Spicy Grilled Snapper, Crab Cakes, Ahi Tuna with Wasabi Butter
Occupation: Stage Lighting
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: Pacific Café
Reviewed Pacific Café: Thursday, August 17, 2006
We tried to get to the Pacific Café when they opened at 5 pm as there’s always a huge line of people waiting to be seated. They don’t take reservations. We waited about twenty minutes for a table as it was. Parking is a bit of a challenge, though not as difficult as other parts of the city. The tables were filled and people were waiting out the door, awash in conversations, and partly fueled by the free wine that is always offered the customers while they wait. The place was hopping and lively with chatter, but the partitions of the wooden booths kept noise to an agreeable level. The soft salmon glow,rich wood tones, and brown linen tablecloths add to a very homespun décor, accented with photographs from the neighborhood going back as far as the 1800s, when Geary Blvd. was nothing more than a sand dune.
The wait staff was courteous, intelligent, and our water glasses were never empty. Our server, who told us he’d been working there for over thirty years, was exceptional in helping me choose a selection from their short wine list, even going so far as offering me free samples, of which I chose a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. We had learnt from previous visits not to overindulge in the warm loaf of sourdough bread that they provided, but it worked wonderfully in the soups.
Our first course consisted of soup. I had the salmon bisque and my sweetie ordered the Pacific clam chowder. Both were beyond reproach. The bisque tasted all butter and cream, and for those who think clam chowder has to be like wallpaper paste, they will be pleasantly surprised to try this recipe.
Next came the salad, which was part of the entrée. Although the greens were simply torn leaves of romaine, the Shrimp Louis dressing was ample in portion, and full of fresh shrimp.
We chose our entrées from the chalkboard of the daily menu. My sweetie ordered the Halibut Parmesan and I had the ahi tuna with wasabi butter. The Halibut Parmesan is my favorite entrée there. Tender, flaky, and not over-breaded, nor smothered in sauce, it is scrumptious. The Parmesan crust is delicate but flavorful. The ahi tuna was an enormous portion and sautéed to a perfect medium rare, like a seared slab of sashimi. The wasabi butter added some spice, but did not overpower the fish. The red potatoes were a simple, flavorful complement.
Although we were almost full, we could not resist ordering dessert. I had the tiramisu, which was moist and decadent. Gillian had the chocolate mousse torte, which she described simply as orgasmic. The coffee was fresh and oily, with clouds of cream mingling in my cup.
Favorite Restaurant: China Village
Reviewed Pacific Café: Sunday, August 6, 2006
My husband and I picked one of those “coldest winter was a summer in San Francisco” nights in August to come to the Ocean Beach in our beloved city. Our mission this time was to check out a San Franciscan institution called Pacific Café Seafood Restaurant on Geary Boulevard. When we arrived, it was a Sunday night at about 6:45. We were very lucky to have free street parking right across the street from the restaurant. Now, that was, of course, as rare in San Francisco as an August heat wave! But there were already at least a dozen of people waiting outside the restaurant, each holding a glass of wine in hand and having a good time. We put down the name for our table on the waiting list at the entrance and a waitress promptly handed us a glass of complimentary wine. We checked out the surrounding neighborhood, had plenty of time for people watching, and enjoyed each other’s company. We finally got our table after a little over one hour of waiting and inside we felt the warmth of this thirty-two-year-old restaurant immediately. The glowing of salmon-mocha colored light from the global ceiling lamps and deeper shade of the same colored wall made us feel cozy and relaxed. The wall arts made good indication that this is a San Franciscan seafood eatery. The place was packed and people from all walks of life, locals and tourists, were enjoying their Sunday night dinner! It gave us a good sense of “family owned and enjoyed by families” business.
We were served promptly as soon as we sat down. The regular menu is a straightforward and no-fuss food and beverage list. The daily specials and desserts were written on a board above the kitchen window. We shared a half order of entrée size crab cakes, which was recommended by our waitress. It had a thin crunchy crust and tender and moist lump of real crabmeat in the middle with rich creamy taste. Each entrée came with salad or soup. We tried both: salad with Shrimp Louis and Pacific Clam Chowder. The salad was simple crisp iceberg lettuce with creamy and tangy Shrimp Louis dressing. We loved the clam chowder because it was not the usual thick-creamy-over-floured-can't-find-any-clams kind of chowder. It was hearty, flavorful and we could taste each ingredient. I think on a cold San Franciscan night, I can easily have a large bowl of this hearty soup for supper! Our main course entrées were Halibut Parmesan from the daily special and Filet of Sole Newburg from the regular menu. The halibut was tender and juicy with a very crunchy thin Parmesan crust, but the fish tasted bland to me. The Filet of Sole Newburg was very delicate. The fish filet was stuffed with curried crabmeat and shrimp and baked in a cream-based Newburg sauce with paprika sprinkled on the top. It was so delicate and just melted in my mouth! The flavor of the fish, crab, and shrimp was well balanced with the sauce. This was a well-executed dish. Though the restaurant doesn’t make its own dessert, it does have a few good choices. We had a very rich and dense chocolate tart and New York Cheesecake. In fact, we felt the desserts were a little too heavy after the seafood dishes we had.
Just as we drove away into the foggy night, I looked back at this cozy lovely restaurant, the simple signs in the front may be a little weathered, but the warmth of that salmon-mocha colored light glowed in the night like a lighthouse in a sea of grayness. No wonder people have been coming here for the past thirty-three years! May there be lights at the Pacific Café. We’ll be back.
Occupation: Finance Editor
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: Chez Nous
Reviewed Pacific Café: Saturday, August 12, 2006
I’m not a huge seafood eater -- it has more to do with what I perceive as a lack of value or bang for the buck. This sort of held true for Pacific Café -- if I want to spend $20 or so on an entree, I’d personally prefer a steak. However, our experience at Pacific Café was wonderful, start to finish.
The staff was friendly and attentive without being invasive and they were extremely accommodating of our baby. We took advantage of the almost famous “free wine while you wait,” and it was appreciated. Luckily, we only waited about fifteen minutes, because we got there pretty early. When we got to the table, a really good sourdough was waiting there for us. The tables can’t be moved; they’re built in and rather large. Despite this, it was comfortable; the interior is simple with chalkboard menus and a lot of the kitchen’s hustle and bustle is apparent for all to see. Vibrant. The waitresses were very helpful in assisting with narrowing down the menu choices, and there were a lot of fresh seafood options, including abalone and calamari steak in addition to fish. In addition to being very attentive and friendly, the service was very, very quick! This is especially appreciated when dining with an infant present.
The starters were really nice -- my wife got the Shrimp Louis, which was good (I think “Louis” is one of those things that’s always pretty safe -- hard to mess up, but never spectacular). I got the “Pacific Clam Chowder,” which was basically a New England-style chowder. I love clam chowder, and this was a fine example of it, probably the best I’ve had in the Bay Area. It had good ingredient distribution, nice peppery seasoning, flavorful clams, and just creamy enough -- not overly creamy, like most “New England” style chowders tend to be.
We went with a bottle of Pinot Grigio, one of the wine specials -- it was a suggestion by our waitress and went perfectly with our dinner. After the free wine while waiting, I perhaps overestimated my ability to share a whole bottle. If I go back, I will certainly go for wine by the glass instead. Fortunately, they have many options.
I really liked my spicy grilled snapper -- it brought the heat but also had a lot of flavor without masking that of the firm, flaky fish. The fries are great -- giant wedges. My wife’s Parmesan Halibut was good, a little too chewy for my tastes, but she enjoyed it greatly and preferred it to my snapper. She said the red potatoes were cooked perfectly. The portions in both cases were huge, which partially offset my price concerns.
We had a sort of chocolate cake for dessert (a “baked mousse,” I believe) that was more or less akin to eating a big piece of ganache. Naturally, it was good. Dessert is not this place’s priority, but they have several good options.
If Pacific Café were in my neighborhood, I would go about once a month, I think, but since I live clear across town and rely solely on public transportation, I doubt I’ll go back very often. However, I won’t rule it out entirely. The place is not “special,” but very, very solid and satisfying with a great staff and lively atmosphere.