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Dazed and Confused: Basquing on the Beach

I feel I must start this post with my philosophy for writing these reviews for you. I’m not a chef, and therefore have no right to criticize. I prefer to inspire you by telling you what I enjoy no matter where we go. I don’t want to be a “restaurant critic” because everyone has bad nights, servers in bad moods, stand-in cooks. I simply want to inspire you to try everything and make up your own mind, but also have been told I know good food, which is why I started posting to begin with. So please accept this post in that spirit as you read. Now, on to the day AFTER 4/20, which may explain why I entitled this post “Dazed and Confused.”

Great friends Mel and Bob (from our evening at Marisol) invited us to join them at a new restaurant that opened in place of Old Vienna, the only German food we’ve found in the county. I was terribly excited to hear it was Basque food, which we have thoroughly enjoyed on each trip we’ve taken to the Tenth Street Basque Cafe in San Miguel. That place always amazes and amuses us. A single seating on Friday, Saturday and Sunday inside an old house. You don’t just feel like you’re eating in someone’s dining room – you are! Red berets, passing the wine skin, non-stop courses being brought out in big dishes to your table to share, unusual preparations of seafoods, meats and produce ending in Chef Dallas’ scrumptious paella. This is what I was expecting at this new Basque restaurant only a few minutes from my house. I was excited.

We park and approach the entrance to what used to be our beloved German restaurant and noticed the sign. It read “Alphy’s Basque Chateau,” and I’m making a point in saying this next part: each word was in a different font. I can hear the groans of all the people who just stopped reading, but for those of you who know why this is the 8th Deadly Sin know that this set me on edge. I was also thinking “Wait, isn’t Alphy short for Alphonse, which is probably Italian – Basque is Spanish – and a Chateau is French?” Inside the entry is the old familiar bar – still with German signs all over it, and very little seems to have actually been updated in the restaurant. In fact, the German signs on the bathroom doors are still up. “No biggie. I’m here for the food,” I tell myself.

The place is loud and busy. I take my plastic seat at the corner table and join our friends. The drink menu is limited (I’m assuming still in development) but our friends brought a magnum of wine to share. The menu, to me, looks decidedly American and includes steak, chicken, pork chops, scallops, shrimp and lamb – the barbecued meats are cooked over an oak pit. That has promise. The dishes are expensive, but it’s because they come with multiple courses brought to the table – soup, salad, potatoes with peppers, carrots with mint, pasta, ice cream or wine sorbet after dinner – and pickled beef tongue. Cool. I like new experiences. But here we are by the sea in Shell Beach eating mostly “mountain” food – we’ll have to see how this goes.

The staff was friendly and on it. I’m glad about that for a new place, because that’s so often not the case. The only hiccup I detected was when I asked about getting a mojito and was told they didn’t have any mint. But the carrots with mint have the prerequisite mint, I thought, and let it go. My server recommended the lamb shank, which I agreed to. The rest of the table all got something different on the menu, so we had lots of notes to compare.

Basque Soup

Basque Soup with Beans and Salsa

The soup was fun. Big bowls with accompanying beans and salsa (yaay, Spanish food) to add as you choose. Nice flavors, but really salty. Soup is really tough to make for a lot of people eating over a long period of time because the water cooks off and concentrates the salt. Bread and butter were bread and butter. Then came the salad and beef tongue. The salad was truly delicious. Simple, but a fantastic dressing. The beef tongue was an adventure. I did not like looking at the consistency, so cut it in thin strips. It crumbled because it was tender, and had a nice flavor. Pickled tongue is to steak like canned sardines are to halibut. Get the picture? It was a fun side dish which I would experiment with again.

Beef Tongue and Salad at Alphy's Basque Chateau in Shell Beach

Pickled Beef Tongue and Salad (try saying it holding your tongue)

The Donati Family Claret on the table made everything better. A delicious Bordeaux blend of red wine perfect for a dinner like this. My entree came out with the aforementioned sides. Potatoes with peppers were excellent. The carrots were diced small and cooked well (with the mint stolen from mojitos). Very tasty. The pasta was well done. The lamb shank was my biggest disappointment, even after the recommendation from the waiter. It was mostly fat, tasted a bit gamey, and came out luke warm. In fact, we heard from the rest of the table that about three quarters of the entrees were luke warm as well. I helped myself to tasting some of the others’ food. The steaks were beautifully cooked and had that familiar oak flavor we’re used to here on the Central Coast. I will be getting that next time. The scallops looked delicious, and I was told they were. The pork chop looked very well prepared and was super thick and barbecued just as I like it.

I’m not down on the place at all. I was just a bit confused on this first visit. So I came home and did some research and found out that Basque food can vary from the more coastal Spanish influences to the more mountainous French influences. So even though it wasn’t the Basque cuisine I was expecting, it ended up being something new and different.

I think we’ll give Alphy’s Basque Chateau a little time to get into their groove and maybe change the German signs on the bathroom doors. I look forward to going back to try some steaks and pork chops – I’ll ask for them to be served hot next time. And I’ll bring people who know more about this kind of food than I obviously do to get their opinions. As for while I’m waiting, this experience has renewed my desire to go check out the Tenth Street Basque Cafe again. Do any of you want to join us? It’s a place in the mountains serving seafood. Go figure.

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11 thoughts on “Dazed and Confused: Basquing on the Beach

  1. Pingback: Pedro Loves Laetitia « SHEdrinksHEeats

  2. Melane` on said:

    Doug, you summed it up nicely. I couldn’t agree more on each and every point. (I even attempted to say Pickled Beef Tongue & Salad while holding my own tongue, nice touch!) The service was good after taking into consideration the young man serving us was working the entire BIG room himself. A lot for one server. He had at least two table of ten or more guests, which could account for the luke warm food upon delivery. One person can not get that many plates out fast enough to be delivered well. Not his fault.
    They were a bit pricey, as you mentioned there were a lot of side included, however, I found that by the time the family style side dishes made their way to me, there wasn’t really enough left to be considered a full serving. So in this case less is not more, just less. Fof the money, I would lide to get a full scoop of each side, not just two or three bites.
    I too will give Alhoy’s Basque Chateau a goodly amount of time to get thier legs under them before going back. However, I fully intend to join you on your next outting to Tenth Street Basque Cafe. I’ll bring the wine. 😉

    • It was a blast, Mel. Always is with you guys, so thank you for the invite. As far as the sides, our waiter told me that you could order as much as you wanted of each course before they took them away to make room for the next course. I’m not sure how that affects the sides that came with the entrees, but good to check into. If they or anyone else who knows is reading this, please let us know.

      I’m sure you look great in a red beret. Can’t wait! 🙂

  3. Silly girl, didn’t you remember that the Germans invaded France and controlled the French Basque area. The signs are left over from the war. I checked with the Austrians who occupied the building previous to the Basque folks. LOL

  4. Shelly on said:

    I’m glad you guys gave it a try. We’ve been too chicken. The fonts and the name just threw us off. Plus we had great basque food in Buffalo, WY (lots of Basque sheepherders in that part of Wyoming) and just aren’t sure how Alphy’s will be able to pull it off. We’ll give it a few months, too. We’ll keep listening to the reviews and see if we’ll get brave enough to try it. Glad you guys enjoyed Cuvee. It’s a cute place.

    • Hi Shelly. I have the feeling it will be the kind of place that if you order just the right thing on the right night, it will be very enjoyable. Just a little all over the map right now, but expect that for being new. Let’s keep our fingers crossed and go to Tenth Street sometime. Have you been there?

  5. Tenth Street Basque Cafe in San Miguel

    I told you they had red berets at Tenth Street Cafe. 🙂

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