Welcome to mmm-yoso!!!, Kirk's wonderful food blog, featuring the culinary adventures of Kirk and his friends. Today he is letting ed (from Yuma) post about a meal he had on Fisherman's Wharf in Monterey last summer.
Perhaps some regular reader mmm-yoso!!! may recall that I claimed to have gone to two different tourist oriented, Fisherman's Wharf area restaurants on my last visit to Monterey. Although I was able to post about The Sandbar and Grill last summer, before I could describe my second touristy meal for my friends at this blog, my real job interfered, leaving you all (I am sure, of course) eagerly awaiting the posting about the other Fisherman's Wharf restaurant that I visited. Luckily, I have tasting notes and pictures because at my age the memory ain't what it used to be.
After asking all of my gourmet/gourmand/foodie friends in the Monterey area about which wharf restaurant they would eat at, assuming that they were forced to eat at one, the consensus pick was Cafe Fina, owned by Dominic Mercurio, one of the men who had originally founded Dominico's, the Wharf's most famous restaurant (though according to my friends, no longer the best restaurant there). The two-story restaurant is rather narrow and small by Wharf standards and is located western/northern (left) side of the Wharf not far from the entrance to the dock. Except for the couple of hours before sunset (when we were there), some tables at the back of the restaurant would have a nice view of Monterey Bay and hundreds of boats.
At first taste, I began to regret my decision to play tourist, as the soft bread was closer to supermarket French bread than to the wonderfully rustic, European-style breads that are regularly available in the Monterey area. While the whipped herb butter was flavorful and matched well with the softness of the bread, I did not think that this was an auspicious beginning to the meal.
The wine list also seemed somewhat limited (although there was a page of very expensive choices in case I had won the lottery recently), but I did select a bottle of Sicilian white wine, Regaleali Bianco, which turned out to be an excellent white wine, particularly considering that it was less than $30 on the wine list:
The next thing to show up at our table was the complimentary appetizer; Steve and Helen are slightly acquainted with Mr. Mercurio, so we felt special to get this freebie. Little did we know at that time, that anyone who visits the Cafe Fina website may print themselves a coupon for a complimentary appetizer. This particular evening, the appetizer was composed of two parts. The first were fresh Monterey Bay sardines grilled over a wood fire:
These fish were something new for me; every sardine I had ever eaten up to this time had come out of a can. I wasn't even sure how to eat them though I quickly learned that the bones were too substantial and crunchy to eat along with the flesh. I am just glad I didn't start at the head end. However, by simply placing a fork alongside the spine I was able to pull off a complete sardine fillet. These fishies were solid, mildly but distinctively fish flavored, slightly smoky, and very basic in taste. I can imagine old fishermen eating these on some Mediterranean beach a hundred years ago. A truly primal flavor.
Again, this item tasted traditional and basic. Although I found the mild flavor of the eggplant (mostly tasting of olive oil) a bit lacking for seasoning, Helen happily scarfed up most of this half of the appetizer.
We had decided on sharing a Caesar salad, and all of us were very happy with this version of the traditional preparation. So happy, in fact, that the salad was half eaten before I remembered to photograph it (oops):
In contrast with the second-rate salad from the Sandbar and Grill, this version is what I expect in a Caesar salad in a restaurant. The flavors of garlic, Parmesan cheese, and anchovy came through the creamy dressing. A whole anchovy fillet that lay across the top of the salad quickly found its way into my mouth. Yum.
This chowder met all of my requirements. The broth was neither pasty nor gelatinous; instead, it was creamy with hints of salt pork and intense clam flavor and with a decided herbal undertone. Pieces of potato, small chunks of carrot, and a large quantity of clams added to my delight. Of course, you need to take my word on this as all clam chowders look pretty much the same in photos. Then, trying to document how clammy and good this chowder was led me to take perhaps the worst photograph of my entire life (and given my limited photographic skills, that is indeed saying something):
As you can see, this picture is uniquely awful. While I was trying to show how large some of the discs of clam meat were, all I succeeded in showing was that someone should never take a close-up photo of a soup-spoon sized pale colored clam slice, covered in cream colored broth, posed over a white bowl of light-colored soup. The fact that, in addition, my shaky hands blurred the photo probably neither added to nor detracted from the results.
This fillet was wonderfully tender, moist, and not overcooked, and the flesh broke apart at the touch of a fork. The marsala sauce, while more assertive than the brandy sauce, still did not overwhelm the fish. Both of our entrees were accented with dollops of dark caviar and bits of chopped roasted red pepper and were accompanied by a savory mound of homemade orzo pasta (toothsome if not aggresively al dente) and by zucchini strips sauteed in olive oil with a touch of marinara. Both Steve and I were very pleased with the mains and the side dishes.
This traditional Californian combination of small shrimp and chopped fresh Roma tomatoes, California olives, and green onion, served on top of fresh homemade linguine, was the best version of this dish I have ever tasted. In particular, the flavors of the various ingredients were brought together by the light seafoody sauce full of garlicky shallot flavor. This picture does not properly show how gigantic this serving was. Helen was also amazed by the quantity of toppings on the noodles. This was not a huge pile of pasta lightly covered with toppings, but instead, the portion of shrimp, in particular, was huge. She took home most of her entree and happily reheated it as an early dinner the next night.
Overall, we agreed that this was a good meal. Unfortunately, I have lost the receipt, so I don't have a specific idea of what each item cost (though the web site gives entree prices at around $20), but we felt that we had received good value, considering that Cafe Fina is a Fisherman's Wharf restaurant. In addition, we were told (a number of times by our friendly waitperson) that the restaurant grows most of its own vegetables organically on its own farm. Similarly, all the pasta served in the restaurant is homemade. While Cafe Fina is certainly a tourist oriented restaurant that sticks to the basic Mediterranean/Italian flavors common to most old-school Monterey restaurants, the three of us agree that the dishes that we had had were generally tasty and interesting. Heck, I would happily go back there and play tourist again.
Cafe Fina, 47 Fisherman's Wharf #1, Monterey CA, 1-800-THE-FINA (843-3462).