701 Lighthouse Ave, Pacific Grove, CA 93950 | 831.655.3311 | website
Mr. K and I drove down to Monterey for a long weekend recently along with Mank, his BIL whose long time acquaintance dates back to their gastropad days in college. I find the very fact that they lived in a gastropad remarkable, as I am abashed to admit that I did most of my foraging at the vending machines in the dorms myself… Regardless of our various backgrounds, we’ve had some memorable meals over the years. We stayed in Pacific Grove, which is less congested than Monterey, has spectacular views (the entrance to the 17-mile drive begins here) and also offers some very good eats. We made reservations at Passionfish, which is one of the few restaurants in the area that does not cater to tourists and focuses on serving simple inspired meals using local/sustainable products.
The restaurant is at the far end of the commercial district along Lighthouse avenue with easy street parking. You could easily walk by the building, the signage is simple and not very obvious. Inside is a series of narrow dining rooms that are flanked by banquette seating on both sides and lined with elegantly dressed tables and cushy leather chairs. They have quite a reputation for their extensive wine selection that is priced at just above market value many of which are available by the glass.
We never can resist oysters when we see them on the menu, so we split an order of Pacific Gold Oysters on the half shell with carrot-ginger granita ($15/half dozen). The oysters were plump and briny, a bit metallic, which was paired well with the sweetness of the carrot granita. Now you know I love osyters with a variety of toppings, but carrot is just not high on my list… I prefer more acidity, like fresh squeezed lemon or my all-time favorite hogwash.
My favorite dish of the night was the Squid appetizer ($6), tossed in a spicy cilantro-citrus sauce with chunks of mango and brightly colored flecks of crunchy bell peppers, carrots and red cabbage. I’ve never had such delectable calamari ceviche, the velvety flesh practically dissolves in your mouth and the contrasting flavors and textures were really really good.
Sea Scallops in a caper-raisin-walnut relish served over artichoke risotto cake ($8). It was a very small portion, just one bite each. The risotto cake was difficult to cut apart to share and probably best eaten as a single serving as none of us could recall much about this particular dish…
Mank was intrigued by the ingredients in the Brussel sprouts salad ($10-ish), which had chunks of ricotta salata cheese, tender roasted beets, grapes and delicious bits of bacon, tossed with a mustard vinaigrette. He liked the traditional German flavors.
Mr. K ordered the Sea Scallops ($26), a signature dish that has been on the menu for over 15 years. The scallops were drenched with an elegant tomato-truffle butter, a scoop of risotto custard and crunchy diced minted celery. Everything on the plate dazzled our tastebuds.
Mank had the Alaskan Halibut ($28) which was served with roasted summer vegetables and drizzled with a spicy orange-tamarind vinaigrette. The fish was very fresh, meaty and perfectly cooked and had a very flavorful sauce.
I was feeling adventurous and ordered the Spice Crusted Catfish ($16), which sounded like it would be lively with a ginger vinaigrette, wasabi relish and green-onion rice with bok choy. The rice cake was my favorite thing on the plate, it was dense and chewy and packed with an enjoyable whoosh of wasabi heat. The fish however, was unremarkable. It was bland with a fluffy texture and a bit dry, not the rich unctuous flesh I was anticipating…
I couldn’t resist the Meyer Lemon Panna Cotta ($6) with oranges topped with vanilla citrus sauce for dessert. It was fruity and rich and the flavor combination reminded us of a childhood favorite, orange creamsicles. But this is an adult version, the creamy panna cotta was rich and was delicious with the orange segments bursting with fresh flavor when you bit into them.
We felt that overall it was a good meal with some excellent flavors and impeccably fresh ingredients. The calamari and the scallops were the standouts of the evening, and a few things kind of fell flat for us (scallop appetizer, carrots on oysters and the flabby catfish). The owners have a passion and commitment for serving ecologically sound and sustainable seafood and local organic produce. We received a copy of the Monterey Bay Seawatch guide with our bill, and for once I was able to enjoy my fish with a guilt free conscience. And no, I didn’t go to the aquarium aftwards and lust over the fresh and plump specimens like I did last time…
And just down the block, the views are really awesome!