Thursday, March 19, 1998
In the chronology of things, the Whaling Station is John Pisto''s second restaurant, but the first real dinner house he opened. That was back in 1970, on the site of a former Chinese grocery store and junk shop that narrowly dodged the wrecking ball. Pisto and friends made a bid for the place, fixed it up themselves, and started doing stuff like grilling fish right out of the Bay.
It seemed simple enough at the time. But what wasn''t quite apparent was that Pisto was poised at the dawn of a Renaissance that ushered in a phenomenal change in how people thought about eating; a new style that was about celebrating the freshest, local, seasonal foods, one of life''s crowning glories on the Central Coast. With all four of his restaurants, Pisto has ridden the crest of that wave.
Since the remodeling of the Whaling Station a year ago, it''s become obvious that this menu particularly resonates with the excitement of the food that Pisto has fallen in love with. "I can honestly say we''re serving the best steaks in the world," he remarks. "I spent two years researching it, finding a supplier that would guarantee me USDA prime, making sure I wasn''t making a big mistake, and would be able to get it. That''s the top one percent of all the beef that''s raised. And most of it goes to Japan," he explains.
"I love a good steak. But it''s strange the way it works--you start craving one. You start thinking about it, in the morning maybe. You think, ''Maybe tonight or tomorrow I''ll go for a big fat T-bone or porterhouse or a Kansas City, extra juicy with the bone in. And what do you have to have with it? Me? You start with an ice-cold martini, or a Manhattan to open up your appetite. Maybe some beautiful, big Chesapeake oysters on the half shell. Then, I want a thick wedge of iceberg lettuce ice-cold, but it''s gotta be so thick that when you cut into it, it goes ''crrrunchhh.'' With real Roquefort cheese, some nice tomato and lots of red onion. And a great bottle of red wine," Pisto rhapsodizes.
However convincing, it falls short of the mark to think of this restaurant simply as a "steak house." Asked about the fried green tomatoes on the evening''s list of special appetizers, Pisto chuckles. "Yeah. The menu goes all over the place. We dip ''em in buttermilk, a little breadcrumbs, saut ''em and they''re great!"
You also can''t help noticing the Monterey Bay anchovies, pickled in-house. Then there''s handmade gnocchi with domestic black truffles, Oregon white truffle pasta. Further evidence of Pisto''s mycological bent finds wild mushroom soup, wood-fired scallops with wild maplecap mushrooms and wood roasted chicken breast with wild morels.
The story this menu tells is about how love of good food turns into a passion that becomes a way of life. "That''s what I tell people. The restaurant business isn''t a job," Pisto reflects. "It''s a way of life. And thanks to my partners, my family, my help, life is good." cw