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Passionfish - Monterey/Pacific Grove - Full Report

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My family and I had dinner at Passionfish on Saturday. I had made a 7:15 reservation on OpenTable about 4 weeks prior to the meal, and on the day before, I got a call from the restaurant confirming. We arrived at 7:10, and checked in with the hostess. It was busy, and we waited until around 7:30, at which point I went up again and asked about our table. About 2 minutes later, we were seated. Once seated, our server was really nice and helpful. There were 6 of us.

We shared everything:

Appetizers:

Pork stew with pozole/cabbage/chiles/radish/lime - 8 dollars - I thought this was a pretty standard version of pozole. Not bad, but nothing really special. Might be new and interesting to someone who has never had this dish before, but I could probably find equal versions at many Mexican restaurants. B+

Smoked bacon fritters/spicy Vietnamese dipping sauce - 8 dollars - This consisted of 5 small fritters (couldn't they have given us 6?) which didn't taste like much and were about the size of a flattened ping pong ball. You couldn't really taste much bacon, and I didn't think the salty fritters went well with the spicy/sweet dipping sauce. This was too random and just didn't work for me. C

Mussels steamed in a spicy tomato-cilantro broth - 12 dollars - This was a generous portion, and the broth was pretty good, though I think I would have preferred a more garlicky version. We used the bread (pretty bland white bread) on the table to soak up the extra broth. Mussels were small but fresh. A-

Brussels sprouts/Berkshire ham, ricotta salata, grapes/mustard vinaigrette - 10 dollars - Pretty good, especially considering I don't love Brussels sprouts. Appreciated this recommendation from susancinsf. A

Braised Wagyu beef brisket/spatzle/chard/wlanut pesto/aged asiago - 17 dollars - I didn't eat much of this, but I didn't think it looked very appealing (everything was brownish), and I thought the brisket was dry and had no real flavor. Spatzle was nothing special. C+

Spoonable 12 hour lamb breast/meyer lemon tagine/goat cheese sauce - 18 dollars - The lamb flavor was strong, but I liked this dish quite a bit. Meat was moist and flavorful, and the sides complemented it well. A-

Sturgeon/warm preserved lemon white bean salad/spicy herb relish - 23 dollars - I thought the fish was only OK, though others at the table liked it more than me. The sides were okay. I thought this dish was fine, but not too memorable. B

Heirloom pepper-shrimp stew/spicy Andouille sausage/rie - 20 dollars - This was basically just gumbo. It was the only spicy dish we tried, despite our assurances that other dishes (catfish, mussels, etc.) could be spicy. I thought it was pretty good. It included 5 large shrimp. B+

Catfish/tangerine cilantro sauce/lemongrass rice/red curry slaw - 17 dollars - This was my favorite dish on the table, though others disagreed with me. I thought the catfish was very fresh, cooked perfectly, and the sides complemented it really well. Not really spicy as promised, but I really liked the curry slaw and the cilantro sauce. A

Striped Bass/truffled cabbage/smoked potato cake/pickled celery root - 25 dollars - I had to text my brother just to remember that we had even ordered this....so I guess it wasn't too memorable for me. I think I remember liking the potato cake, which was like fried mashed potatoes. I think the fish was fresh. I'll give it a B-

Wine:

Verdad, Santa Ynez Valley ’09 - Tempranillo - 26 dollars - We all liked this a lot, and it paired well with lots of our dishes.

I unfortunately can't remember which white wine we tried, but I think it was a Chenin Blanc. I found it a bit too sweet, and preferred the red.

Dessert:

Pear bread pudding. This was pretty standard—nothing daring, nothing special, but it was very tasty. B+

Flourless chocolate cake with blood orange sauce - The cake was good, and I would have rather had it without the sauce. I also think putting blood orange on chocolate is a waste of color....you couldn't even see it! A- for the cake, B- for the sauce.

Overall, we had a nice time, and I'm glad we went here. I think it fit the bill for what we were looking for in terms of both menu choices and ambiance....but I agree with those who said the food is not really that special. There were definitely some hits and definitely some misses, but at that price point in SF, I can go to many restaurants and get practically all hits.

Also, I found it interesting that Passionfish doesn't necessarily use much local seafood. They do use sustainable seafood, but note on their menu that they often don't source locally because the local fisheries can't provide them with fish that are up to their standards.

Thanks again to everyone who advised on my meals for my trip!
Dave MP

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  1. Thanks for the full report and glad you liked the sprouts! I had that lamb dish recently and enjoyed it quite a bit.

    I do have to say that I had meant to add on the other thread, just for clarity, that I don't consider Passionfish a destination restaurant when compared to SF bay area restaurants (other than perhaps for the wine list), but I do go to Monterey and environs fairly often, and I do like PF quite a bit better than most of the other comparable places I have tried on the Peninsula. I also consider it to be a better value than many, particularly if one orders wine. My commitment to trying to only eat sustainable seafood and my love of trying new to me wines without spending tons of money are weighed fairly heavily in that preference.

    On our last visit we saw that menu note about local sources, which is new (added sometime in the last six months or so, if I am not mistaken). The PF definition of sustainability is based on the species themselves (per Monterey Bay Aquarium guidelines), *not* on a broader definition of sustainability to include the carbon footprint. Sadly, I believe it is true that finding reliable local sources while maintaining variety in a menu can be a challenge, particularly when some of the best of the local seafood is dependent on seasonal and/or weather issues. Indeed, one of my few real dings on PF is that the menu sometimes doesn't have as much variety as I would like....

    1. I attended a symposium about three years ago where Ms. Walter (http://www.passionfish.net/cindy), the owner of Passionfish, was the keynote speaker. At that time she said that she was leaning more and more to farmed species as the truly sustainable source.