Over Spring Break my family decided to take our dogs and visit Pacific Grove for a few days. I love Pacific Grove! The weather is nice, it is right by the sea and the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and most importantly, Pacific Grove has great food! One night we decided to go to Il Vecchio, and it was one of the best decisions we have ever made.
When walking through the door I saw a little chalkboard sign saying “Il Vecchio House Rules:”. These three simple rules are “It’s okay to start eating the moment your food arrives”, “If your food is not perfect let us know…IMMEDIATLEY”, and “CELEBRATE!”. My mom pointed out a larger chalkboard wall around the door. Written on it were cool trivia-like facts like, “All the paintings were painted in Queens, New York.”, “The chairs were collected from all around the country. Three of them were built in 1840.”, and “I built the tables out of salvaged oak wood flooring from Brooklyn, New York.”. When we sat down I looked around at the chairs that were mentioned on the board. I couldn’t find one that had a twin; each was unique and a little different from the other. Some had cushions attached to them, some had round backs, and others had square ones. Everything looked like it has been recycled from something; the tables, the windows, even the lights. The place looked so different, interesting, and so cool! Every time I looked around the room I noticed something that I hadn’t noticed the previous times. There was a cute little bar with paintings on a white painted brick wall. Near it was a stone hearth that wasn’t lit, I assume due to a table being right in front of it. When I looked at the hearth again I noticed a mantle with a line of old looking books on it. It reminded me of a cozy living room. I also noticed an opening that allowed me to see a little bit of the kitchen. Above it was an old clock and to the left was a cool map of Italy. As I sat down I could just hear what sounded like a guitar playing an Italian tune. The whole place felt comforting and homey.
Our server brought us bread with olive oil and balsamic to dip. The bread was warm and soft and the olive oil and balsamic had a cool twist. It came on a small plate with the oil and balsamic separated by a little wall of cut red bell pepper. I could taste a little bit of the sweet flavor from the peppers, which went wonderfully with the balsamic.
There were so many amazing choices to choose from. I went with the pesce pesto: wild rock cod, white wine, garlic, pesto, fresh spinach, and sautéed vegetables. The light, flakey fish was completely smothered in smooth, creamy pesto. My mom had the gnocchi with tomato and basil sauce. It was the best, lightest, fluffiest gnocchi we have ever had! My brother tried it and absolutely loved it! It seemed to almost melt in my mouth. There was a little olive oil in the tomato sauce and the parmesan sprinkled on top melts a little on the warm potato pillows. The dish was decorated with little bits of basil. The owner came by and talked to us. He explained how to make the gnocchi. He told us to bake 3 large russet potatoes. When half cooled peel the skins off. Using a ricer, smash all the potato. Put in 2 eggs and a pinch of salt, then enough flower to make a ball that isn’t sticky. Then roll out a rope and cut pieces every 2 inches. Press the pieces into a ball and put a thumbprint in each one. Then put them in boiling water until they float, wait 10 seconds, and pull them out. He recommended serving them with butter and olive oil. There were so many delicious choices for dessert. Of course my brother picked his favorite dessert, Tiramisu. “When it arrived, it looked cute but not like it will be super decadent…Then you dip a spoon in and find layers of rich creamy flavor”, said my mom. We could taste the flavor of the rum it was made with and I thought it was nice, not too heavy, and creamy. It was hard for me to decide, but I decided to try the cannoli. The owner came by again and he told me “Don’t use a fork to cut it, pick it up like a hotdog. You can use a fork if you want, I won’t fault you for it. But if it breaks I might laugh at you.”. The cannoli was decorated with what tasted like flakes of dark chocolate and some cocoa and a little sprinkle of powdered sugar. The shell was so light and crispy. The shell was delicate and I followed the owner’s advice to be careful not to break the light shell as you pick it up to eat. The filling was so fresh and smooth and had a hint of orange flavor. It wasn’t gritty at all like some cannoli’s can be. My parents shared the Mascarpone Ricotta Cheesecake special. The cheesecake had 2 creamy layers and was rich but not overly so. My dad said his favorite part was the crust, which was very sweet and dense.
We loved the place so much that we decided to go again the next night. I had fallen in love with the gnocchi and so had my brother. We both ordered it with the tomato basil sauce. My dad got the vegan soup with leeks and potatoes. I thought it was nice that there was a vegan option available. My dad said that it had good flavor, and that he didn’t miss the cream at all. My mom got the penne al forno. The whole thing was baked in a skillet with all the pasta and cheeses mixed in. There were crispy bits of baked cheese on top with creamy gooey cheese underneath. The whole thing had flakes of basil and parmesan cheese sprinkled over it. My parents shared a side of broccoli. “Best side of broccoli I’ve ever had”, my dad said. There was just a little bit of olive oil and garlic and he loved that it was grilled.
Of course we all had to get the same incredible desserts we got the night before. My mom and brother each got their own tiramisu, my dad got the cheesecake again and I had another one of the fresh, light cannoli. The owner remembered us from last night and asked us if we remembered the gnocchi recipe. My dad had memorized it word for word and recited it.
Il Vecchio is very comfortable, nice, and homey. They make amazing comfort food and I love how creamy and fresh everything tastes! It is a wonderful place to take family, friends, and loved ones to have a wonderful, fun, and delicious meal.