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Jul 17, 2007 10:12 AM

Passionfish Review with photos

Photos here:

Monterey has got to be one of the most beautiful places here on the West Coast. We had the pleasure of going since my college roommate got married there last weekend (congrats Katie and Carey!!) and I pretty much fell in love with the beachside community. I mean, what's not to love? Blue skies, clean ocean and the greenest of trees all meet to form a magical place. I could do without some of the seagulls who have a knack for pooing on your car in just the right way so your ENTIRE CAR is covered with their, er, stuff, after ONE shot. How they manage that is beyond me, but otherwise Monterey is absolutely enchanting.

We drove up last Friday and arrived just before 4:00 PM. I had done a bit of research on where to have dinner that night, and after checking a few websites I came to the conclusion that Passionfish was the place to eat. When we arrived a bit early for our 7:00 PM reservation, the place was already filled with people- both in the dining room and the waiting area. We sat in front of the enormous wine case while we waited a few extra minutes to be seated.

The hostess called my name and we were walked to the far end of the restaurant....which would have been fine if the fan hadn't been broken. You see, Friday was unusually hot for Monterey and the place has no air conditioning, so it was taking some time to cool off the back room and the fan not working wasn't helping. They did have a window and the back door opened but I have to admit, I was beginning to get ansty. You know when you spend the time to find the perfect place, you want it to be, well...perfect. There was also a large party seated right behind us, and one of them was having some sort of hissyfit over a menu item that was apparently no longer on the menu. All I could hear him say was "Well they'd better make it coz when I called they said they had it and that is what I wanted!" all bratty and whiny. Ugh. I was getting a sinking feeling.

Luckily our waitress was very nice and said she could get us another table if we could wait a few minutes- she also explained that the other areas in the restaurant were likely to be on the warm side as well since they didn't have A/C. Her good mood, in addition to the fact that Loud Whiny Guy had finally shut up put us in a good mood too, and we decided to stay at our table. J marveled at the well-priced wine list and read off the wine pricing philosophy of the restaurant- they don't spend money on Riedels or expensive decanters so they only mark up the wine slightly. If you'd like to come armed with your best crystal stemware, please do so at no charge but they are more concerned with serving great wine at reasonable prices- an idea I can definitely jump on board for! J decided to start with a half bottle of the Lake Chalice Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough (we love NZ sauvis!) and placed our orders.

My Fried Oyster Salad with Citrus Soy Glazed Arugula was a perfect combo of crunchy oysters and the peppery leaves. I'm a big fan of deep fried elements in a salad since it's never overpowering and such a good balance with fresh, raw veggies. J's Dungeness Crab Cake with Spicy Tomato and Onion Relish was a ball of crab- no filler- and the fresh sauce had just enough kick to balance out the richness of the crab. Both dishes went so well with the green-apple-juicy-fruity-tangy sauvignon blanc. My mouth is watering just thinking about that crisp wine with the crunchy oysters.

We ordered a bottle of the Dutton Goldfield Pinot Noir after our first choice was sold out and a call to his J's winemaker brother resulted in that choice. Carl, if you're reading this, we have to say thanks for recommending one of the best pinots we've ever had!!! Now- I'll say that the photos our main dishes do not do them justice. J's salmon with cucumbers (don't know the official name) was fresh, clean and dolloped with roasted garlic aioli which the light cucumbers tempered to make just the right combination. My grilled sturgeon with sweet corn, bacon, banana potatoes and tomato salsa (also not the official name) was, in a word, divine. Corn, bacon and potatoes with white fish is the classic chowder combo and this dish had all of the comfort but none of the heaviness of that. The sturgeon was beautifully grilled and the sweet corn and salty bacon was meant to surround that gorgeous piece of fish. Yum.

Dessert wasn't as perfect as our meal- J ordered the peach cobbler (his favorite dessert besides bread pudding) and for once, we both agreed that it wasn't sweet enough. Strange, coming from two people who prefer our sweets to be, well, less sweet. I think cobbler is one of those desserts that need sugar since the fruit will be varying degrees of sweetness depending on the season and the kind of fruit, and the cobbler topping was just barely sweet. The vanilla ice cream, however, was creamy and just sweet enough.

Passinfish is one of those perfect restaurants that does rustic yet elegant food and does it extremely well....with a wine list that just cannot be beat. I love the fact that getting the customers the best wine and food possible without breaking their banks is the top priority. High quality, fresh seafood and organic produce combined with the skill of a good chef is all you need for a great meal and Passionfish is a great example of that.

We'll definitely be back!

701 Lighthouse Ave
Pacific Grove, CA
831 655 3311

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  1. Thanks for the report! Next time, since J loves it, try their bread pudding if it is on the menu. It is fantastic! (though I have to admit, I am intrigued by not too sweet cobbler, since I also tend to find desserts to be too sweet).

    Here is a place link for Passionfish.

    701 Lighthouse Ave, Pacific Grove, CA 93950

    1. It was great to run into you there. And equally amazing that we ordered the same two dishes. That sturgeon dish is incredible, and I have never seen it on the menu before. Sturgeon seems to go well with smoky flavors. If you ever see the smoked sturgeon with dates and celery appetizer, it is served on a bed of greens and also is outstanding.

      Another good desert is the ice cream with fresh raspberries in a cabernet syrup - simple but exquisite.


      1. Good review. I have been to Passionfish several times and they have always had interesting things on the menu. They are known for their wines as much as for their fish and they thankfully don't stick to the old adage of only recommending white wines with fish.

        While I really like Passionfish, and believe it to be the best restaurant in Pacific Grove (or Monterey), it just never strikes me as quite as memorable as other top fish restaurants I have been to, such as The Water Grill in Los Angeles. I think I'd like Passionfish more if they added a tasting menu (perhaps they have by now) and paid a bit more attention to their appetizers, side dishes, and desserts, which all strike me as somewhat standard.

        8 Replies
        1. re: tnilsson

          According to their website, the Water Grill is a LOT more expensive than Passionfish; with many main dishes in the $30 to even $40 range, whereas many of the Passionfish options are less than or just a bit more than $20. I don't think it is a fair comparison; one is moderatly priced, the other is fine dining. For that matter, a tasting menu would seem out of place at a casual moderate place like PF, at least to me.

          Water Grill menu:

          1. re: susancinsf

            Yes, Water Grill is more expensive (unless you order their tasting menu). But I would never call Passionfish "casual" or "moderate". The reason I think they are comparable is that they are both fairly expensive, are both fish restaurants, are both known for their wines, and have a similar ambiance. The only really important difference, in my opinion, is that Water Grill offers more variety and tries to be a bit more inventive in its offerings.

            As I said, I think Passionfish is a very good restaurant and perfectly prepares what it offers. I just wish they offered more variety and took a few more risks with their food. While everything I have had there was good, nothing on their menu has ever jumped out at me as something I just had to try.

            1. re: tnilsson

              huh? Unless you order the Water Grill tasting menu? Isn't it $95? (per the menu I linked)?

              I don't see how you can call both fairly expensive, when the final bill at Water Grill is likely to be TWICE what it is at PF: mains are almost twice enough, and that doesn't even take into account the wine pricings.

              I eat at PF regularly, almost always get three courses and a bottle of wine, and the bill for two rarely exceeds $120 with tax and tip. It is often under $100. Where I live, (perhaps unfortunately) that is moderately priced, not expensive for a meal for two..

              1. re: susancinsf

                Not just in comparison to San Francisco, but locally, I'd consider Passionfish the moderate-priced, value meal. Before my dinner there, I'd cruised Carmel and PF's immediate neighborhood, and menu prices at much less polished or popular places were as high or higher, even at small cafes. It's rare to find apps under $10 these days, but PF has 'em.

                1. re: susancinsf

                  I don't understand your antagonism to my opinion that two very good fish restaurants can legitimately be compared, regardless of their prices. Or perhaps you are more offended by my suggestion that Passionfish can be improved. Either way, I'll just have to live with that.

                  1. re: tnilsson

                    Of course Passionfish could be improved. However, if improving it would mean raising the prices to the level at Water Grill, count me out as someone who would be interested in that change!

                    you compared the two restaurants by saying "they are both fairly expensive" and that you would never call Passionfish "moderate" or "casual" and I have to strongly disagree on both counts. That doesn't mean I am antagonistic, it just means that I disagree.

                    1. re: susancinsf

                      Perhaps that's our main point of difference. I consider a moderate or casual restaurant to be something like Chili's where the average person probably leaves with a tab of $15-20 rather than $50-60 such as at Passionfish.

                      1. re: tnilsson

                        The average price per person at passion fish is $35. I've asked before. Yes, a lot will depend on the type of wine you order but average is $35 not $50

          2. Thank you for the review. We are headed up there in a few weeks and that is on our "Must" list. I will let you all know my experience at Passionfish.

            1. Monterey is a great place to visit but I couldn't live there. Just not enough action. Still, I love every time I visit and I look back fondly on the days when I was stationed there with the Army. I'll have to look up your recommendations next time I'm there though.