Here’s a question – what is the best way to find good restaurants when you’re traveling? We met a couple in Santorini this summer who said they like to find local food blogs to scour in advance — but I think that sometimes these can be hard to locate. And in a foreign country, it can also be hard to find blogs in your own language!
TripAdvisor burned us a few times when we were in Greece. I’m tired of seeing posters prominently displayed in restaurant windows advertising their TripAdvisor awards and stars. Particularly in Europe, it just feels like these places are catering to tourists. Maybe Yelp is okay for U.S. restaurants and I shouldn’t lump them in with our international TripAdvisor experiences…
Why do I care so much? Well, I have been writing a food blog for over three years now, so I obviously value food and the dining experience. BUT I think there is also a certain pressure we put on meals when we are out of town. We have set aside this money for a nice vacation experience and we want to get a good return on our investment!
Two weekends ago, Chris and I had the chance to go to Monterey, California for one of his college friend’s wedding. We arrived in town a night early and decided to treat ourselves to a nice date. It felt like it had been awhile since we’d done this with grad school and everything else going on. I had just finished my last paper of the semester too, so it was a great occasion to celebrate! PS – I just can’t believe I survived ten credits of coursework and a full-time job this semester!
Anyway, I was all over the Internet on Thursday afternoon looking for a good restaurant, so fixated that we didn’t even get the chance to listen to the newest Serial podcast like we’d planned. I ended up reading a few local newspaper reviews for Bistro Moulin, a French restaurant, and confirmed that the place seemed great on Yelp. We decided to try it out.
Bistro Moulin is downtown on Cannery Row near the Monterey Aquarium, an area that every visitor to Monterey needs to make sure to see. It was already dark by the time we arrived and the streets were empty. It made me wonder if Monterey is a sleepy town.
We walked into the tiny restaurant and felt immediately transported to France. The tables were covered in red, whimsical cloths. Vintage-style posters covered the walls; I got to stare at one of Amélie behind Chris’ head the whole evening. Water was served to us in a glass milk bottle and we were greeted quickly with some delicious baguette toasts and a carrot tapenade spread.
I was craving something green after a day of travel, and knew that pommes frites were on the way, so I ordered a cup of fresh zuchinni soup. The dish was generously spiced with pepper and paprika, maybe with a bit too much spice, but I couldn’t stop eating it all the same.
Though the list of French wines was extensive, we wanted to try something more local so we went with a wine from the surrounding Carmel County, a 2012 “Maddie” Madeleine Cabernet Franc-Merlot blend. It was a bit aggressive at first, but really opened up as the meal went on!
Chris went with the duck entrée for his dinner and thoroughly enjoyed it. I had a taste as well and the meat was so tender. I must admit that I didn’t love my mussels, but I couldn’t tell if it was the style that I just did not prefer or if they were overcooked. The onion broth over and under the mussels was delicious though, and I couldn’t get enough of the garlic aioli that went with my pommes frites. Bon appétit!
I’m still not sure about the best way to find a good restaurant in an unfamiliar area, but one thing is for sure, I need to start looking further in advance. It’s tough to scramble on your iPhone in a new area when you just want to relax and head to dinner! In the U.S. at least, I do like the idea of finding local magazines, newspapers, and blogs for some buzz, then validating the choice by Yelp and the restaurant’s website. Personal recommendations are always great too – if you trust the person’s preferences of course!
By the way, after we woke up the next morning and had the chance to absorb our surroundings in the daylight… we realized that Monterey is gorgeous!