Bernardus Lodge property in Carmel Valley offers an olive orchard, rows of lavender, beehives and an organic garden. Ojeda is able to change the menu as new ingredients arrive, “and when I get bored.” It’s not necessary, however, for chefs to have such direct access. “We have some great purveyors,” Rotondo observes. “The farmers are the true artists here. I don’t like to manipulate much.” For Rotondo, the tasting menu at Coastal Kitchen is a canvas that cannot be finished. There are so many brushstrokes available. He prefers to be guided by the ingredients available. Because he prepares a menu of Spanish favorites, including paella, Garcia relies in part on authentic ingredients from Europe. “You have to stay true to the dish,” he explains. Yet he also lugs bags of produce from area farmers markets and visits local farms. “I ask what they have planted,” he notes. “Many will say, ‘if you want us to grow something, let us know.’” The results of all this talent and consideration pent up in many of the county’s hotel restaurants can be stunning. At Sea Root in the Hyatt Regency Monterey, both the bread and butter are made in house. The former is sturdy, with smoky wisps, the latter rich and tangy, as if the cows ranged on wild grasslands. Pilaf studded with sausage, apricots and dates is so compelling it becomes a distraction from the chicken it supports. Little pops of unexpected flavor can be found throughout the menu— pomegranate bursting brightly from the char of an eggplant spread, fresh mint and sweet peas vying for attention in an earthy tabbouleh. Sea Root Chef Dan Elinan roams widely around the Mediterranean with his menu, while narrowing in on local flavors. “What part of those cuisines have touched us in California?” he says, explaining the concept. “We think we can offer a new level of Mediterranean.” Chefs giving standards a little elevated flair is not unusual. It is, however, quite a distance from the fundamental meat and potatoes of yore, when hotel restaurants planned for a less adventurous crowd. Chez Zachary Ladwig of The Sur House at Alila Ventana Big Sur had taken Inn Crowd 20 The Best of Monterey Bay ® EAT + DRINK 2023-2024 Salt Wood Kitchen & Oysterette Daniel Dreifuss