You can not imagine how excited I was when I saw there were zucchini flowers on the menu. I have a major fetish, interest, desire, lust for zucchini flowers. Maybe because they are virtually impossible to acquire here. The evening was upon us. We arrived at Zuni Cafe just before 8 from our day at Carmel, Point Lobos, Pebble Beach and the Seventeen Mile Drive. I had made the reservation long before our trip as it wass a must for me on this vacation, so I booked it for Lauren’s Birthday dinner. Too bad in one way. The day was so magnificent and this reservation definitely made us rush; however, we may not have all been able to come, otherwise.
We have said taking the subway really gives you a feel for the area, or walking, but this time, driving also let us note that this location was unexpected. It is on Market Street, but very far from the downtown area, and at 8 in the evening, a little scary in the side streets. I am getting very excited right now, as I find myself under the giant yellow Zuni Cafe canopy and see the massive windows along the street and the space inside filled with diners in what definitely looks like an earthy and trendy atmosphere.
We came in through the front door which enters into the bar area. It was hoping and it was only a Tuesday evening. The main floor is very spacious, but feels cozy as there is a section by the bar, one by the kitchen and one by the windows. There is also eating space upstairs in a loft area overlooking the main area that you can see in the above photo.
Again we were seated where I would have chosen to be seated if I had been asked. Right in an alcove inside of a bay window by the door in the back that opens onto the street near the kitchen area that is not used. Perfect. Isn’t the Birthday Girl adorable? The photo above is the back of the brick oven and you can also see the ceiling of the loft area on the second floor. The table was crisp with white linens and laden with wholesome whole grain bread and freshly churned delectably special butter. I love this juxtaposition: the formal linensÂ paired with rustic farm fresh goodness.
Vanja has a great tradition of drinking local beers where ever we go. It is always fun for him to try the recommended local brew.
And then we shared the appetizer that I just couldn’t get my hands on fast enough. I was so disappointed the natural light had slid beneath the horizon and that the restaurant light was not the quality I needed for my photographs. I don’t like to use a flash, but I did.
I wasn’t sure that was Judy Rodgers, the writer of The Zuni Cafe Cookbook, and part owner of this restaurant, but I was sure enough to take the photo. I then asked, and it was her, but she had already left. I was disappointed as I would have like to have a moment talking with her about the restaurant and thanking her for the experience. She was setting up an extra table for a woman on her own who appeared to be a food writer. Then she literally let her hair down (almost to her knees) and left. I think it was the earthy “old hippie” feel about her that drew my attention to her. She had a very gracious demeanor and was most definitely keeping a low profile.
This part I feel very badly about. It was Lauren’s birthday. She started to get really excited about the menu and the fresh fish on it. Vanja was excited about the pork chop. I was excited about the chicken. Zuni Cafe is famous for the brick oven roasted chicken served over a bread salad. But, it is for two. What I “should have” done, was order it anyway, and take the rest home. Instead, I encouraged Lauren to share with me. Quite selfish as I don’t even eat meat. I cannot digest it well, but wanted a taste and to experience it. She was not a hard cookie to crumble, and I was certain she would be happy with her fare once it arrived.Â And, here it is. It was spectacular. The bread salad was really different and a lovely experience. But, it is “just roast chicken”. Now, it is a fantastic roast chicken, that is true. Just not what Lauren had in mind, me thinks, and as we are from the Alberta prairies, a great roast chicken is a common meal. The flavour, the presentation, and the bread salad were stellar. The quality of the chicken was not as good as the chicken we had the night before at Chez Panisse,. but it was still excellent.
Vanja’s pork with polenta, peppers and vegetables was very special. It reminded him of the quality of pork he used to eat from the farms at home. He even ate his polenta, and usually doesn’t care for it at all. That is a great compliment to the chef! We “should have” ordered an appetizer each, or more sides, or something else. As we didn’t know what to expect, there was plenty to eat. Of course, the chicken did take an hour to roast and you much order it almost before you sit down. It didn’t seem like too long to wait, but when it was served I wanted more to eat with it. There was plenty of chicken. Enough left over for the next day, but now that I have been there, I would have ordered something to provide a little more variety. I was disappointed that there was nothing said about Lauren’t birthday. I had mentioned that when I made the reservation. But, we got a tour of the chicken at the end of our meal, and that was another highlight.
The famous brick oven and the evening chef proudly finishing a dish. Two chickens ready for serving.
Another long and narrow kitchen, not as long or as narrow as Chez Panisse.
The wood for the brick oven is part of the decor, as is the bread displayed on the other side. I don’t have the cookbook, and really wanted to buy it, but sometimes it is a little much to treat yourself to yet another little goodie at the end of a long day full of personal pleasures. It will just have to wait until next time.
And more chickens resting before being cut up. It was a magical day, and this is one restaurant that serves really excellent local food at very reasonable prices with ample parking nearby. I will definitely be back when in town again.
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