This weekend our family of four -- two adults and two girls age 14 and 12 -- went to Monterey for the new Jellies exhibit at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Well, the exhibit was, as always, quite interesting, but the
highlight of the trip turned out to be a dinner at Passionfish in Pacific Grove.
We've been to Passionfish several times before (even when it used to be called El Cocodrilo). The last time, about two years ago, it was OK, but not great. I recall that the food was good but it felt somewhat
indifferent and the wine list looked pedestrian.
This time, it was quite different. Inspired by the passionate (no pun intended) review posted here on 7/30/02, we went there Sunday night. Physically, the place looked about the same. Clean, sparse lines.
White tableclothes, white napkins and large wine glasses create an air of enjoyment of food and wine, while the abstract art on the wall adds a somewhat casual and relaxed feeling.
For apps, we had two outstanding dishes: a pepper-crusted seared tuna which had a tasty wasabi slaw, and a very spicy mussels in a cilantro-based broth. Both just packed with flavor. Another
appetizer, crab cake was fine but it got totally overpowered by the tuna and mussels dishes. Apps were between $7 and $9.
The best main course was a duck confit dish with a crispy bronze-colored skin. Another good choice was the pork tenderloin medallions with a very flavorful maple-bacon and mustard souce. Another was a very good sturgeon dish, where the white fish was nicely
moist and complemented by a rich avocado-mango salsa. (That probably would have been enough for that dish, but for some reason the chef decided to add a goat cheese-black bean cake which looked like a dark
hockey puck and where the goat cheese got overwhelmed by the black beans.) The fourth main course was Monterey salmon which was fine, but not as exciting as the other dishes. The main courses ranged between
$16 and $20.
The portions were large, perhaps too much so, because we all felt so stuffed that we only chose one desert, creme brulee ($5, I think), which was also large and more than enough for the two kids. That turned out to be so good that the girls quickly devoured it.
Passionfish is definitely passionate about its wine, and unlike the visit two years ago, the wine list of about 300 lists was extremely interesting and varied. I did not see a single boring "same-old, same-old" bottle on the list. Prices were outstanding as well, with a small -- a few dollars in most cases, as far as I could tell -- mark-ups. We had a Hartford Court Russian River Zin 2000 ($24) which was just packed with spice and berries flavors and went really well with the spicy food, even the fish dishes.
Perhaps I'm being picky, but the only somewhat weak element was our waitress. A very nice and friendly young woman, she didn't seem to know much about the wines on the list. To be fair, since the wines
change frequently and the list is quite large, it probably is difficult for the staff to keep up.
Overall, a most positive dinner. I got the feeling that the restaurant wasn't there just as a business; they really wanted to provide an intensely-flavored experience with both the food and the wine.