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Restaurants & Bars 17

Central Coast Pt. 2: Passionfish (Pacific Grove) teeters but tips scale on + side (long again)

Carb Lover | Jun 15, 200507:19 PM

Preface: I'm sorry to put you all through another long report. I can't help it, esp. when it was my first time at PF and I wanted to have my full say. Go straight to my photos below (including some bonus material from the aquarium) if you can't stomach my long-winded commentary.


When I first entered the CA board in the fall, I was immediately hooked into Passionfish. For a pretty quiet board, PF seemed to create lots of tumultuous waves. I knew I had to try it one day and taste for myself, and the continued mixed reviews in the recent months didn't dampen my desire to swim over (not literally).

So after spending Thurs. afternoon at the aquarium, we headed over to PF for our reservation. A lucky thing happened when I asked for directions to PF at the aquarium info counter; the lady magically pulled out one coupon from her pocket that she didn't plan on using herself. $5 off an entree at PF from M-Thurs. Cool. I have no shame about using coupons. Looked like something locals would get in the mail.

Takes us all of 5 minutes to get to PF. Luck stays w/ us as we get primo parking right in front. Roll in, get seated at a two-top in the middle of three dining sections. Not very crowded for a Thurs. night, but it was on the early side. Atmos. was quite cozy, even a touch elegant by our standards. Somehow the past discussions about their ambience had me expecting something more plain or shabby, but I'm pretty easy to please around ambience. True, no real view to speak of (except our nearby car), but we weren't there for what was outside.

Our waitress looked about our age (30ish) and exuded confidence yet no pretension. She offered us great service all night and was especially attentive and obliging in the beginning, when we had numerous questions about the menu. First thing I noticed about the menu was the large variety of seafood...things that I don't encounter all in one place, some things that I've never tried before. Second major attention getter was the oft-mentioned wine list. Jaw-droppingly, pinch-me low prices. This kind of perk truly encourages curiosity and exploration. We don't indulge in wine at restaurants often, but this list actually let our eyes first go to the left side of the menu, not the right.

After ordering, we were first served a sliced francese loaf from none other than Golden Sheaf bakery in Watsonville. Bread was fresh, warm and toasty around the crust. Wine was then brought out. Half bottle of Delicata a Marianna Falanghina (I think 2001) from Italy for $13. Never encountered it before, but recommended by our waitress. Its bouquet and flavors sang to me! Operatic notes of rose and seckel danced on my tongue. A revelation, a treat! One quibble was that it was too chilled at first, but hey, we just let it breathe a little. Then came the food:

Fanny Bay oyster appetizer ($8): Since we love raw oysters and have tired of fried calamari and crabcakes, we decided to go w/ this app. Shucked oysters served in a large martini glass w/ a flavorful yet delicate mango-colored sauce. Tropical and Asian flavors. Oysters were fine, but not speechlessly good. Quibble was that we only dug up four from the glass when the menu indicated five oysters. How do you bring that up? Oh well. Probably wouldn't order again...not enough bang for the buck. Not enough panache to start a meal.

Grilled yellowtail w/ Moroccan salad ($18): Y ordered this and neither of us recalled eating yellowtail that wasn't part of a sushi platter. Thick fillet, perfectly cooked. Grilling lended a nice meaty quality. Salad was interesting...a fresh melange of cucumbers, chickpeas, peppers, grilled pita bites w/ a hint of smokey Middle Eastern spices. We loved the fish, but the accompaniment matched it on a 6 out of 10.

Pan-fried perch w/ tomato "tapenade" atop bed of arugula, asparagus, and artichokes ($16): I was shocked at how large the fish portion was when it came out. Two adjoining flat fillets that looked like a butterfly. Fish was sweet and fresh, perfectly cooked once again. Unfortunately, its accessories only detracted from its flavor. I don't remember the tomato topping even being mentioned on the menu, so was surprised to see it. May have been added for color, but flavor completely overpowered the fish, yet did complement the veggies. It oddly looked and tasted like whipped tomato paste. I would have welcomed a simple brown butter, caper, and lemon sauce instead. Execution of veggies was plain off, as arugula needed more wilting, asparagus were cut too small such that they wanted to roll away. Texturally and visually odd.

Even though things were a bit off, I should say that we both polished off our plates w/ little grumbling. Since the appetizer was small, we had room for dessert and ordered the special, a strawberry and nectarine shortcake ($6). A very generous downhome serving; however, kind of sloppy presentation. Nectarines weren't that sweet. Shortcake was a nice biscuit, not too sweet, but so ghostly in color that it was begging for some golden color on its cap to remind us it was there. I wanted to be its advocate and run into the kitchen w/ my pastry brush just to dab some egg wash on ones awaiting the oven. That's the critical cook in me...

So, about that coupon ($5 off an entree). It didn't say to present at the beginning so we decided to hand it over when we ordered dessert. I'm not sure if this was the best etiquette, but our waitress accepted it w/ a smile and didn't flinch one bit. The unexpected part is that when our bill came she had taken $5 off for EACH entree! Meaning that my dish was a mere $11 and Y's yellowtail was $13. Not sure if this was standard practice or perhaps she liked that we were pleasant, unscary people. Have no idea, but I guess luck was still by our side. We rewarded her impeccable service well.

All in all, we will def. be returning. While dinner teetered back and forth, enough things that we considered to be important went right. Their details could no doubt use some polishing, and b/c they aren't pretentious or pompous, I could imagine chirping up if I had a significant concern. Indeed, it came down to the great fish, wine, service, and or no coupon.


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