Flying Fish Grill
Flying Fish Grill offers such a wide-ranging blend of cuisines that there may be too much of a good thing.
Thursday, September 27, 2001
A few weeks back I voraciously devoured a juicy mystery novel penned by a friend about an angler/journalist and a mushroom hunter in Petaluma. Images of ties and flies and sundry other fishing accouterments are still spinning around in my head. So when I heard the name "Flying Fish Grill," what came to mind was a macho American grill with overstuffed beady-eyed fish masquerading as art. And when I called to ask about the cuisine, a gracious young woman explained that grilled fish and steak were the specialties, confirming the idea I had about the place.
What my dining companion and I, however, found as we entered this establishment was the décor of the Japanese restaurant that had inhabited the space here years before. Flying fish on the walls and ceiling and a collection of cute East Indian statues including a trio of smiling cats at the door provided distraction but we were still puzzled about what to expect. Without a moment to ponder this, however, we were welcomed in by a warm, genuinely caring staff. The hostess, two servers on the way to our table, our server, and the chef/owner (though he was dressed in black so we weren''t sure of his role at the time), all greeted us within minutes of our arrival.
From the looks of things on the menu, we surmised that an Asian Fusion, not an American diner was on the horizon. Appetizers ($5 to $8.75) included Steamed Artichoke with Wasabi Mayonnaise, Spring Rolls, California Rolls, Shrimp Curry Soup, and a succulent Tuna Sashimi with an elegant arcing lemon skin swirl as a garnish and a dab of wasabi--it was pressed into a leaf shape like those spearmint gumdrops--that was smoky and redolent of freshly grated horseradish root. Pan-fried oysters were available as a special, but as an oyster newbie I passed.
Flying Fish Grill
725 Mission between Ocean and 7th in Carmel Plaza.
625-1962 after 3:30pm
Hours: Open daily from 5pm, closed Tuesday.
We crunched and munched on the first basket of colossal fried wonton chips, breaking and biting off little bits and dipping them into a mild ginger and cilantro infused salsa while taking in entrée options ($15-24) including Rare Pepper-Crusted Ahi with a Mustard Sesame Soy Vinaigrette and Angel Hair Pasta, Tempura Prawns, Grilled Chicken, Sliced NY Steak with Shimeji Mushrooms in Madeira Sauce with Steamed Rice, Seafood Pasta, Almond Seabass, a special of Grilled Escolar with Shitake and Shimeji Mushrooms, Sun dried Tomatoes, and Marsala Wine Sauce, and Clay Pot Dinners for two of beef (Shabu Shabu) or Shrimps, Scallops, Mussels, Squid, and Fish (Yosenabe). Sensing this was not her first day on the job, we didn''t hesitate to ask for, and receive swiftly from our server, a second basket of warm, crispy wontons. She brilliantly described the Escolar as well as any fishmonger, and went on to talk about her favorites, though, she added, "I like everything on the menu."
I was intrigued with the little touches such as exotic mushrooms--though the ones we tasted seemed dried and rehydrated--and the use of wine in the sauces. The wine list, too, was impressive, featuring very reasonably priced local wines by the glass such as Ventana Sauvignon Blanc ($4.50), Paraiso Springs Chardonnay ($5), Chateau Julien Merlot ($4.50), and J. Lohr Cabernet Sauvignon ($6). Flourishes such as Kir Royale ($6.75), and half bottles of highly allocated Qupe Syrah ($13) and Ridge Lytton Springs Zinfandel ($42) showed a serious interest in the beverage department, and by-the-glass selections including Navarro Gewurztraminer and Chappellet Old-Vine Cuvee Chenin Blanc ($6 each) confirmed an above average food-and-wine pairing consciousness. With all this knowledge and wine savvy it was a bit of a letdown to see the glassware--small glasses filled to the rim rather than larger bowls less full. Carmel Brewery Wheat Beer ($3.75) as one of three microbrews and a choice of hot or chilled Ozeki or chilled Hakushika sakes rounded out the drink selections nicely.
We were off to a soaring start with the gracious hospitality, professional, attentive, but not intrusive service, those addictive wonton chips, and the sensual sashimi, but when our entrées arrived, our moods plummeted. I had ordered a dish described as Scallops and Gulf Prawns in Spicy Curry Cream Sauce with Fettuccine, and when the plate was set before me, I thought it was a mistake. It was as confusing visually as it was in taste. The pasta was sitting in a light yellow creamy curry with large scallops and prawns lavishly circling the dish, but on top of this were snow peas, red peppers, dried cranberries, and peanuts. On first bite, I also discovered water chestnuts. Fusion does infer a mix, but just how many cuisines get along on one plate? The scallops were large and raw in the middle while the prawns were tough from overcooking. The buttery and creamy curry sauce was delicious with the al dente noodles and seafood, but clashed with the unexpected embellishments. My companion''s dish, Salmon with Fermented Chinese Black Beans, Shimeji and Shitake Mushrooms, Ginger and Scallions Steamed in a Paper Pouch arrived with a heaping mound of zucchini and carrot slivers.
The air was thick with anticipation as my tablemate peeled back the paper pouch, revealing a large salmon fillet covered with the fermented beans and resting on a bed of mushrooms, bok choy (or something similar), and broth. Unfortunately, the salmon had that iodine quality from too much time in the oven, though this was barely apparent under the overpowering, acrid saltiness of the bean paste coating. We decided that we had ordered poorly, and regretted not trying the Shabu Shabu while polishing off bowls of the perfectly steamed rice we had generously drizzled with tasty shoyu.
With bellies uncomfortably full of wonton and rice we passed on a selection of desserts including Green Tea, Hot Fudge, or Warm Banana Sundaes, Crème Brulée, and Chocolate Decadence. We didn''t even linger over a cup of Roasted Rice, Green or Jasmine teas.
Owner Kenny Fukumoto once again came over to check on us, flashing a big, toothy, genuine smile. We left with the glow of warm and attentive service but conflicting tastes and a lack of focus left us feeling a bit unsettled.