Actually, the pier wasn’t that long, but the walk seemed to be as we searched for our lunch destination. But first you need to walk the gauntlet of nubile young women enticing you into their restaurant by handing out samples of clam chowder. We had a similar experience last year while approaching a restaurant near Cannery Row in Monterey, CA.
Fisherman’s Wharf in Monterey was no different. Who says that sex doesn’t sell?
Last fall we had a delightful lunch at The Fish Hopper here in Monterey, but this year we wanted to try something different, and after reading that Abalonetti Seafood is one of the Wharf’s original restaurants and that calamari is one of their specialties, we decided that this would be the place.
“Broiled, fried, sautéed with pasta or in a sandwich---squid here comes any which way you like it. There are plenty of other deep-water treasures, including spot prawns caught in Monterey Bay. A trip to Abalonetti is not complete without a stop at the antipasti bar. Hot and cold vittles include marinated artichoke hearts, steamed clams and chunks of feta. The restaurant is decades old, owned for years by longtime local restaurateur John Pisto. Of course, the restaurant traffics with the tourist trade, but it has remained true to its roots as a small wharf-side stand with a primary purpose to serve fresh fish to locals” (gayot.com).
As a welcome and as an indication of Abalonetti’s specialty, you enter the dining room by passing this wood carving of a giant squid.
The dining room, which overlooks the marina, is accented with blue-greens that mimic the colors of the waves that we had been photographing earlier that morning.
We decided that lunch would be three appetizers—one to share, one for Chuck, and one for me. To share, we ordered the fried calamari which was a huge plate of both large and small rings and large and small tentacles. Somehow, the kitchen managed to get both sizes cooked to perfection—no easy task.
This led us into a discussion about regional differences in food. We have eaten many a plate of fried calamari along the Eastern Seaboard and couldn’t ever remember being served a plate that contained the tentacles. These now have become my favorite part of the serving. I think because the tentacles allow for more breading/battering and thus allow for more crunchy pieces. The calamari, which proved to be the highlight of the meal, came with a delicious tartar sauce and a horseradish cocktail sauce.
Chuck’s appetizer was an order of the fried clam strips which frankly proved to be mediocre at best. The strips were over coated with a dry mixture that I think contained too much corn meal. Then they were overcooked. Again, regional differences came into play. In New England, clams and clam strips are frequently lightly tossed with flour (seasoned or unseasoned) or are dipped into a light beer batter. And a true East Coast fried clam aficionado prizes the clam bellies. Yes, these are the soft squishy parts. Chuck doesn’t prize the bellies.
Finally and inspired by John Steinbeck and his book Cannery Row, I decided to live dangerously and chose the grilled Monterey sardines which came with a spicy Sicilian marinara, chopped tomatoes, and basil. (Chuck passed on sharing my plate.) Since sardines are an oily and strong tasting fish, the charred taste from the grilling and the spicy sauce served to mitigate this strong flavor. I couldn’t fault the taste, but somehow I missed the omission of the word “filleted” from the menu’s description. Can I say boney? Very boney. They proved to be way too much work for the satisfaction derived.
Well, we had a hit, a sort of a hit, and a real miss, so give Abalonetti’s only a 3.0 Addie rating. Should have gone back to The Fish Hopper. Sometimes sticking with a known quantity is not a bad thing.