The new Mediterranean garden patio at Estéban restaurant in Monterey
August 22, 2023 – Having successfully triumphed over the rigors of opening the newly remodeled garden patio at Estéban Restaurant during Car Week, newly appointed executive chef Ben Hillan is busy tuning up the tapas menu. With an uncle who’s a chef for the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing team, cooking under pressure for people who love cars was likely second nature for Hillan, who was raised in Santa Cruz and attend the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco.
Serving up locally-inspired dishes to guests enjoying the stunning décor of the fully refreshed al fresco space at Casa Munras Garden Hotel & Spa, should also come easily for Hillan.
His career began at Seascape Beach Resort in Aptos, after which he joined Roy’s Spanish Bay culinary team, where he was mentored by celebrated chef Roy Yamaguchi. Before stepping most recently into the driver’s seat at Estéban Restaurant, Hillan was executive chef of Humble Sea Tavern in Felton, CA, which abruptly hit the skids in early August.
Estéban executive chef Ben Hillan
Estéban’s lush Mediterranean landscape, studded with copper fire pits and centered by a handsome stone fireplace with ample seating, just begs for equally classic, yet exotic fare.
Guests can enjoy savory-sweet bites like Datiles, which are sweet California Medjool dates stuffed with Point Reyes bleu cheese and wrapped in Serrano ham, or kick it up with Crispy Bruselas, seared Brussel sprouts with maple glazed Baker’s Bacon pork belly, truffle aioli and sherry reduction.
Seafood lovers will enjoy the Gambas al Plancha, starring flash fried wild Gulf prawns with garlic paprika oil, and Mejillones y Almejas, a stew of Little Neck clams, Tomales Bay mussels, chorizo, garlic, red onion, harissa and cilantro with saffron-achiote broth, accompanied by grilled Ad Astra bread. Libations include cocktails, sangrias and Spanish wines.
Estéban’s patio transformation, although already dramatic, with its mature plantings, including lemon and olive trees, blue Agave plants, Spanish lavender, Santa Barbara daisies, lemon drop fortnight lilies and bougainvillea, will continue to evolve.
A perfect spot to enjoy tapas and a glass of sangria
It now boasts three distinct dining spaces, stitched seamlessly into a soaring Mediterranean sanctuary. Those who enjoy a bird’s eye view will gravitate towards the upper deck area, where bar-height tables offer a superb vantage point for the action below.
Five hammered copper firepit tables with comfy seating for four, provide cozy spots to share a glass of wine and some Croquetas de Jamon with Manchego, mojo rojo and garlic aioli, or classic Patatas Bravas with an over easy egg. Everywhere you look, vibrant plantings in terracotta and ceramic pots provide the warmth and ambience of a Spanish courtyard.
Designed, like the menu, with seasonality top of mind, Estéban’s gardens will offer spectacular color and fragrant blooms all year long. Expect even more exciting additions to the patio over the coming months, but don’t wait to see this stunning spot that awaits you now. It’s always time for tapas – and sangria!
The refreshed patio inspires al fresco dining and nibbling
Tapas Hour at Estéban is from 4:30 pm to 6:00 pm daily. Estéban Restaurant and patio dinner hours are from 4:30 pm to 8:30 pm, Sunday – Thursday, and 4:30 pm to 9:00 pm on Friday and Saturday.
Estéban features Spanish cuisine with a California flair, located in the heart of Monterey at the Casa Munras Garden Hotel & Spa, 700 Munras Avenue, Monterey, CA 93940, (831) 375-0176. Complimentary on-site parking is available.
Laura Ness is a longtime wine journalist, columnist and judge who contributes regularly to Edible Monterey Bay, Spirited, WineOh.Tv, Los Gatos Magazine and Wine Industry Network, and a variety of consumer publications. Her passion is telling stories about the intriguing characters who inhabit the fascinating world of wine and food.