Recently I had the opportunity to stay overnight at The Clement in Monterey, and dine at the on-site C restaurant, and I can enthusiastically recommend both of these to anyone considering a Monterey visit.
First, the hotel: it’s a high quality InterContinental property that is in excellent condition. It seemed very new to me. When I inquired about its age, I discovered that it opened in 2008 and that the owner, Mr. Clement Chen III, is dedicated to ongoing improvements to ensure immaculate hotel conditions. It’s located close to the Monterey Bay Aquarium and many shops and other places of interest, making it very convenient.
From the moment I drove up to the hotel (750 Cannery Row), staff members were ever-present with friendly attention—including the valet, the employee who checked me in, and the restaurant phone reservations person. I later learned that this location is the top-ranked InterContinental hotel in the U.S. in terms of customer service. Makes sense!
My room was serene and lovely, with a partial ocean view and gas fireplace that provided instant warmth on a cool evening. The décor creates a simultaneously comfortable and modern atmosphere. The room was very spacious, with a desk, sitting area, and a large bathroom (including a separate shower and tub—nice detail). The owner and his management staff obviously care a great deal about maintaining a top hotel that visitors will want to return to. This is apparent from details like the marble bathrooms and the fact they have carefully selected high-end toiletries from SF company Agraria such as refreshing lemon verbena bath and shower gel.
I had heard good things about the C Restaurant and its chefs (Executive Chef Matt Bolton, who joined the staff in 2014, and Sous Chef Michelle Lee, who the C welcomed about six months ago). The two previously worked at Bernardus Lodge together.
My dinner at the C was everything I expected and more! Service, to me, is a key factor in a good meal—and our waitress was very attentive and answered inquiries with lots of details and suggestions. The setting was pleasant, with floor to ceiling ocean-view windows.
My friend and I shared several items during the dinner, a nice way to sample the fare. One appetizer that we really enjoyed was roasted beet carpaccio, which included candied pecans and citrus. The wild arugula and frisee were a nice surprise; they weren’t in the menu description. The creamy, sharp-flavored Humboldt Fog served as a central element to tie all the ingredients together.
We were considering ordering the sea bass, and when we mentioned this to the waitress she exclaimed that it was her favorite dish. That nailed our decision, and thank goodness we listened. It was divine. All the flavors worked so well with the wild sea bass: the Dijon emulsion, the Brussels sprout leaves, and the lardon (pork). Wonderful colors and beautiful plating sealed this selection’s status as a “must-order” dish.
We also loved our second entrée, which was free-range chicken breast atop wild mushroom risotto. I asked Chef Matt to tell me more about this dish. He sources the organic chicken from Mary’s Free-Range Organic Chicken, puts a nice sear on the chicken, and bastes it with his house-made herb butter. “I really enjoy making risotto, which I learned to make during my time at Bernardus,” he says. “It’s a time-consuming but very rewarding dish to prepare,” he adds. They use a carnaroli rice, lots of white wine, and Parmigiano-Reggiano to finish the dish. “Wild mushrooms are one of my favorite ingredients to work with, and I have worked closely with the same wild food forager for about 15 years now.” The plate also included grilled kale that was just incredible; I’m not certain how Chef Matt achieves that flavor but I am certain I’ll be ordering it again.
Next was dessert; the menu includes several housemade selections from Chef Michelle including a Valrhona chocolate budino and three dishes that Lee added in early November. These include frozen coffee toffee crunch, that’s reportedly out of this world, with a house-made “magic hard shell.” Because I had been studying the menu for many days before my visit and wasn’t going to be denied my Valhrona, we chose the budino. This has been on the menu since June and includes butterscotch sauce, chocolate ‘soil’ (streusel), maldon salt, and caramel tuile. If you’re unfamiliar with the term budino, it traditionally means custard or pudding. Michelle’s budino was creamy, sweet, decadent…ten days later and it’s still haunting me with its perfect flavors.
Chef Michelle says the budino is one of the C’s best-selling desserts. “As I go further along in my career, I have begun to embrace simplicity more than ever,” she says. “Sometimes chefs put all of their energy into the presentation of the dish, and the dish’s flavor and edibility get overlooked. I love the Budino’s purity.” Michelle says the main things people taste in it are chocolate and caramel, and she hopes it “brings you back to childhood or your favorite candy bar growing up.”
Chef Matt is very glad to be working with Michelle again. “She has been a key component to our pastry department, which we just developed.” He is also thrilled, in general, with his role at the hotel. Since coming on board, he has completely changed the restaurant and banquet menus and added some key players to the kitchen team: the aforementioned Michelle, and Neil Dunn. “Neil and I have now worked together four times on the Peninsula in the last 17 years (small town!) and he was here when I came on board as my Executive Sous Chef.”
“The feeling of rebuilding the culinary program from the ground up and creating something special is very rewarding to our team, and to our guests as well,” he adds. “This, paired with the location of this beautiful property on the waterfront and availability of some of the best ingredients in the country, make it a very exciting place to be a chef.”
After my unforgettable dinner, I rested well in the room’s extremely comfortable bed. In the morning, I took a short walk through the hotel to check out some of the amenities—I didn’t have time to take advantage of them this time, but wanted to know the offerings for a future visit. The fitness room was ample, with lots of equipment. Nearby, there was a one-lane lap pool that looked inviting as well as a Jacuzzi (I dipped my hand in and it’s kept nice and hot!). Then I visited the patio off the main lobby and noticed a couple fire pits—something else to take advantage of during the evening on a future visit—and strolled a few feet to the ocean’s edge for a breathtaking view.
After I returned to Santa Cruz, I did some research and learned a few more things about The Clement that I can’t wait to explore next time. For example, there is a jellyfish light installation on the “Grand Staircase” that has changing colors and an underwater sound effect, and the boardwalk surrounding the hotel has two cutout openings to allow peeks of the intertidal zone below. Until next time…
Almost forgot–if you want to reach the hotel or the restaurant, you can call them at (831) 375-4800.
Follow me on Twitter @santacruzfoodie.