It had been a year since my last meal at Passionfish and I was eager to return as it has been one of my favorite restaurants, and I have good memories of past visits. I was pleased to see that they have remodeled. Décor has never been a major factor in my culinary pleasure, but the changes at Passionfish make it seem like a more special place. The lighting seems more indirect, the colors on the walls more muted, and a giant glass fronted wine storage rack now dominates the main room. All in all the place has much less the look of a diner and more the ambiance of a fine restaurant, even though the tablecloths are still topped with brown paper. In the past Ive thought of the service as enthusiastic and friendly, if not always as excellent as the food. This time, there may have been less friendly enthusiasm, but I was impressed at how quickly water glasses were refilled etc. And our server was very professionalif still a bit young and inexperienced.
Thw wine list was still very extensive and the wines fairly priced. Passionfish also has one of the most interesting by-the-glass options of any restaurant I've ever been to (out of 8 choices, only 1 chard and 1 cab). In addition, they now have a much more extensive listing of Santa Lucia highlands Pinot Noirsthe one of which we chose, from Carmel Road Winery, was highly recommended. I guess it was OK, the nose was floral and complex, but I have to say that the wine didnt strike me as anything special (your results may differ). Similarly, my first course, a potato and carmelized onion chowder didnt wow me, though the onion flavor with a certain sweetness was extremely pronounced. Here I think the fault is minethe dish came through with everything that it promised except that the swirl of green onion cream on top did not add much flavor or color to the dish.
So when the main courses arrived, I was a little wary, wondering if Passionfish had begun a long slide downward. However, the entrees convinced me otherwise; each of them was superb. Steve had shrimp in spicy Vietnamese sauce with a slaw and fritters. I didnt get a taste of the fritters, I think Steve liked them too much, but the slaw with lemongrass and jicama was excellent and I loved the shrimp. They were nicely charred, yet moist inside, and the sauce for them was appropriately spicy with sweet and tangy flavors. Steves only complaint was that that the whole dish left his mouth on fire. Helen had tilapia, accented with a sweet red pepper sauce, over a vegetable risotto. It was very nice to look at, the white tilapia set off with the rich redness of the sauce. And all the flavors came together very well. I had local halibut covered with basil aioli (a perfect match!) served with baby artichokes, baby potatoes, yellow string beans, in just a bit of red-wine basil broth. The halibut was perfectly cooked, and the whole dish was very fine. My only (tiny) complaint was that there was very little of the broth, though the whole dish was moist. I must also add that the wine, while not my favorite by itself, worked very well with everything I ate.
All in all, I still have a passion for Passionfish. Not everything was perfect, but much of what we had was very, very good.