I am sure that Kirk and Cathy are eating well and will soon share the details with the rest of us. Today, though, this is ed from Yuma focusing on the entrees at Passionfish on the Monterey Peninsula. Next time I post, I promise it will be about someplace different.
As most of you are able to tell by now, I am a fan of Passionfish in Pacific Grove. Not all of my meals of Passionfish have been outstanding; in particular, I can remember one clunker of a meal about five years ago. On some visits, a dish may not satisfy me as much as most dishes at Passionfish have. Nonetheless, three things remain constant at Passionfish. First, the dishes will be creative and often innovative. Second, the wine choices will be numerous and the wine will be priced close to retail. Third, the meal will represent an excellent dining value, particularly in comparison with the other restaurant choices in Carmel and on the Monterey Peninsula.
A major reason that this restaurant continues to lure me back again and again is that this is a restaurant with a vision. The couple that owns the restaurant, Ted and Cindy Walter, each has an important role in Passionfish's success. He is the head chef, and she manages the dining rooms. The restaurant represents their personal passion and their individual dedication to the art and science of running a restaurant. Unlike so many restaurants that begin well and then go into a long declining phase, Passionfish has continually improved over the years. The dining rooms have been redecorated to make them more appealing. The chef is constantly working on new flavor combinations and keeping what he is most satisfied with and tweaking dishes that need improvement. In my third and final post about Passionfish, I want to share with you the most interesting and best tasting entrées I've eaten (or at least gotten a taste of) over the last couple of years.
While the emphasis at the restaurant is on sustainable seafood, the needs of carnivores are not neglected. My favorite entrée from the land has to be the duck confit ($17 last year, $19 this year):
It seems that ever since the restaurant opened, there has been a version of this dish on the menu. Last year, a moist, rich, and tender hind quarter of a duck was paired with succulent braised fennel and spicy chili potatoes. It is hard to believe that this duck has first been cooked in fat and then grilled because it is not at all greasy or oily. The meat literally falls from the bones. Braised fennel may be my all time favorite vegetable - tender, lightly flavored, and rich. The chili gratin potatoes add a nice contrast in terms of tastes and textures, while the Carmel Valley honey reduction provides a note of sweetness that helps bring all the flavors together.
Seafood, however, provides most of the entrées on the menu. I am continually impressed that the kitchen serves only fish and shellfish from sustainable fisheries; yet, at the same time, the menu will always has a wide range of seafood dishes to choose from. This year, for example, Steve ordered Alaskan sablefish crusted with pepper and accompanied by wasabi slaw and baby bok choy ($20):
The tender, perfectly cooked sablefish was moist and tasty, it's mild flavor shown off by the intense black pepper crust. The accompanying items offered a wonderful contrast to each other. The julienned red apple slices in the wasabi slaw added spicy and fruity notes to the dish. On the other hand, warm sautéed baby bok choy contributed notes of fresh vegetable greenery. For added flavor, the fish was accompanied by a ginger vinaigrette, adding a touch of contrast with its sour spicy tang.
Another long time favorite at the restaurant is the barbecued shrimp with a spicy Vietnamese sauce:
Last year (as pictured) we had the dish as an entrée ($20); this year it was an appetizer ($10). The main difference is in the number of shrimp (eight or four) and the number of cabbage rice fritters (two or one). The shrimp are always perfectly cooked: moist and juicy inside and slightly charred on the outside. The fritters similarly showed the chef's sure hand, the crunchy exterior completely covering the soft and moist interior. For contrast, the slaw here has strong lemongrass and chili flavors, hot and sour notes. The Vietnamese style sauce that literally underlies the shrimp also has spicy and tangy elements, but it's more dominated by its touch of sweetness and garlic, with perhaps just a hint of fish sauce. This is a fusion dish that works extremely well.
On the same visit that Steve ordered that wonderful shrimp entrée, I had Gulf of Maine scallops ($23 last year, $24 this year):
To be honest, I have few memories of the broccoli rabe which was underneath the thyme risotto custard. And no memory of the risotto custard at all. But I hope I never forget those scallops as long as I live. That night, I got lucky - I hit the jackpot. Never in my life have I tasted scallops so perfectly prepared. How the chef was able to put a crunchy top and bottom on each scallop while leaving the center of each one perfectly rare and moist is beyond me. Frankly, I doubt if any chef could prepare scallops that perfect on a consistent basis. Each scallop tasted outstandingly fresh and was incredibly tender. I'm sure that the tomato truffle butter went well with the scallops, but again my only memory of that meal are those scallops because they were that good.
During my most recent dinner at Passionfish, I got to sample two very fine entrées. The first was tilapia with thyme mashed potatoes and garlic-balsamic vinegar butter ($18):
The picture here does not do justice to the dish. The tilapia was tender and mildly flavored. The mashed potatoes were soft and rich. The vinegar butter was an ideal accompaniment to bring together the potatoes and the fish. This sweet and slightly sour gravy perfectly accented the flavor of the tilapia and simultaneously cut through some of the richness of the potatoes. To balance the soft textures and complementary flavors of the fish and potatoes, the perfectly cooked (meaning still very crunchy) and extremely fresh sugar snap peas added a major contrast in flavor, texture, and color.
The other outstanding entrée that evening was wild Monterey salmon topped with coriander aioli over a cucumber, dill, and medjool date salad ($22):
Nothing I have eaten in my life really prepared me for the look and the taste of this entrée. The salmon was, of course, perfectly grilled - with a slight touch of char and a wonderful moist and flaky interior. The fish itself was extremely fresh and well flavored. I have learned to expect this at Passionfish. What amazed me that evening and still amazes me is the accompaniment to the fish. While the plate and the fish were both hot, the chunks of cucumber were cool as well as crunchy. The contrasts in taste, temperature, and texture were outstanding. The medjool dates provided a hint of sweetness and the dill added a background spice note, but both were secondary flavors. I assume the beautiful green color resulted from puréed cucumber skin (because I could detect no other flavors), and the resulting two-tone color scheme of the entrée made it almost as attractive to my eyes as it was attractive in my mouth. The aioli was truly a case of gilding the lily as its flavors of coriander and roasted garlic were certainly not needed to make the dish a tasty success. The salmon was rich and flavorful enough on its own, but I was not tempted to scrape the rich aioli off the fish. This was certainly one of the best and most original salmon dishes I can remember.
The only way I can properly end this look at some of my favorite entrées from Passionfish is with one of my favorite desserts there. This simple combination of good vanilla ice cream and unbelievably fresh and flavorful raspberries in a Cabernet syrup makes for a refreshing conclusion to any of the wonderful meals at Passionfish ($6):