| Luxury At Bayside |
This morning in Monterey is beyond glorious. Throwing open the windows to the briny tang of the bay, we hear the shreik of gulls. Seals barking. Terns are diving for breakfast. But what’s that, those floating fur blobs in the forest of kelp? Handy, here’s a pair of binos for closer investigation. Ahhh, just as we suspected: fat sea otters, lazing on their backs. Nine of them! Then we happen to look straight down, into the shallows below. Holy mackerel, what are those things—we’ve never seen anything like them before—hundreds of small, bright orange crustaceans doing Olympian leg kicks, jellyfish-like, to feed at the surface.
“Oh, you mean the tuna crab,” says Jeff Modaff when we meet later that morning. He’s director of rooms at the luxury Monterey Plaza Hotel & Spa. In all his years at the hotel he’s never seen these creatures here before. But as ocean temperatures rise due to climate change and El Niño, the crabs—actually a species of lobster from warm Mexican waters—have expanded their territory up the California coast. Never as far north as Monterey Bay, though, until now.
That’s precisely why we’re staying at the Monterey Plaza, as if reason enough isn’t its unbeatable bayfront location. Like the Monterey Bay Aquarium a short stroll away, there was once a sardine factory here (before that it was the sumptuous Casa de las Olas, House of the Waves, built by a San Francisco lawyer in the early 1900s). More importantly for today and our imperiled environmental future, these two anchors of famed Cannery Row are both paragons of sustainability and champions of healthy oceans. The Monterey Plaza is a certified green business and early adopter of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch program, which promotes the consumption of only sustainable seafood. It is also firmly and admirably rooted in the Monterey region with its active outreach in support of local community organizations.
Climate change in Monterey
Monterey, on California’s central coast, is on the front lines of climate change. The waters of Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, as well as surrounding coastal areas and communities, are already experiencing sea level change, increasing sea surface temperature and ocean acidification. At the same time it has been particularly hard hit by the California drought (though water officials say the situation has eased due to last winter’s more abundant rains).
John Narigi, the hotel’s general manager, serves on the Coalition of Peninsula Businesses, an association of Monterey-area business and community organizations advocating for sustainable water solutions. At his hotel, he’s overseen a wide range of water-saving measures that have cut consumption in half, from the installation of ultra-low-flow toilets and showerheads and waterless urinals to homegrown solutions that rinse pots, dishes and cookware with recycled water and compressed air…and seagull poop on the outside common areas. In the laundry, using polymer water beads reduces water use by up to 70 percent.
Other eco-friendly hotel practices include green (non-toxic) cleaning, extensive recycling, electric vehicle charging at no extra cost for guests and more.
Daily (sustainable) catch
A big part of that “more” can be found on the plates of diners at the hotel’s flagship restaurant, Schooners Coastal Kitchen & Bar. As handsome as its schooner-like interior of polished wood is, the indisputable showstopper, day or night, is Monterey Bay itself, which is framed in huge windows on two walls. And the pride of the kitchen is a posting of the day’s seafood offerings listing catch method and place of origin.
Nicole Heaney, chef du cuisine since 2014, is an enthusiastic fan of what that posting means: preserving the world’s marine resources in the face of today’s huge demand for seafood. Her kitchen serves no fish or other seafood that is not in adequate supply—and harvested in a manner that does not despoil the marine environment and injure other sea life. In this she follows the lead of her boss, Executive Chef James Waller, long a vocal advocate of seafood sustainability. Chef Waller is actively involved with the Monterey Bay Aquarium and a founding member of the organization’s Seafood Watch.
“Of course, it still comes down to how your food tastes,” Heaney says. “If you aren’t happy with what’s on your plate, it doesn’t matter what it is or how it was caught.”
And we’re delighted to reassure you on that score. At dinner, we start with a small plate of charred octopus (from Spain, said by Seafood Watch to be a good alternative to Alaskan octopus) that is meltingly tender and perfectly charred, then paired with celery heart, gremolata and Spanish peppers. An awesome beginning. A kale and beet salad is lovely with avo and a red wine vinaigrette. Then come our entrees. First, pan-seared local petrale sole accompanied by roasted heirloom carrots, toasted coriander, preserved lemon beurre blanc and garlic mashed potatoes. Yum! Also, Asian-style Hawaiian ahi tuna, coated with black sesame and seared; plated with baby bok choy, sauteed red kelp, roasted veggies and a soy dashi sauce. Double yum!
It’s worth noting that, compared to typical fine dining in San Francisco just a few hours north, portions are nearly double in size. And Roland, our server, is the perfect ambassador of Filipino hospitality. It’s a night of sophisticated but straightforward dining, made all the more memorable by the knowledge that we have done no harm to that that unspeakably beautiful ocean just outside our window.
Thank you, Monterey Plaza Hotel & Spa, for providing such a satisfying—and green—stay.