PassionfishDate of Visit: Friday, March 6, 2009
701 Lighthouse Ave
Pacific Grove, CA 93950
Time: Dinner - 10:00 PM
Number of Diners: 4
Food Quality: 8
*We were there very late, just before closing, and there was one large, very drunk, VERY noisy table full of people - to the extent that the waitress had to pause for gaps of comparative quiet to talk to our table. The one diner (hopefully) sober enough to drive did apologize halfheartedly on their way out.
Having been in a meeting until 9:30 PM we needed to find a decent restaurant that was open. Fortunately Passionfish in Pacific Grove was open until 10. A semi-quick 15 minute drive from Carmel and we were there, 10 minutes before closing time. The hostess/waitress, Holly, assured us our party of 4 were welcome. There was one large table with about 10 folks noisily finishing their desserts and wines, and the rest of the small room was empty. We were promptly seated and drinking San Pellegrino ($3.50). Holly brought menus and informed us the specials were all on the card, which changes frequently. I perused the wine list, shocked at the prices. I asked Holly, and she told us that Passionfish charges retail (i.e. winery list price) for every wine. And the selection was amazing. Check it out by downloading the pdf from their wine list page. I was drawn to the Dashe Cellars L’ Enfant Terrible, Potter Valley ’07 for $30. It was listed as an "Un-Zinfandel." Holly told me the "Terrible Child" was a very unique Zin that was light and would not overpower the fish. I was intrigued and ordered it, only to discover they had run out. We settled on the Gunn, New Zealand ’07 Unoaked Chardonnay for $20, and it was a rare treat for two of our party. They had never had a chardonnay that tasted like grapes instead of just vanilla and oak. It was so good (and so reasonable) that we had two bottles over the course of the evening.
We all ordered salads to start. Fish was the reason for being there, and our party of four chose one Sturgeon, one Sablefish, and two wanted Mahi-mahi. We also had San Pellegrino ($3.50) with the wine. The long day called for desserts for all and coffee for some. It was quite a feast, so without further ado...
What we had with menu descriptions...
Butter lettuce garden salad with mixed organic greens $8
Shredded Brussels sprout salad with Kurobuta ham and mustard dressing $8
Baked gorgonzola, golden chutney, candied pecans & curried butter lettuce $10
‘Quinault’ Sablefish crusted with pepper/wasabi slaw/ginger vinaigrette (pictured at left) $22
Sturgeon/coconut rice/zucchini fritters/red curry vinaigrette $23
Hand lined Mahi (pictured at right)/black pepper-rum sauce/cucumber salad/green onion rice $23
Fresh local berry ice cream $6
Mud Pie $6
Panna cotta $6
Creme brulee $6
As is the norm for the area, the salads are amazing - due to the readily available, fresh, local produce from nearby fields. Passionfish goes the extra mile with extra adornments (cheese, dried fruits, nuts, radishes, onions, etc.) and homemade dressings. All of the excellent salads disappeared quickly. One standout was the Brussels sprout salad. Warm and tender, the shredded sprouts blended nicely with the grainy mustard vinegarette to form the best cole slaw in the universe. The very rare an expensive Kurobuta ham made a wonderful accent.
The Sablefish was excellent - properly cooked with an herb crust, appropriately sauced, with interesting sides. The fish was tender, flaky and delicate. And the "slaw" was slivered Watsonville apples in a slightly spicy wasabe slaw dressing. I loved it, though I was the only one at the table who did.
The Mahi-Mahi must have been good as well, since both portions disappeared rapidly, before I had a chance to taste them. It was generously doused in a chopped tomato relish, which I might have thought would be overwhelming, but the diners had no complaints.
The Sturgeon (pictured at left) was the weakest of the three, moist and nearly overcooked, slightly mushy. Compared to the other dishes, even the colors were muted. Still it was quite passable, and the rice and fresh vegetables carried the day for this entree.
The coffee was passable, and the desserts were fresh and generous. The Mud pie was a tower of death by chocolate, offset with a delicious homemade vanilla ice cream. The other desserts were acceptable executions of the standards.
Locally there is an informal rivalry between Passionfish and Fish House. For creatively prepared fish and unusual, tasty side dishes, Passionfish is the clear choice. For plain, unadorned, fresh fish, the edge goes to Fish House. Throw in the retail priced wine and plethora of choices, and the tiebreaker goes to Passionfish. One note - all fish at Fish House is wild caught. Passionfish is vocal about sustainable resources, so most of their fish is farmed - tasty, but potentially less healthful than the wild versions.
Passionfish - RECOMMENDED for a fresh, fancy-preparation fish dishes and outstanding wine values
Highs: Wine selection and retail pricing, fresh fish fancy style
Lows: Room can be murderously noisy when full, aggressive with food politics
Bon Appétit! - W. Ego