut chips and tartar sauce. This dish was traditionally served wrapped in newspaper, but due to the unavailability of British Newspaper we are unable to carry on this tradition.” Please spare me the cute.

Other choices included: the Plymouth Platter (Icelandic cod, calamari, scallop and prawn dipped in beer batter and deep fried and served with English cut chips and tartar sauce); Henry VIII Sirloin of Beef (Top Sirloin of Beef served with Yorkshire batter pudding, mashed potatoes, and vegetables); Shannons' Corned Beef and Cabbage (corned beef simmered in a guinness water liquor and spices and served with cabbage and vegetables); Paul Jones' Spicy Meatloaf (spiced ground beef served with mashed potatoes and vegetables); and Sloats' Chicken Pie (pieces of chicken braised with onions, mushrooms, and spices in a creamy sauce covered with pastry and served with mashed potatoes, vegetables, and gravy).

While we were reading the menu, a fellow traveler (the backpack is a give-away) was seated across from us. When she ordered a pot of hot water as her lunch beverage, I thought to myself “She’s going to take a tea bag out of that backpack.” And she did. I wouldn’t have the nerve.

Chuck is always on the hunt for a good chicken pot pie and Sloat’s Chicken Pie seemed to fit the bill. It came topped with a puff pastry dome and contained some (not as many as expected) pieces of chicken along with mushrooms, carrots, and onions in a rosemary infused gravy that was on the thin side. Along with the pie came a serving of good mashed potatoes covered with a gravy that was different from that in the chicken pie. And, on the side, was a serving of steamed vegetables that included broccoli, cauliflower, green beans, carrots, and zucchini. While the veggies were cooked crisp tender, they sorely lacked seasoning of any form. No salt. No pepper. No herbs. No butter. Just bland steamed veggies.

I chose the spicy meatloaf which came with the same bland vegetables and same good mashed potatoes. The meatloaf – which had been seasoned with Tabasco, cayenne pepper, and Italian spices – was dense and moist and cloaked in a very good beefy gravy. This was one of those dishes where the first third tastes really good, the second third tastes pretty good, and, by the final third, you’re tired of it. The seasonings completely overran every other flavor and became harsh and bitter as you went along.

I was disappointed. I would give our chowders a 4.0 Addie rating, but our entrees deserve nothing more than 2.5 Addies.

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