Matt Bolton, executive chef of Pacific’s Edge Restaurant.
Matt Bolton, executive chef of Pacific's Edge Restaurant.
THE HIGHLANDS INN in Carmel has changed considerably since it was built almost a century ago by Frank Devendorf. In those halcyon days, it was a stone lodge overlooking the Pacific, and its menu included such delectable specialties as herring in sour cream and hearts of lettuce salad.

One thing hasn't changed, though: that incredible view.

Highlands Inn has since been revised and remodeled, and so its fare has also grown and changed. Multi-award-winning Pacific's Edge restaurant gets highest marks year after year from Zagat's, Wine Spectator and other critics, and is known not just for its food and the ocean vistas, but also an extensive wine list with 1,700 selections.

Now, under a new executive chef, its Pacific's Edge restaurant is continuing to serve the finest in American cuisine.

Matt Bolton, who began at the restaurant last year as executive sous chef and was named executive chef in May, started his career as a teenager, washing dishes at a Hollister steakhouse. Seventeen years later, he's making his mark at Pacific's Edge.

Bolton, featured chef on opening night of the recent Big Sur Wine & Food Festival, has learned the art of cooking from some of the best chefs on the Monterey Peninsula. He's also continuing his education at food festivals and major events, including a Beard House dinner and Chefs and Champagne events in the Hamptons last year, as well as participating in Chef's Holidays at Yosemite's Ahwahnee Hotel, Harvest Carmel and Cooking For Solutions at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.


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As good fortune would have it, Bolton worked under both Cal Stamenov and Jeff Rogers, both former executive chefs at Pacific's Edge, during their tenure at other restaurants.

"I got my food education with Cal — really got my flavors down," said Bolton, who was with Stamenov at Bernardus' Marinus restaurant. Rogers was his boss at The Covey, where Bolton learned first-hand the ins and outs of running a restaurant.

He's also been able to bring two other former workmates on board recently: wine director Paul Fried, who was with him at Bernardus, and pastry chef Gina Scalla.

"It's quite a small world here," said Bolton of the local restaurant scene. Bolton's philosophy is to spotlight local produce and seafood, and to change the offerings seasonally to reflect what's best and freshest. Some perennial favorites that are listed year-round on the menu are the Brussels sprout salad - a concoction of red grapes, sunflower seeds, Salinas Valley Brussels sprouts and dry ricotta in an apple cider-bacon vinaigrette - and the California white sea bass - "super local, extremely fresh," he said. "I've been working with a local fisherman since my Bernardus days,10 years ago.

View from the Pacific’s Edge restaurant at Highlands Inn in Carmel during the Masters of Food and Wine event in 2007.
View from the Pacific's Edge restaurant at Highlands Inn in Carmel during the Masters of Food and Wine event in 2007. (Herald Archive/David Royal)
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Bolton also has found a steady supply of wild mushrooms from foragers locally and in the Northwest. "We'll get some wonderful chanterelles out of Big Sur now that the rains have started," he said.

The restaurant is also renowned for its steaks, Monterey Bay abalone and creative dishes ranging from roasted beet carpaccio to short ribs. Bolton also has an inventive chef's tasting menu that includes wine pairings, and is offering a Sunset Lounge menu that begins at 4 p.m. for those with lighter appetites.

Bolton and staff are now getting ready for the demands of the holidays, with special three-course menus offered for Christmas and New Year's.

Food, wine, history and a magnificent natural backdrop - all the elements that have made Pacific's Edge famous in the first place - continue to make an impact.

"It's such a majestic view," Bolton said, looking out the glass walls of the dining room. "You never get tired of it."


Pacific's Edge restaurant at Highlands Inn is open nightly 6-9 p.m., 120 Highlands Dr., Carmel; www.pacificsedge.com or 622-5445.