Mentone invites you to feel glamorous, and to take your time, especially when the early evening light starts casting long, slanting rays into the vibrant interior. Filled with an attractive clientele and an upscale vibe, this laid-back venue for the delicious imagination of David Kinch (formerly of the 3-star Michelin Manresa) offers flawless service and a predictably exciting menu.
Here is a venue that inspires a serious look at the cocktail menu. I looked, chose, and smiled at the sight of a beautiful spagliato, one of the house Negroni variations ($15). A fat square ice cube held down the middle of the tumbler, surrounded by an astute blend of Luxardo bitter Bianco, quina (yes, like it sounds) and prosecco. The cocktail (perfection, by the way) was topped with a slice of dried lemon that might have been discovered in an agro-archaeological Eden. The bittersweet nose of cherries, cloves and orange zest heightened this pale golden creation, delivering Negroni dreams without the need for gin. And a brilliant partner for our shared opener of Stracciatella ($18.)
Two tall, tender wedges of focaccia accompanied the voluptuous dish. The creamy appetizer was compelling and rich. Here’s why: Stracciatella is the creamy cousin of buffalo mozzarella. Not for those determined to lower their cholesterol count in a single evening, the pampering substance is essentially fresh mozzarella curds mixed with cream. The effect is ultra-rich and luxurious, especially when topped surrounded with a designer olive oil as the Mentone kitchen does. Specifically, locally-made Wild Poppies Taggiasca olive oil, hand-crafted from the Aptos Hills estate.
Tender, creamy mozzarella and the green almond fragrance of the olive oil—along with focaccia so perfect it could give lessons—all called for more sips of the assertive negroni bianco. My companion, happy to nurse her classic gin martini ($12), two olives, agreed that the opening dish was very cocktail-friendly.
But then, so was the entire meal.
Next, we shared an aromatic Caesar salad with tangy, slightly bitter green and red chicories ($17). Elevating this Caesar above the merely imperial were astonishing rough-cut croutons (crisp, olive oil-drenched) and a creamy, perfectly balanced dressing. Large ribbons of shaved parmesan lounged lavishly here and there, offering themselves to each forkful.
Large enough to share, with some leftovers, the house pizzas showcase toppings that romance the palate, but even more—here is pizza crust so delicious it doesn’t need a topping. We did choose the most elaborate of the possibilities, the pizza funghi ($28). Arriving with puffed, crinkled crust, bearing the beautiful scorch marks of the wood-fired oven, the plump pie came adorned with king trumpet, hen-of-the-woods, portobello, all of which had been marinated in balsamic before chopping into tiny, bronzed cubes.
A layer of caramelized onion, taleggio and mozzarella formed the molten foundation for the mushrooms. The sweetness of the onion added balance and complexity to the earthy mushrooms and cheeses. Without question, this is a destination pizza and one to please palates that, like mine, aren’t wild about a large slick of tomato sauce on their pizzas.
The dessert might have been chocolate or hazelnut gelato. But for us, it was a barely sweet alabaster double scoop of fior di latte, pumped up into another planetary system with the generous drizzling of olive oil and sea salt ($7).
Creamy gelato is always relevant, and the surprise of oil and salt, two primal elements of the culinary galaxy, made this simple meal ending a magic moment all its own.
We can’t wait to try Mentone’s weekend brunch menu next.
Mentone California Riviera Dining, Aptos Village, 174 Aptos Village Way, Aptos. Wednesday-Sunday, 5-9pm; Saturday and Sunday, noon-2:30pm. mentonerestaurant.com