My favorite restaurant on the Monterey Peninsula is Passionfish. Over the last few years, I've had a number of outstanding meals there as well as one or two that were just okay. A couple of weeks ago, I may have had the best meal ever at the restaurant. For my first course I had "smoked sturgeon with celery and dates"($6). My only complaint with this dish was that the menu did not adequately explain it. In fact, it was really a salad with wonderfully fresh arugula and very thinly sliced celery. The salad was topped with two slices of perfect smoked sturgeon. The sturgeon had a wonderful smoky and fishy taste while retaining moisture. The fish slices were good enough to have topped rice balls in a top-flight sushi bar. The dressing for the arugula and celery mix used smoked dates for flavor. Everything went together perfectly. It is rare to find dish so creative, so unusual, and so very very tasty.
For my main course, I had "halibut in a spicy chili lime broth with summer vegetables"($19). This was another perfect dish. The halibut had been grilled to perfection, not cooked in the broth, but the broth was a perfect flavor to add some zip to the nice piece of fish. The veggies, sliced squash and new potatoes, were a fine accompaniment.
I also got to taste Helen's "tilapia with a spicy coconut wine sauce, garlic noodles and watercress"($16). It may have been the finest presentation of tilapia I have ever eaten. Tilapia is a very mild fish without a lot of flavor. The last time I tasted it at Passionfish, it was covered with vegetables that covered up what little taste it had. This time the tilapia was accented by a mound of grilled garlic that complemented but did not cover up the fish's flavor. Everything else I tasted on Steve and Helen's plates was equally tasty.
As always, the wine list at Passionfish was incredible. We chose a Craggy Range Martinborough Te Muna Road Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc (2003, I believe)from New Zealand that was both exquisite and only $25. This wine value meant that our meal was not only the best I had on my visit to the Monterey area but one of the least expensive. I have to agree with what a local foodie told me when we were discussing Passionfish. He said, "I think the chef goes home every night and tries to think of what new combinations of tastes he can create. No one could come up with such innovative dishes unless he were focused constantly on presenting creative cuisine."