Hyatt Carmel Highlands features divine dinner options

Almond yogurt with root vegetables at California Market at Pacific's Edge. Photo courtesy of Hyatt Carmel Highlands

Almond yogurt with root vegetables at California Market at Pacific’s Edge. Photo courtesy of Hyatt Carmel Highlands

In early March, I visited the Hyatt Carmel Highlands and ate dinner at California Market at Pacific’s Edge for the first time, and it was one of the best meals I’ve ever had. From the service, to the food, to the views—everything combined to make an incredible, enjoyable experience that I’ll remember for a very long time.

 

Soon after my husband and I sat down, our server David greeted us. He was extremely attentive for the next two hours, and I appreciated his down to earth nature and his enthusiasm and knowledge about the menu offerings.

 

We began with an appetizer, which was almond yogurt mixed with roasted root vegetables and pistachio granola. This is offered a la carte or as course one of the four-course plant based tasting menu ($50, or $80 with wine pairings, the menu rotates every six weeks or so).

I would not have ordered this dish without the waiter’s recommendation, and wow would I have missed out! Delightful, surprising tastes and textures…when I think of yogurt and granola, that sounds like a breakfast item. This worked beautifully as a light, unusual beginning to dinner.

 

We got the honor of meeting sous chef Pancho Castellon that night. He joined the Hyatt in April 2016, and he is vegan. “It was (executive chef) Chad Minton’s idea to create a plant-based tasting menu in order to enforce sustainability and to show people that you can still enjoy a full diner without the need of animal proteins,” says Castellon, who helped launch the menu last September.

 

As I talked to chef Pancho about watching some diners try vegan food for the first time, his eyes lit up with enthusiasm. He also became very animated when discussing the great ingredients the restaurant gets from various sources, including all the wonderful local produce. “I find this very inspiring, and love building relationships with our farmers and producers.”

 

We followed the first appetizer with an octopus starter that was extremely tender and flavorful. The fish is first done as a confit at a very low heat with California extra virgin olive oil. After the confit process, the octopus is chilled and then finished in the plancha. “Then we add some black garlic emulsion and new potatoes,” shares Castellon. There was also a kalamata olive aioli on the plate and I could have eaten a whole cup of this sauce.

 

One of our favorite dishes that night was Tom Yum soup, which included coconut squash broth plus strong lemongrass and kaffir lime flavors. Chef Pancho shared his inspiration for creating this: “I have always liked Thai coconut soup and was trying to find a way to make it less Thai and more ‘California/Pacific like’. It was also perfect for our winter menu. That is why we made the soup using local squash as a base, seasonal vegetables and some of the local foraged mushrooms Far West Fungi brings us.” The restaurant confits the mushrooms to give them a ham-like texture, which we noticed and enjoyed. Indeed, my husband—a devout meat-eater eating vegan soup—wanted to lick his bowl clean, but resisted.

 

California Market at Pacific’s Edge regularly uses Far West Fungi in Moss Landing for mushrooms (both wild and harvested), and receives other ingredients like huckleberries on occasion if these have also been foraged. A majority of the other produce used in the menu comes from a 50-mile radius, including Coke Farm, Brian’s Ranch, Mariquita Farms, Happy Boy Farms, and Swank Farms.

 

All of California Market’s menus, curated by executive chef Minton, feature a California map that points out local producers, such as Bellwether Farms Creamery in Sonoma and Monterey Abalone Company in Monterey. The restaurant also follows the guidelines of the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch and serves cage- and GMO-free eggs in its dishes.

 

Two entrees that stood out were scallops and tuna. The meaty, fresh scallops were served with gorgeous heirloom cauliflower and a to-die-for Romesco sauce. I noticed that the plant-based tasting menu’s third course was a vegan version of the same dish. The main difference was utilizing king trumpet mushrooms instead of scallops. “I really wanted something on the tasting menu that represents our regular menu, so I asked our mushroom guys if they could grow some big king trumpet mushrooms for us so I could cut the stems in scallop shapes,” said Castellon. “Then I smoked them with hickory, compressed them with kombu, and seared them like a regular scallop.” Castellon says that some couples have ordered both the vegan ones and the regular ones and it’s actually kind of hard to notice the difference in the plated dish.

 

The tuna dish was served with beer-battered avocado (so fun and tasty!), jicama cucumber salad, pistachio vinaigrette and piquillo pepper emulsion. The flavors and textures worked together beautifully.

 

Finally, for dessert, we devoured a heavenly chocolate hazelnut tart (I emphasize “devoured” because we thought we were quite full, but it was too good not to finish). Available on both the regular and tasting menus, it was served with burnt marshmallow, wild huckleberry granite (with berries from Far West Fungi) and whipped coconut cream. One day Castellon was at home reading some cookbooks, brainstorming ideas for a new menu. His wife Kika, who he describes as a “hardcore vegan,” came out of the kitchen with S’mores that she made using vegan “nutella” and dandies (vegan marshmallows). “I was up all night trying to figure out how to make it happen on the tasting menu. The next day I met with our pastry cook Kasala and started working on the recipe—and it’s vegan, gluten-free and almost sugar free.”

 

I highly recommend you have a meal as soon as possible at California Market at Pacific’s Edge. Since the hotel is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, there are a few opportunities for trying the food at special events as well. One is the “Forks.Corks.Action!” Winemaker series in the Wine Room, where attendees will meet the winemakers and enjoy a four-course dinner with wine paired with each course. During the series, winemakers will discuss the history, culture and qualities of the featured wines from Monterey and Santa Cruz County that will accompany chef Minton’s seasonal, locally sourced and plant-based menus.

 

There will be three Winemakers Dinners in 2017:

 

  • Thursday, April 27 — In honor of Earth Day held annually April 22, this will be a plant based four course winemaker’s dinner with Pierce Ranch Vineyards, which will be showcasing their sustainable wines  ($120 inclusive per person). The menu includes a second course of caramelized morel risotto featuring asparagus and macadamia nuts.

 

  • Thursday, Sept. 28 — In honor of California Wine Month, California Market at Pacific’s Edge is teaming up with DeTierra Wines and the National Steinbeck Center for a benefit dinner.  Learn about DeTierra wines and their connection to John Steinbeck.  Listen to Steinbeck Scholar Susan Shillinglaw talk about John Steinbeck while enjoying a four-course wine pairing meal  ($140 inclusive per person/$20 from each ticket benefits the National Steinbeck Center)

 

  • Thursday, November 9 – Details to be announced

 

Curious about the restaurant’s name? The hotel used to have two restaurants, casual bistro California Market and fine dining Pacific’s Edge, but they merged them into a new and improved venue in January. The restaurant underwent welcome renovations including an 870-square-foot deck with a louvered roof and glass-panel walls.

 

Details:

Hyatt Carmel Highlands, Overlooking Big Sur Coast

120 Highland Drive, Carmel

highlandsinn.hyatt.com or 831-620-1234

 

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