Revered Central Coast culinary portal offers one-of-a-kind dining experience
Anniversaries are a lovely thing and even better when you can make them downright delicious. Such is the case this year as Pacific Grove’s eminent Fandango Restaurant celebrates its 30th anniversary. Never one to lose sight of what matters most—the meal, its preparation and the people who will eventually enjoy it—owners Pierre and Marietta Bain continue to surprise diners with an inventive blend of old-world charm and classic culinary competence.
The creative appetizer to Fandango’s current triumphs stem back to 1983 when Walter Georis had the idea to transform a unique home in Pacific Grove into a bona fide restaurant.
The Bains were among some the first clientele and already knew a great deal about the hospitality industry—Pierre had been manager of Pebble Beach’s famed Club XIX at The Lodge and had seen the genius of its executive chef there, Pedro De La Cruz. Beyond that, Bain’s family ran the Gran Hôtel Bane in the south of France since the 1700s. (Yes, you read that correctly.) Flashforward to 1986 and the Bains bought Fandango, and eventually brought in De La Cruz to be its head chef. Together, the couple and De La Cruz have managed to oversee operations for 26 years, infusing this gastronomic hamlet with a distinctly original flavors and an authentic mix of European culture, family heritage and inspiration.
An excellent wine list, large “banquet/party” rooms, and rare, refined recipes can all be found here. During recent visits, which found me dining here twice in several weeks—apparently once was not enough—my colleague and I first noshed on a plate of heirloom tomatoes mozzarella before I moved onto an exquisite Caesar salad. The dressing on both the heirloom tomatoes and the Caesar did not overwhelm—each playing themselves out nicely for the palate. Hors d’oeuvres that also captured my eye: Fresh Cavier, Melon Con Prosciutto Di Parma (with imported ham) and Fresh Sanddabs (some of the best prepared along the Central Coast). Price range: $8.95 and up for these hors d’oeuvres. I also fancied the Onion Soup Gratinee (on my second visit), one of the freshest traditional baked French onion soup creations I have consumed.
Main courses abound here, of course, and the imagination used in their preparation is important to note. The Fresh Salmon Fettuccine was bathed nicely in white wine, sun dried tomato and cream, but did not overpower. De La Cruz seems to have mastered the art of presentation but while some high-end restaurants stop there, this chef surprises with attention to detail and what seems to be thoughtful care in what ingredients will all be devoured collectively. As for my dining partner, she appreciated the flavors in her Fettuccine Primavera.
But it’s important to note some of the other Main Course wonders here. In addition to nightly specials—in most cases, the fresh fish is exquisitely prepared—there are a bevy of considerations. Three things to consider: The Osso Buco Fandango, which I have had on another occasion, is one of the best dishes the restaurant serves; Ducking a l’orange (Roasted medium well and served with a wonderfully perfect bitter orange sauce); and Couscous Lamb Shank (a fascinating lamb and vegetable stew infused with a passionate blend of North African spices and harrisa, among other ingredients). I would also recommend any of the steak and filets here, as well as Paella Fandango (saffron rice, seafood, spicy sausages, chicken, peas, green onion, red and green bell pepper—perfectly prepared and served in a skillet). One thought: perhaps more vegan options could enhance the menu further.
Sunday Brunchers fear not: There’s plenty here for you, too. I recommend the following: Pate Maison, the Basque Salad (fresh locally-grown spinach, blue cheese, orange sections, walnuts, raspberry vinaigrette), and a main dish—Eggs and such, Pasta or anything from Fandango’s Specialties list.
It is during Brunch, perhaps, where you realize just how extensive and creative this portal’s menu actually is. For “Eggs …” consider Croque Monsieur (an inventive if not flavor-filled ham and swiss cheese sandwich soufflé), or Belgian Waffles (try it with fresh fruit and whipped cream) or Filet Mignon Fandango (mouth-watering broiled medallions of beef with two poached eggs bedding it, including béarnaise sauce, vegetables and potatoes—you’re at brunch, so why not go all out.) There are nearly a dozen more Brunch items to choose from.
For Past-philes, consider: the Tortellini Maison (perfectly fresh pasta and wonderfully loaded with several cheeses, complete with just the right creation of basil cream sauce) or Fandango’s Canneloni Nicoise (spinach, ham, veal, tomato au gratin playfully stuffed into fresh pasta).
Meat eaters: The Veal Picatta boasts a marvelous lemon butter and caper veneer that is memorable. If you dare go all out—consider the Rack of Lamb. It’s a powerful and potent feast and one not often offered with such verve. What’s left? Wines—an award-winning list too long and impressive to give it justice here but just to be gutsy, try the Gruet Brut Rosé from New Mexico—and an innovative dessert menu. We devoured Chocolate Mousse and Lemon Cheesecake, but I could have also enjoyed the Farandole Sundae.
What you walk away with, then, is, well a feast to remember. The Bains’ longevity is a nice thing, but it’s all the more special because of their fine attention to several very important things: Creating an atmosphere that befits delicious home-cooked meal consumption and hearty conversation (remember when we all had more of those at home?); and a love for what they do and offer. You can feel that rare integrity within every crevice of Fandango—it trickles down from the Bains, through De La Cruz’s plates of passion and onto the table. Sublime.
Learn more about Fandango at fandangorestaurant.com and check out “Fandango, The Story of Two Guys Who Wanted to Own a Restaurant (Fortunately One Knew What He Was Doing)” here or on Amazon.