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Saturday, August 22, 2009

Santa Monica Seafood Company: Go!

In my quest to eat more fish (it's more of a hassle to make at home), I was delighted to discover a long-time favorite that had converted itself into a seafood shop-cum-cafe in the form of Santa Monica Seafood Company. This has always been my go-to place for seriously fresh fish for my extravagant dinner parties. The small side-cafe is a welcome addition to reasonable choices on the west side for a casual, healthy and delicious meal. It also moved to a more central location on Wilshire from its former digs.

The hamachi (yellowtail) crudo drizzled with arugula pesto and lemon oil, topped with watercress and radishes was light, guilt-free and very refreshing (note: menu says it's supposed to be basil, but I got what looked and tasted like watercress -- guess it varies depending on availability). If you like sashimi, this is the starter (or main) for you. I had it as a main when I wanted something light for dinner.

For something to warm your soul (even on "hot" summer days in SoCal), there's nothing like the cioppino, a hearty, garlicky, slightly spicy stew with clams, mussels, shrimp, calamari, pieces of fish in a tomato-y broth that's made even better by the perfectly charred ciabatta slices it comes with. Gotta love those grill marks! Dip dip onto the broth and you're in heaven.

The broth is always key -- besides the freshness of the ingredients, that is, but that's a no-brainer since this joint has that down pat -- and it was obvious that they took care to use long-simmered fish broth to impart the kind of depth of flavor only attained through slow cooking. This was my favorite entree and I liked that it could easily be shared, which I did.

The other items were not as remarkable as these first two, but decent nevertheless. The crab cakes were just above average but I've definitely had better. I liked that they had plenty of the super pricey crab meat in them, but something about the patty mix and breaded coating were not perfect. The greens salad that it came with was a good balance to the almost-deep fried cakes. I also thought the dipping sauce it came with wasn't all that. It could be a bit spicier or something. A tad bland.

The steamed crab legs and claws that came with lemons, tartar sauce and shrimp cocktail sauce were not that great. Although my eating companion thoroughly enjoyed devouring them, I was on the fence. Maybe it has to do with the fact that I prefer some seasoning in them, a-la Crustacean, with some buttah, garlic, salt and pepper.

The steamed clams with white wine, garlic and tomatoes were good, but all too similar to the cioppino, even down to the grilled bread on top. I wouldn't order them at the same time.

Still, the verdict is I want to return for more and to try other dishes, like its clam chowder on a "winter" day in Cali, fish and chips (ok, not the healthiest but) and its seared scallops with side salad. By the way, it also serves wine and beer, but skip the honey raspberry beer as it doesn't taste good. It also serves breakfast options, which makes it a good place for brunch as well. It gets crowded during peak hours but I'm looking forward to returning soon. Service is also good. There's also a bar if you're by yourself and a small shop of gourmet goodies selling everything from fancy olive oils to the creamiest stinky cheeses.

Santa Monica Seafood Company
1000 Wilshire Blvd.
Santa Monica CA, 90401
(310) 393-5244

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