Sunday, August 24, 2008

Weekend in Review: Monterey Bay Fish Grotto

For some time now, I've been excited to try Monterey Bay Fish Grotto, open since March, when the Lerners opened this outpost of the Pittsburgh chain. Washingtonian's recent review, of course, raised some concerns, but I'm a seafood fanatic, so I remained steadfast in my quest to try it. Last weekend provided an opportunity, and I'm quite pleased that we took that opportunity.

"The Grotto" captures the essence of Tyson's. Most tables enjoy views of the office buildings and areas cleared for potential development, several high-end sports cars are parked in the valet area, and most of my fellow diners were typical shoppers (you know the type) from the nearby Galleria at Tyson's, all indicative of quintessential Tyson's Corner. I was comfortable, nevertheless, in the appropriate space adorned with hanging wicker fish and glass waterfall murals. A section of the restaurant is free standing, and is reminiscent of the fish houses lining Monterey Bay in central California (the structure, not the atmosphere in the dining room).

The menu is extensive, and heavy for that matter, with twenty-three varieties of fresh fish available on this occasion. According to our waiter (who, while informative, was at times overly self-wise), all of the fish, including the Hawaiian-caught, is flown in within 24 hours. Diners are given recommendations in terms of preparation, though as we are told, fish can be done "any way you want it". Also on the menu for the evening was an $85 tasting menu, complete with five courses. While it sounded tempting, especially Black Squid Linguini, for which I'm always game, the options were limited. In the end, we wanted more choice than decadence, and chose to order a la carte. I was disappointed, however, to find that the linguine could not be ordered separate and apart from the tasting menu.

Among the guests at our table, the Artisan breads were a hit, including a pretzel roll, which I must say was FAB-U-LOUS. For appetizers, the Ahi Sashimi Quartet was heaven, including tuna-wrapped lump crab, and three seperate tartare presentations. I will recite this once, and only once - order a Hawaiian fish here. Yes, there are 23 varieties of other fish, and all sorts of other distractions, but save yourself the time, and do as I say. The Walu Escolar, Ono, and Opaka-Paka are all delicious, as are the Caribbean and Forbidden preparations. Dessert was also a treat, particularly the luscious Orange Creamsicle Cheesecake.

Really, I don't have many complaints. The shrimp cocktail, served with a presentation of dry ice, lacked a flavorful cocktail sauce. The Hot Chocolate Latte, though tasty, was a bit heavy to accompany fish. But, really, when these are your complaints, there isn't much to complain about. Evidently, other locals agree.

I would note is that if you don't eat fish, don't bother coming here. It would be a waste to order anything else (including the fried seafood offerings). We actually saw a large family march in, with six or seven kids ordering hot dogs and spaghetti - it seemed such a waste of the cuisine, and the occasion. Speaking of occasions, this is a great spot to celebrate. The prices are steep, so this destination is perfect for a celebratory treat (perhaps on mom and dad?!). The apparent Japanese and Hawaiian influences make this a unique dining experience from the sea - a must on my list.

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