A new restaurant has recently grabbed my attention in downtown Monterey. I am not sure if it is the inviting curb appeal, vibrant activity or the fact that its sister property is Carmel Valley landmark Baja Cantina; but I have been dying to try Turn 12 Bar & Grill since it opened its doors in October.

If you had seen the building prior to Turn 12's takeover you would understand why the curb appeal on Tyler and Franklin is a welcomed upgrade. The cleaned up exterior is much more pleasing to the eye with sharp gray and red tones. The entrance is inviting and the sandwich board out front teases you with the day's specials.

Bold red, black and metal hues continue through the interior. Once inside the theme becomes immediately apparent as vintage motorbikes and racing posters line the walls, clearly there's a motorsports theme going on here. The theme was an easy concept for owner Gina Phinny and her family as they are major motorsports enthusiasts; her sons are even decorated professional motorcycle racers. But why the name Turn 12 you may ask? The unique name actually pays homage to the 11 turns of nearby Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, clever!

What I enjoyed most about the décor is its dedication to the theme throughout each of the dining spaces. The restaurant's large floor plan includes several seating areas including a "sun room" which is great for families, an open outdoor patio and a contemporary dining room lined with vintage racing posters from Mazda Raceway and a wine bottle wall.

The bar area in particular is the focal point and hub of the action. Dozens of stools line the 50-foot pewter bar top which is even detailed with tire tread marks. Several TVs adorn the walls above the extensive liquor selection and beer taps making it the perfect place to see the big game, catch up with friends or simply make new ones.

Since it was lunchtime, and not exactly the time to enjoy the bar, my party of eight and I sat in the "sophisticated" dining area. One quick glance at the menu and I knew that there was something to please every palate. Classic American comfort foods including pizzas, burgers and pastas were up for grabs but healthier options like salads, grilled seafood and vegetarian sandwiches were also available.

Since there were so many of us we decided to try a little bit of everything, literally. First, we started off with warm garlic bread and the Calamari Misto Frito. The crispy calamari was tender and juicy but my favorite part was the hints of fried lemon and chili sauce, delish!

Salads aren't usually the first options that come to mind for bar grub but let me tell you, this place knows how to serve up some killer greens. It was hard to choose just one from the eight different options but we eventually landed on the Apple Curry Chicken Salad. The curry wasn't too overwhelming, leaving plenty of room for the natural sweetness of the apples, dried dates and roasted pine nuts to really shine. Overall, the variety of flavors and textures made it not just a run-of-the-mill salad.

How could we resist trying two of Turn 12's specialties, the Turn 12 Pizza and the Turn 12 Burger? It's no wonder why they slapped their name on these two comforts. The pizza was loaded with spicy sausage, black olives and mozzarella, enough toppings to make an Italian drool.

The burger was almost too pretty to eat! The monstrous slab of beef was graced with bacon, BBQ sauce, crispy onions, cheddar cheese and a hefty dollop of guacamole. Fitting everything into one bite was a challenge but the payoff was worth it! The cheddar smoldered over the top of the grilled bun and the natural saltiness of the bacon was offset by the fresh chunks of avocado.

There were plenty of other dishes that I would have loved to have gotten my hands on. The Bleu Cheese Wedge and Braised Short Ribs that were placed at a neighboring table were calling my name but at this point I had reached my capacity.

It is just a matter of time until this establishment climbs the notoriety rankings as its sister property Baja Cantina. The expansive and fresh menu, novel décor, open floor plan and overall vibrant energy make this a perfect locale for large group gatherings, family outings and just a place to hang out.

Turn 12 Bar & Grill is located at 400 Tyler Street in Monterey. Lunch is served daily from 11:30am-4pm and dinner is offered daily from 4pm-10pm. A killer happy hour is featured on weekdays from 4pm-6pm with discounted drinks and appetizers.