I had a new dining partner helping out with Sunday's review - Abbey, one of our dogs. When Monkey Cat noted on its website that it was "dog friendly," the journalist in me thought I needed to check it out and find the right companion for the job. Though Oscar, our big Rhodesian ridgeback-mix, is the pack leader, we left him behind because, well, having an alpha dog that close to plates of food is not always the best idea. When he gets really food-focused, Oscar starts to howl.
Being dog friendly is something that is important to a surprising number of folks who go out to eat, myself included. Years before I became The Bee's restaurant critic, I would look for places that allowed pets access on the patio. That eventually led me to Carmel, where dogs are treated like royalty and are allowed to roam off-leash on the spectacular public beach. There are several restaurants in Carmel that are dog friendly, but Monkey Cat is right up there with them.
Beyond canine companions, let's revisit one recurring issue with the food. In recent weeks, I have referred several times to dishes that were timid or bland or that seemed to play it too safe when it comes to flavors. That doesn't mean I only appreciate food that is big and bold, the culinary equivalent of a neon red and white striped shirt. I'm not suggesting that more is necessarily better. Food won't improve by simply dumping more herbs and spices into the pot. My concern is that sometimes kitchens seem to be preparing food and sending it out to the dining room without tasting it. The best dishes I encounter are well balanced, but they also have flavors that pop. There is a clarity of purpose that shines through in terms of flavors.
Though I enjoyed several dishes at Monkey Cat, the ones that were less intriguing made me wonder if the person cooking them actually tasted the recipe that day to see if it was hitting the mark.
This coming Sunday, I will be reviewing a restaurant that reminded me of this issue once again - because the flavors had great clarity and heft.