Between us we’ve seen a good bit of the world and dined in some of the best places, but neither of us can remember any spot that is more beautifully situated than the Studio at the Montage.
To enjoy the experience at its most perfect, choose a warm summer night when you want to celebrate a special occasion.
We waited to review it for just such an evening and the occasion was both Elle’s birthday and the day her first grandchild was born.
Situated on a point above the sea, surrounded by lush, green lawns and arching palms, the Studio is an elegant free-standing Craftsman style cottage, nestled below the hotel.
As we entered the graceful high-ceilinged room, we were impressed with the towering, contemporary floral arrangements in the reception area.
We were impressed once more by the light and airy dining room with floor-to-ceiling windows and French doors framing the spectacular view. Every table in each of the three dining rooms and two patio areas looks out onto the sea.
A delicate ocean breeze wafted through the open doors as the sun gradually sank into the sea.
From the moment we were seated, it was apparent that the service here was first class in the nicest possible way: no pretension but definite professionalism; no rehearsed speeches describing the menu, but obvious knowledge about ingredients and preparation; attentiveness without intrusiveness.
Chef James Boyce’s teachers were French and he has a high respect for the freshest, seasonal ingredients.
The menu is constantly changing and he employs a forager to bring him the very finest fruits and vegetables which he prepares simply to allow them to shine.
If you want to have a broad sampling of his talents, try the chef’s six-course tasting menu ($125 or $200 with wine pairings). This menu is re-invented frequently.
On one recent evening it featured a crab and grape gelÃ©e, Dutch white asparagus with black pepper hollandaise, avocado and blood orange salad with French curry dressing, then pan-seared snapper with saffron-poached cuttlefish, chorizo and wild watercress, followed by grilled lamb loin with hummus, niÃ§oise olives and sage jus.
For dessert, there was honey and yogurt panna cotta with rhubarb soup and tropical fruits.
This is all preceded by an amuse bouche (a tasty little mouthful to tickle your palate) and succeeded by an amuse guele (a plate of tiny bite-sized desserts), making it a perfect dinner for a celebratory evening.
As we relaxed into the California casual good life, we marveled at the view and munched on warm brioche, sourdough and walnut raisin bread.
We were offered bottled water from a silver tray: our choice of flat or bubbly at no extra charge. We were delighted that they were above using the old trick of bumping up the bill with expensive waters.
Also, they only charge a $15 corkage fee even though they have a very extensive wine list with bottles that cost up to $7,943, though they offer a very nice selection of reasonably priced wines as well.
A little bit of heaven arrived on a spoon: Israeli couscous dressed with excellent olive oil and a bit of lemon juice and topped with tiny cubes of salmon that had been smoked in house over cedar chips and rosemary.
Our first two courses were just ducky. The very lightly smoked breast, which we ordered rare, was bathed in a port wine reduction with a hint of foie gras and natural juices, garnished with a ragout of roasted red bell pepper, fresh corn and leeks.
Although the duck breast was cooked perfectly, its taste was somewhat timid. However, the sauce and vegetables were quite flavorful.
We know that eating foie gras may be politically incorrect, but when it appears on a menu we balance our guilty conscience against the anticipation of exquisite pleasure "” and pleasure always wins, especially when knowing that it may disappear from menus altogether in the near future.
Good for ducks, bad for us. The velvety texture and sublime richness of flavor is enough to make you swoon. It was served on a buttery, crispy biscuit with a lovely complement of peachy goodness: a lightly cooked, warm, fresh peach and some tangy slivers of dried peach. They gilded the lily with a glass of sweet Tokay wine.
Now a palate cleanser, an intelligent tradition that we hate to say has mostly disappeared.
Ours was a bright, refreshing watermelon salad with both red and yellow melon, shaved fennel, cucumbers and a sprinkling of feta cheese.
With our cleansed taste buds, we were ready for the sea scallops. SautÃ©ed in butter and set on a rich, buttery artichoke puree, they were capped with chopped morels and artichoke hearts. Intended as a sweet and tangy note on the plate were some quickly cooked cherries.
The scallops were plump, moist and delicious but the morels were surprisingly salty and the cherries were a misguided touch as they clashed rather than enhanced the savory dish. The flavors just didn’t marry well.
Before we go on to desserts, we would like to mention that we shared all of these dishes. Each plate was divided in the kitchen and each was presented beautifully with a generous amount of the accompaniments, including a second glass of Tokay, all without a split charge.
To finish, we selected their stone fruit cobbler, which arrived accompanied by a surprise dessert for the birthday girl. The cobbler was served cold, tooth-achingly cold, so we let it warm a bit and instead dove into the devils food cake with raspberry puree and lemon cream, all wrapped up in wonderful dark chocolate ribbon... a splendid blend of flavors.
The cobbler topping was a buttery, crispy homemade granola and beneath it was a sweet and tart mixture of fresh peaches, plums and apricots.
At this point of sugar saturation, another plate appeared with tiny bites of pretty little baby desserts. We called for the take-out boxes!
ELLE HARROW AND TERRY MARKOWITZ owned a la Carte for 20 years and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.