Kirk and Cathy are no doubt doing interesting things and eating wonderful food, but just don't feel like posting about it. So this is ed from Yuma filling in the gap with pictures and words about the salads and appetizers at Passionfish on the Monterey Peninsula.
Many people feel that the best items on the Passionfish menu are their salads and appetizers. These days, the menu contains three separate pre-entrée categories: Teasers, First Courses, and Salads, but for purposes of this post, our focus will be on first, salads and then, other appetizers.
Often the restaurant will have some version of a roasted beet salad. Last year, the roasted beets were served with greens, goat cheese, and very thin onion rings ($8). We liked it so much that we ordered it on both of our visits last year:
Your eyes are not lying. Once the salad was made with roasted red beets, and once with yellow. In both cases the sweet earthiness of the roasted beet played off against the tang of the goat cheese. The deep-fried oniony flavor of the battered rings complemented the nutty arugula flavors. The varied textures also played across the tongue: the crunch of onion, the fleshy mouth feel of the beet, the chew of the greens, and the creaminess of the cheese.
This year we tried two other new salads. The baked Gorgonzola with curried greens, candied pecans, and golden chutney ($8) was an amazing tastefest:
This amazing salad combined tastes that I never would have imagined putting together. Of course, if you're going to use a curried dressing on a salad (a thought that never occurred to me, I must admit) , it does make some sense to pair that salad with the complex sweet and fruit notes of a mango and currant chutney. But candied pecans? Yet the nuts added a different type of sweetness and certainly a distinctive crunchy texture to the salad. Most amazing in this context is the hot packet of crispy dough lying atop the salad. When cut open, the packet yields creamy melted Gorgonzola, the molten cheese adding salty and funky flavors that offer a total taste and textural contrast to the rest of the salad.
Again, the chef has sought to balance cheese flavors and textures with nuts, fruit, and greens. Steve and Helen wolfed down this salad so fast that I am unable to comment further as to how it tasted.
Last year, I enjoyed perhaps my favorite salad from all of my years of visiting Passionfish. Strangely enough, it was listed not with the salads, but as a first course: smoked sturgeon with celery and dates ($6):
The pristine Salinas Valley mixed greens were topped with four slices of succulent smoked sturgeon (as you can see, I ate half of one of the pieces before I remembered to take this picture). The firm flesh of the sturgeon had a distinct smoky flavor but was equally fresh and moist. It would not have been out of place on nigiri sushi rice. As the chef often likes to balance flavors, the savory fish was matched with sweet and sugary mashed medjool dates - as seen at the top and bottom of the plate. On each side of the plate were slices of crunchy celery in a celery puree. Once again, when I looked at the dish described on the menu, I had trouble imagining why these ingredients were together. Once I started putting them into my mouth, the chef's skill came through clearly. Celery and dates go together well, and both of them seem to bring out smoky and slightly fishy taste of the sturgeon. And all the other textures in the salad stood out from the firm cool fish flesh.
One of the oddest appetizers I have ever eaten at Passionfish was on the menu this year. It was modestly called oysters with a cucumber relish ($8). If Melanie Wong hadn't expressed her enthusiasm about the dish, it never would have occurred to me to order this rather peculiar looking appetizer:
For me, this little appetizer was much like two appetizers in one. When I took the first bite of one of the long flatworm-like objects tangled together around the middle of the plate, I was happy with the flavor but also puzzled, because I had forgotten some of the details of Melanie's discussion of this dish. My mouth was crunching on something with a very familiar flavor, but the input from my eyes and the input from my mouth didn't agree. I couldn't figure out what I was eating. Luckily our very friendly and competent waitperson was in the area and I asked her what those things where. When she told me that they were shaved fennel slices with seaweed, suddenly my culinary confusion was gone. When I put the next long slice in my mouth, I first could taste the light licorice flavor of the fennel, which I had not noticed on the first bite. Then I recognized the dominant flavor, which was the seaweed, even though visually the seaweed is a small element in the appetizer. Overall, the center of this appetizer tasted like a lightly fennel flavored and very crunchy seaweed salad. Really amazing.
Around the edge of the seaweed/fennel combo were four plump briny oysters swimming in a sea of cucumber purée. The oysters were clearly the star of this part of the dish and the cucumber relish showed off their flavor very well. Nonetheless, unlike Melanie, I felt that the two halves of this appetizer never truly went together. When I tried to eat fennel slices and oyster simultaneously, I loved the textual contrasts but found that to my mouth the tastes jarred against each other. Your results might differ.
No discussion of appetizers at Passionfish would be complete without a look at what is many people's favorite, Dungeness crab cake with a lime relish ($8 last year, $11 this year):
This is an outstanding crab cake. While the lime and tomato elements in the relish add a nice contrast in flavors and colors to the plate, here the Dungeness is king (please excuse the crab joke):
They say that a picture is worth a thousand words. In this case I will spare you those thousand words because that picture makes the best conclusion possible for a look at the salads and appetizers at Passionfish. Yum.