If you’re interested in a classic French bistro, I’ll suggest Bistro Moulin, which is just up the hill from the Aquarium. Dinner Wed-Sun, reservations STRONGLY suggested. Owner/chef Didier Dutertre is very traditionalist, so it’s housemade soup stocks and heavy whipping cream - calories and cholesterol should be ignored, LOL. 867 Wave St, Monterey
For hearty American comfort food in large portions - excellent salads and great fried calamari (he uses strips of calamari steak, not those tasteless babies); as well as an excellent old fashioned chicken salad with tender, juicy chunks of chicken breast - try SUR at The Barnyard in Carmel Valley. Service is excellent, popular with locals/groups. We like that they use (or did, pre-pandemic) Numi tea, as we’re very fond of the Aged Earl Grey which tastes like Earl Grey used to taste before it went all flowery and fake esters. 3601 The Barnyard, Valley Barn Building Suite A-21, Carmel
For breakfast, quick light lunch, or teatime, there is nothing - and we mean nothing - better than Parker Lusseau Patisserie. Only the tiny 539 Hartnell St. location remains open (near the Post Office). Monday-Friday 7:30-4 & Saturday 7:30-3:30. Suffice to say despite the many French bakeries (see note, below) in Monterey/Carmel/PacGrove, only PLP makes the small, delicate, fragile Parisian croissants - so good you can eat them plain, no butter/toasting/jam. Tug an end and you can unravel a strip almost 2’ long; this is a true French butter laminated dough.
Our habit was to call up PLP, place an order for plain and almond croissants, fruit pastries, and whole quiches; then pick it up as we left town, packing it all in an ice chest. Once home, immediately freeze the croissants for later. We like them better than Rotha/Albany. If you are familiar with SF’s Arnicault’s croissants, one HO member who had tried both Arnicault and PLP said they were equally good.
Note: In late 2018 we went to every bakery in the Monterey area and bought a plain croissant to do a head-to-head taste test. Wasn’t even a contest; PLP won hands-down.
And if you’re looking for an amazing Sunday brunch (and the weather’s nice):
Lucia Restaurant @Bernardus Lodge - 415 W. Carmel Valley Rd., Carmel Valley. Note this is really far down the road - we use it as our last meal before leaving the area. DIY parking as you enter, down to the left (do NOT park in the valet parking slots; public parking is just past those). Beautiful dining room, lovely veranda seating, and sybaritic outdoor dining area behind the hotel. Phenomenal service, only Aubergine at L’Auberge Carmel, the tiny 12-table five-star restaurant inside the Relais & Chateaux hotel, does better.
The location of Lucia works really well if you are taking 101 North back to the SFBA. Bernardus Resort is bordered by Laureles Grade Road, which is a wonderful scenic, twisting road that connects straight into the Monterey-Salinas Hwy 68 - after Laguna Seca.
This avoids the most crowded stretch of #68 and has made our return drive a bit less stressful.
And yes, if you feel like splurging but have never been able to pay the Benu/Atelier Crenn et. al. cost, Aubergine is a steal at $205/pp. Justin Cogley is a Relais & Chateaux Grand Chef and worth every penny. Monte Verde St &, 7th Ave, Carmel-By-The-Sea.