My wife and I spent a couple of days in the Carmel area and hit up two restaurants that were recommended here at chowhound.com.
First up, Passionfish:
This place has been hyped quite a bit, so we feared it would have a hard time living up to expectations. We arrived at 7:30 pm on a Sunday night and were immediately impressed with decor and feel of the place even though it was ¾s empty. At first look, the menu also looked interesting and the price seamed reasonable. Unfortunately, we opted for the specials. Now I am used to paying a few more bucks for specials, but Passionfish was pretty much price gouging. Everything on the menu was under $18, but our specials ended up being $25 each (one being a spotted prawn risotto with 4-5 smallish prawns and the other being 3 midsized sea scallops). The food was well prepared and tasted great, but the portions were on the small side.
The other problem we found with Passionfish was the atmosphere. Because the place was mostly empty, we could hear the conversations nearby a bit too clearly. This normally wouldnt be a problem, but the diners closest to us (4 tables away) were a couple with a baby. The entire evening consisted of either a baby crying or the mother speaking to the baby in baby-talk. Our annoyance may make us insensitive, but if I am going to shell out a $100 for diner it would be nice to eat it in peace.
We would like to revisit Passionfish to give the atmosphere another chance, but were put off too much by the price gouging on the specials to likely return.
On to Rio Grill:
We found the Rio Grill to be a much better value. The ambiance was vibrant but not so loud that we couldnt enjoy our dinner and conversation. The décor was also nice, though not as contemporary as at Passionfish. The highest priced special (you bet I was sure to check) was $21 for a double-cut pork chop. The rest of the menu was priced similar to Passionfish, though we enjoyed a splendid calamari appetizer for only $6! Being barbecue buffs, we opted for the oak grilled ribs and chicken after being told they were smoked in a real wood-burning smoker (a rarity these days). Though the entrées were probably not as precisely executed as at Passionfish, they were proportioned better and tasted great. In fact the pepper sauce for the chicken was fantastic. My only beef (pun intended) was that the baby back ribs could have been meatier. All in all, it was a very good experience at Rio Grill.