Peppers Mexicali Cafe, 170 Forest Avenue, Pacific Grove, CA 93950
Date: 26 Nov 11
Cost (Value): $$$ (4)
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General: When a little after-Turkey Day comida is in order, nothing hits the spot like good Mexican food. Peppers is another one of Pacific Grove's classic eateries that puts a non-traditional spin on some of foodies' favorite fare.
I ordered: Chile verde with corn tortillas. My lunch companions ate a smoked gouda quesadilla, a enchilada-style beef burrito, a combination plate with a guacamole taco and beef enchilada, and a boel of "Yesterday's Soup" (sweet corn and cheddar chowder).
Good: One of the first things that struck me when I entered Peppers was the excellent atmosphere and yummy smells; the decorations were plentiful (but not gaudy), the music was present (but not overpowering), and there was a full bar just inside the door! While good atmosphere does not always translate into good food, it can certainly contribute to an overall dining experience. The chips and salsas were delicious; the light, crunchy corn triangles tasted fresh and served as the perfect vehicle for transporting each of two (verde and roja) tangy, tasty salsas to my mouth. And what could be better than good chips and salsa? A fast and friendly wait staff that refills both without being asked... I am a sucker restaurants that enjoy the fact that their patrons enjoy their chips and salsa! I ordered my chile verde extra spicy (there is a note in the menu warning customers that the chile verde is already a very spicy dish), and I was hoping the chef would not let me down. When the food was served, I thought it was presented very nicely. It was obvious that each dish was plated to look good as well as taste good; a mix of colorful edibles, such as peppers, guacamole, and olives made each dish visually appealing. Further, it as obvious that the value was there, as eat plate contained a lot of food. Focusing on my dish, I was ready to eat! So many restaurants assume they know what is best for their customers' taste buds, despite what the customer might request, but not Peppers... They gave me exactly what I asked for (woowee!) and it was GOOD! The chile verde popped and deliver the spice I was looking for... Cooled a bit by a judicious application of sour cream, the flavor was nearly perfect. I also had the opportunity taste the "Yesterday's Soup" ordered by one of my companions; the corn and cheddar chowder was hearty, sweet, and flavorful. Reports from my friends about their dishes were also generally positive: the smoked gouda quesadilla was gourmet, with chicken, red peppers, olives, and artichoke hearts, and looked grilled rather than pan or griddle-fried; the beef burrito was hearty; and the combination was a good balance of heavy and light that delviered on the flavor front.
Bad: "Into each life, a little rain must fall..." There were a couple of chinks in Peppers' armor that kept this from being an absolutely terrific experience... Food temperature was an issue for me and at least one of my companions; the first time my chile verde came out, the pork was only lukewarm (but, our waiter cheerfully fixed the problem right away). And, while the chile verde was packed with flavor, the rice and beans were very plain and bland; depending on what you expect from your rice and beans, this may not be a problem, particularly since in this case they managed to be a good counterpoint to the super spicy pork and tasted extremely fresh. They were a little stingy with the corn tortillas, giving me only two small tortillas for A LOT of chile verde; admittedly, I did not request any extras, so I am unsure if they would have brought me more free of charge. Lasty, it is worth noting that my friend that ordered the beef burrito was surprised to find that it contained cubed stew meat, rather than shredded beef like she expected; she also said that the sauce covering the burrito was a deep red mole-style sauce that was very sweet and earthy, which might appeal to some but was not to her personal taste.
Overall: Peppers Mexicali Cafe was a pleasant surprise, and their unqiue twist on traditional dishes provided the perfect mix of both visual and culinary appeal. A few issues (easily corrected) would not keep me from going back to this solid Mexican eatery.