Road Trip to the Monterey Peninsula: Aquarium exploration and wharf dining – Day 3

As the morning began to break in Carmel, a light thud could be heard right outside the window. Slowly opening the shutters, a blue jay sat on the outside railing cocking his head and watching something. With lightning fast speed, the bird flew into the outside wall with a light thud. Returning to the railing with a giant moth in its mouth. It is time for breakfast! Hofsas House’s continental breakfast in the lobby can be taken up to your room to enjoy while you watch the morning news. Just watch your step up the stairs with your orange juice and coffee.

Rain or shine, the best place to visit is the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Located in Cannery Row, the Monterey Bay Aquarium Foundation started planning phases in 1978 with construction costs of $55 million. David and Lucile Packard’s one-time personal gift made it happen. On October 20, 1984, Monterey Bay Aquarium opened its doors to 10,681 visitors on opening day. For sci-fi fans, The Aquarium was also featured in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. Remember the scene where Spock swims and communicates with whales in a fictional whale tank?

  • Photography Tip: Non-flash photography is appropriate. Flashes may cause stress to the sea life on display and can ruin guest experience in the darkened corridors. Also, please leave tripods at home or in the car. The legs can cause a tripping hazard for children and/or a high fall for your camera.

In the Kelp Forest, Pacific Sardines are expert synchronized swimmers as they move together as one. The sardines in a large school make themselves look larger to predators. The display of twirling movements and shimmering scales make them look almost mechanical, reminiscent of The Matrix Sentinel Squids as they descended upon Zion.

One of the biggest attractions at The Aquarium are the cute, playful Sea Otters. In the mornings, they are either floating on their backs and resting, rolling and playing with the toy sea kelp, or on the rocks sunning themselves or crunching on ice.

  •  Tip: Check for Sea Otter Feeding Times and arrive at the exhibit 30 minutes before to stake out a spot. The sea otters will often get really close to the glass for some really cute, up-close and personal photos as the trainers work with them.

The Jellies Experience showcases different species of jellies. Interesting facts about jellies: They are more than 95% water. They do not have bones, brains, blood, teeth, or fins. They can also grow and shrink based on their food supply.
The Black Sea Nettle lives in the Pacific Ocean and drifts in offshore currents. They can grow to more than 3 feet across with tentacles that can trail over 25 feet in length. Moon Jellies are alien-like and look like small moons swimming around. The great thing about jellies is that they are living art. The Aquarium has created the perfect backdrop and lighting for you to view and photograph these beautiful creatures.

Started in October 1999, the Seafood Watch Program helps you make the best seafood choice for sustainability for our ocean’s ecosystem. Overfishing is a big problem as the popularity of sushi has exploded worldwide and Bluefin Tuna populations are dwindling. Best seafood choices that you may know include: Striped Bass (US hook & line, farmed), Catfish (US), Clams, Mussels, Oysters, Pacific Cod (US hook & line, longline & trap), California & Pacific Halibut (US hook & line), Spot Prawn (AK and Canada), Black Cod (AK & Canada wild), Salmon (AK), Pacific Sardines (Canada & US), Scallops (farmed), White Seabass (US hook & line), Shrimp (AK), Tilapia (Ecuador & US), Rainbow Trout (US farmed), Albacore/White Tuna (canned from Canada & US troll, pole), Light Tuna (canned FAD free, US troll, pole), and Yellowfin Tuna (US troll, pole). Pick up a pocket guide at The Aquarium so you can do your part to help our oceans.

Head outside and see Life on the Bay where you can view wildlife in the bay. Watch Southern Sea Otters resting, playing, and eating on the kelp beds. See Pelagic Cormorants fly and dive as they feed in flocks. You may get a top view of a jelly floating in the water. Or spot a Harbor Seal curiously swimming around the jets of rocks near The Aquarium. If you plan on eating outside, be mindful of your food as the Western gull is eyeing your food too.

The Splash Zone & Penguins lets you explore where rockfish, sharks, and penguins call their home. The African Blackfooted Penguin are from South Africa. With the cold currents along the South African coast, these birds “fly” through the water to chase squid, anchovy, and other small fish.

A great place to grab some lunch is at Cindy’s Waterfront, a table-service restaurant that is an intimate setting from the main Café (casual food court of sorts). The restaurant has spectacular views of the bay. Here’s a sampling of what you may see on their menu:

  • Instead of bread, a plate of Spanish-style olives glisten in olive oil and fresh herbs whet your palate for a great meal.
  • Monterey Bay Calamari, red onions, bell peppers, jalapenos, and thinly-sliced lemon sliced are served “frito misto” with a basil-lemon aioli. The batter is very light, similar to tempura. The fried lemon slices are surprisingly good and refreshing. Rating: 5/5
  • Hail Caesar, the Classic Caesar is made with a dressing of egg, garlic, anchovies, tossed with chopped romaine, croutons, and topped with shredded parmesan. The dressing is creamy, but needs more anchovy, and garlic in the mix. The romaine lettuce is fresh and crisp. The croutons are light and crunchy. Rating: 3/5
  • Best-Ever Clam Chowder has a slightly sweet flavor. The consistency is a little thin and not as creamy as one might expect. It also needs more clams. Rating: 2.5/5
  • Special of the Day: Grilled Octopus served atop cassoulet. The octopus is grilled to perfection with chargrilled flavor on the outside and tender, sweet on the inside. Cassoulet has a good flavor but has the consistency of bean soup versus a thick, rich cassoulet. Rating: 4.8/5
  • End your meal with the Campfire Pie. It is toasted marshmallow fluff, fudgy chocolate, almond ding, and Oreo cookie crust. First off, it is huge! The toasted gooey marshmallow fluff towers over the table like a Baked Alaska. Together with the melted chocolate, buttery Oreo crust, and crunchy almonds, it will remind you of the best s’mores you’ve ever had. It’s sinfully delicious! Rating: 4.8/5

After visiting the aquarium, and if you have energy left, you can walk around the Cannery Row. It is filled with restaurants and shops to keep you busy. If not, head back to the hotel to relax at the pool or just hang in your room to watch some TV or take an afternoon nap.

Monterey also has a Fisherman’s Wharf full of shop and restaurants. Not nearly as large as the one in San Francisco, but fun just the same. Monterey Bay has been one of the major fishing centers along the West Pacific since the early 1900’s. Today, Monterey continues to be one of the nation’s largest supply of squid (calamari).

  • Travel tip: The parking lot for Fisherman’s Wharf is located at 250 Figueroa Street in Monterey. If you put the actual address for any location in the wharf into a GPS, it will take you to a delivery/loading lot. You won’t be able to park in there.

Since the early 1950’s, Abalonetti Bar & Grill popularized this delicacy and serves over 70,000 pounds a year. Here’s a sampling of the menu:

  • Fried Monterey Calamari has been voted Best Calamari since 1999 by Monterey County Weekly. The breading is different than anywhere else. They use cracker crumbs which adds a different texture unlike bread crumbs or batter. It’s crispy, light, yet neutral to the succulent, perfectly fried calamari underneath. Once you have them, you may be in agreement with the rest of Monterey. Rating: 5/5
  • Monterey’s Original Antipasto Bar includes Roasted Gilroy Garlic, Marinated Artichoke Hearts, Grilled Eggplant, Marinated Mushrooms, Assorted Olives, Roasted Bell Peppers, Feta Cheese, Garlic Spinach, and Marinated Monterey Calamari. This is the best plate of antipasto you will find anywhere! It has the best mix of flavors from sweet roasted garlic and bell peppers to salty olives and feta to vinegar marinated mushrooms and artichoke hearts. But the absolutely fantastic part of this antipasto plate is the Marinated Monterey Calamari made with EVOO (extra-virgin olive oil), red wine vinegar, fresh garlic, and herbs. It tastes like an Italian-style ceviche. The calamari is so tender, it just melts in your mouth. You can also order this on its own as an appetizer. Rating: 5/5
  • Grilled Monterey Abalone is panko crusted, topped with a lemon butter sauce, and served with sautéed vegetables and rice. The baby abalone is farm-raised at an adjacent wharf and as fresh as can be. The abalone is tender and soft. The panko crust adds the perfect crispy texture on the outside. The lemon butter sauce is so creamy and the essence of lemon is refreshing. Rating: 5/5
  • For dessert, take some homemade cannolis home with you. The cannoli shell is just crispy enough to hold in the creamy sweet cheese filling. It will be gone before you know and you will say to yourself, “I should have ordered two.” Rating: 5/5

The beautiful fauna of the Pacific Ocean and fantastic culinary creations using the fruits of the sea are the best things about Monterey. A good night’s sleep lay ahead as you ready yourself for the drive back to Southern California.

To see more photos, please visit OC Food Diva's Facebook page.

For more information:

On San Carlos St between 3rd and 4th Ave
Carmel-by-the-Sea, CA 93921
+1.800.221.2548 or +1.831.624.2745

886 Cannery Row
Monterey, CA 93940

57 Fisherman’s Wharf
Monterey, CA 93940

Road Trip to the Monterey Peninsula: Big Sur foraging and Pacific Grove beach dining – Day 2

After a long drive, you’ll want to sleep in. Don’t sleep in too long as Hofsas House starts continental breakfast service at 8am. The aroma of fresh brewed coffee will lead you to the lobby. The fireplace is ablaze as you fill your basket with goodies from a selection of fresh baked sweet & savory pastries, danishes, and sliced coffeecakes. Chilled yogurts of different varieties will fill your dairy fancy. Fresh fruits like apples, oranges, and bananas are artfully arranged in a basket on the coffee table. Orange juice and coffee are poured fresh by the morning staff. While you’re enjoying your breakfast, Hofsas House has a nice collection of area restaurant menus available for your perusal if you need dining ideas. The morning paper is available for your reading pleasure along with books on the Monterey Peninsula’s flora and fauna that residing in the area, like iconic redwood trees and sea otters.

After breakfast, consider taking a morning walk down to Carmel Beach. The morning air is refreshing and the sun will warm your body up as you make your way downhill on Ocean Avenue. You’ll notice from San Carlos Street, the street is lined mainly with shops and restaurants. The aroma of Lush Cosmetics will first catch your olfactory centers and then the beautiful whimsical colors will entice you from the window. Halfway to the beach, the shops taper off to quaint residential homes. As Ocean Avenue ends at the beach, you will experience the scent of the ocean and the welcoming sea breeze. There is a well-maintained lookout where you can get panoramic views (and photographs) of the breathtaking Carmel Beach. The one thing that you’ll see like nowhere else is the off-leash fun that all of the dogs on the beach are having. From running into the water to play or fetch to finding other fur-babies to play with and chase, this beach is a dog-day heaven. You know that they are having so much fun as the pups almost seem to pout as they walk back to the car to leave. You can just see it in their eyes – “Just five more minutes, please!” 

Walking back to Hofsas House is a whole different story. It’s uphill all the way back, but walking back up on the other side of the street will give you the opportunity to stop and check out more shops, restaurants and beautifully quaint cottages. The picturesque PortaBella Restaurant looks like a fairytale house during the daytime. The beautiful and colorful landscaping in front is reminiscent of another place and time. Next door is the Cottage of Sweets where you can find candy that you may have seen on your last trip to Europe like Cadbury Crunchie and Twirl. You’ll have “The Candy Man Can” song from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971) playing in your head. You might even want to purchase a candy bar and see if you won a “Golden Ticket”.

If you are in the Monterey Peninsula for Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend, the Big Sur Foragers Festival will be in full swing. Events span from Friday to Sunday with chef dinners, foraging hikes, and the grand “Fungus Face-off” where area chefs present their most creative “fungi” dishes and local wineries present their fine wines for sipping and pairing. Big Sur is about an hour drive south from Carmel with scenic and breathtaking views. Here’s a look at this year’s competition:

  • Montrio and Bakers Bacon presented a Black Trumpet Mushroom Tart with dock candy cap jelly and topped with foie gras parfait, Bakers Bacon, and pine needle syrup. Winner: Judges Pick for Best Overall
  • Fernwood presented a Pork and Chanterelle Meatloaf with chanterelle butter gravy, and a lemon microgreen salad. The meatloaf was made with 4 kinds of pork and Fernwood house made bacon. Winner: Best Cooking Technique
  • Carmel ValleyRanch presented Chanterelle, black trumpet, hedgehog mushrooms with short ribs on a garlic crostini with sea salt and red radishes. Winner: Best Dish Using Wine, People’s Choice Award Winner
  • Quail and Olive showcased their flavored oils like Lemon, Rosemary, and more. They would be great to saute with or toss with a salad.
  • Beach House presented a Mushroom and Pork Sui Gow with shiitake, oyster, porcini and portabella mushrooms with a truffle soy butter. Winner: Dish Most Easily Adapted to Home Cooking
  • Big Sur Roadhouse presented Wood Sorrel Ale; Huckleberry Fizz with Big Sur Spring Water and Pine Needle Bay Laurel and Spearmint Tea with Big Sur Honey. Winner: Most Nutritious and Healthy
  • Big Sur Bakery presented Mushpuppies Pâte à Choux Puffs with black trumpets, wild rice + a hint of umeboshi. Winner: Best Table Display
  • Restaurant atVentana Inn presented Candy Cap Mushroom Ravioli filled with chanterelle mushrooms, black trumpet puree, chanterelle mushroom broth, and pickled chanterelles. Winner: Best Use of Local Ingredients
  • Porter’s in theForest presented Mushroom 5 Ways with pine nut aioli, fried lentils, and burnt meringue. Winner: Most Inventive Use of Ingredients
  • Esalen Institute presented Big Sur Chanterelle Arancini with wild fennel salad with Esalen Garden herbs, puree of Coke Farm celery root, and pickled chanterelles. Winner: Vegetarian Dish
  • TusCA Ristorante presented Sea Scallop with coconut carrot broth, roasted shitake mushrooms, fresh Enoki mushrooms, lime caviar as well as a Thai basil leaf. Winner: Dish with Most Complex Flavors

The Big Sur Foragers Festival is also a fundraiser for the Big Sur Health Center. Proceeds from the event sales and silent auction garnered more than $30,000 this year!

Being surrounded by the ocean is amazing! Keep the theme going with dinner at Beach House in Pacific Grove. Overlooking Lovers Point Beach, the Beach House is surrounded by picturesque windows to view the beach and ocean by day and city lights at night. Here’s a glimpse of the menu items you might experience:

  • Slow-Braised Lamb Poutine is shoestring fries, lamb, green peppercorn gravy, melted cheese curds, and fried sage. The fries are perfectly fried to a golden brown - crispy outside and tender inside. The braised lamb is delicate, tender, and so flavorful. Green peppercorn gravy is onolicious and adds depth to the dish. Fried sage on top is a nice touch. Rating: 5/5
  • Pan-Roasted Duck Breast Jubilee is served with brandy persimmon wild rice, broccolini, cherry gastrique, frisse, and vanilla bean oil. The dish has a beautiful presentation. The duck meat has a great flavor and cooked to a perfect medium rare, but unfortunately the skin was chewy, fatty, and inedible. The duck needs to be seared skin-side down in order to render the fat layer between the meat and the skin. The crispy skin is the best part of the duck so this was a disappointment. On the other hand, the broccolini was cooked to perfection with fresh green flavor intact. Rating: 4.3/5
  • Bacon Wrapped Meatloaf is served with Yukon gold mashed potatoes, carrots, green beans, sautéed mushrooms, caramelized onion gravy, house made ketchup, and frizzled onions. The frizzled onions add a textural accent to the soft meatloaf. This dish is hearty and a generous portion as well. The mashed potatoes have a creamy texture with nice flavor. Vegetables are cooked al dente, not soggy at all. Sautéed mushrooms give it a light earthy flavor. The meatloaf is great with or without the house made ketchup. Rating: 4.8/5
  • Chocolate Pot de Crème is decadent with rich, dark chocolate flavor and velvety texture. Chocolate worked well with the orange flavored syrup, reminiscent of Terry’sChocolate Orange candy. Rating: 5/5
  • Key Lime Pie is beautifully presented in a glass ramekin. The creamy texture is accentuated by the lime zest for the perfect lime flavor, not too sweet and not too sour. It is the perfect ending for a beach dining experience. Rating: 5/5

A sense of natural experience from land and sea will fill your dreams as another day in the Monterey Peninsula is only a few hours away.

For more information:

On San Carlos St between 3rd and 4th Ave
Carmel-by-the-Sea, CA 93921
+1.800.221.2548 or +1.831.624.2745

Make plans to attend in 2016

620 Ocean View Blvd
Pacific Grove, CA

Melissa’s Deluxe Pantry Box Recipe Series: Quinoa Cranberry Pudding Parfait

Melissa’s Deluxe Pantry Box in this post was provided by Melissa’s Produce but the opinions expressed here are my own.