This could have been an Earth Day post. Passionfish, located at one end of the precious heart of Lighthouse Avenue in Pacific Grove, CA, was the first restaurant in Monterey County to receive "Green" certification. Chef/owner Ted Walter works extensively with local, organically farmed produce and selects only sustainable fish for his seafood-dominated menu. One-half of the restaurant's $20 corkage fee is donated to the Tag-A-Giant Foundation, a non-profit organization committed to rebuilding and preserving the Bluefin Tuna population in both the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans.
Yep, this could have been about Earth Day if I weren't a day late. But timeliness is not the point of today's post, which is actually about a meal I enjoyed over a month ago while in the Monterey area for my friends Steve and Stacy's nuptial festivities. My wife and I took advantage of the one free night of the trip to sneak in a special dinner. Given the glowing recommendations from Stevie, Passionfish it was — and yes, this post is at least a little bit about the food...
We started with one of the day's specials, Hog Island Oysters, farm-raised in nearby Tomales Bay, topped with carrot-ginger granita; followed by a South Asian-inspired salad of Malaysian pole caught squid with spicy cilantro-citrus sauce and mango; and a salad of warm brussel sprouts and grapes with pancetta and ricotta salata.
Though the "Entrees from the Land" on the menu sounded delicious enough, we hadn't traveled 3,000 miles and opted to dine at a place called Passionfish to eat braised beef or gnocchi. Oil-poaching is the specialty of the house — four of the six fish entrees on offer during our visit were prepared in said manner. I opted for the striped bass with crispy sweet potatoes, romesco, caramelized onions and chard (below, at left), while my dining companion chose what turned out to be the favorite dish of the night for us both, sturgeon with lemongrass-jasmine rice, lemongrass slaw and spicy red curry vinaigrette.
The desserts were no slouch either. We tried to share a single plate — I'm a sucker for bread pudding and Passionfish's pear bread pudding with Madeira-caramel sauce was delicious — but our server was having nothing of it. She insisted on bringing us an order of bruléed bananas served with coconut mousse and lime curd, her favorite of the house-made desserts, which was plated in a playful riff on bacon and eggs.
As much as I enjoyed our meal at Passionfish, what I really wanted to write about, what still has me thinking about our experience there over a month later, is the restaurant's fantastic wine program. Sommeliere (I'll call her that even if she doesn't like the term) Jannae Lizza has put together an extremely diverse, thoughtful list. Sure, there's the occasional red that seems too big for the fish flesh-driven fare – this is California after all – but just look at her list!
Cantina del Pino Dolcetto d'Alba for $20. Domaine de la Tournelle "L'Uva Arbosiana" at $25. Clos Rougeard Saumur-Champigny for $50. Domaine du Closel Savennières "La Jalousie" at $35. Jean Manciat's "Franclieu" for $25. I mean, come on!
The wines by the bottle are priced at or just barely above what would equate to standard retail price in most markets. That's pretty unheard of in most necks of the woods, and it's a great way to ensure that a bottle ends up on just about every table.
Being that we were just the two of us, I fought the temptation to order three or four bottles and instead opted to splurge on something special. Actually, we did go for two bottles, as I couldn't say no to the thought of Champagne with our oysters and René Geoffroy's "Cuvée l'Empreinte" was calling my name from Jannae's more than respectable list of options by the half-bottle. The slighty more rapid development of Champers in half-bottle combined with a disgorgement date of April 2007 (thanks for the data, Mr. Theise) to yield a wine that was, to my preferences, more mature than ideal with our brisk, briny bivalves. Nevertheless, it was a compelling drink – slightly oxidative, with very apple-y fruit and toasty palate characteristics, fronted by an even more apple-y nose (red apple skins, to be exact).
And that special bottle? Unless you're reclining while someone else reads this to you aloud, you've already spotted the picture at right/above. It's something I'd always wanted to drink but for which I'd never been able to bring myself to plunk down the necessary cash. In a nice restaurant, on vacation and at a price equal to or better than what I'd pay in a retail shop back in the Philly area, though, I had to go for it. The 2007 Pouilly-Fumé "Silex" from Didier Dagueneau (RIP) was immensely vinous and penetrating. Its unmistakable Sauvignon Blanc character was backed by a mineral pungency more reminiscent of a fine Nahe Riesling, while its wood influence was totally enveloped in fruit richness and grapefruit oil aromatics. Most of all, its namesake flint drove through on both the nose and the mineral-laden finish. Am I going to rush out for a case of it at ~$120 a pop? Nope, but I'm glad we went for it at Passionfish.
701 Lighthouse Avenue
Pacific Grove, CA 93950-2501