Fresh on Fremont
Former Aquarium chef team brings sustainable taste to Point Joe’s.
Thursday, August 24, 2006
Now this is my kinda tuna sandwich: Two picture-perfect-pink slices of spice-rubbed ahi with panzu sauce, drizzly wasabi mayo and cabbage coleslaw. The nicely seared ahi is the tender melt-in-the-mouth type of just right; the wasabi sauce is good enough that there could never be enough; and the hearty wheat ciabatta bread is a worthy platform.
It is a massive sandwich at that—many a restaurant might’ve braked at one slice of ahi—but too good not to vanquish. That said, Point Joe’s turkey sandwich might be better. And that’s coming from a palate not all that enamored with turkey; my colleague and lunch companion, however, is a devotee, ceremoniously announcing upon his order that no matter how elite a food spot, his perpetual lunchtime litmus test for quality is the house’s turkey sandwich. He found himself wooed by the stack of oven-roasted turkey, tomato confit and melted dill havarti on a soft Franchese roll. I had to get onboard the bird experience—and discovered each independently tasty component made for a superior sandwich greater than the sum of the ingredients’ individual yum.
My other colleague thought her burger ($11.95) sturdy, but nothing to pen iambic pentameter over. It came big and with cheddar cheese and a choice between homemade potato chips or balsamic vinaigrette spinach salad. All three of us went for the salad, and it was basic but, favorably enough, organic.
As I dusted the final corner of the second big half of my sandwich I realized the best part about this new restaurant may be its corners, and the fact that they’re never cut. Tim Fisher is the former executive chef at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and his partner Francisco Mellado was sous chef at the Aquarium’s Portola Café. These two bring a greater consciousness for sustainability to the former Monterey Joe’s: Sustainable seafood, organic greens and hormone-free meats are standard. They are also very insistent that their restaurant is a brave new vision—their “innovative seasonal cuisine” motto is reflected in an inventive menu that changes every few months along with the art on the walls—but much about the original Monterey Joe’s remains, including the open kitchen and the long forest green marble bar (with the full complement of bottles and oak-fired oven behind it).
Two later trips to the Point netted another standout seafood lunch and a dinner with less impressive results.
This lunchtime another colleague took on the ahi tuna sandwich herself and echoed my adulation. My Grilled Prawn Salad ($12.95) was a piece away from perfect: The six chipotle-rubbed prawns were tender, blackened, and very flavorful, and the unorthodox combination of spring greens, calamata olives, tomatoes and cubes of grilled pineapple worked. The feta cheese listed on the menu was left off, but our waiter was quick to remedy the situation.
By night, Point Joe’s was a little dim, but welcoming. Local artist June and I relished in the relaxed atmosphere that gave us ample time to plot our intake from the lists of pastas, grilled meats and seafood. While our server struggled to offer any practical counsel, we still laid out a nice line-up: Castroville Grilled Artichoke ($7.95), a spot of black-bean soup of the day ($4.95), Sand Dab Picatta ($16.95) and Short Ribs ($17.95). I also tabbed a Estancia Chardonnay ($7) from a well-balanced wine list of 63 bottles and 18 wines by the glass.
The artichoke was over-cooked and hard on the outside, but the aged-balsamic aioli was outstanding. The black bean soup that followed was surprisingly dull, without the nuances we had hoped for.
Things turned around pleasantly with our two entrées. June liked the tender, delicate and lightly breaded dabs and the subtle zing the basil caper butter sauce afforded them. Some sticky seasonal vegetable risotto provided accompaniment.
The beef short ribs were admirably thick and pull-apart tender with a caramelized onion reduction sauce that harmonized layers of flavor. The sauce also mated well with the big CD-sized portabella ravioli that pillowed it on the plate.
Through it all, I never found myself longing for the trace pesticides, hormones or sea-purging guilt—just more innovative combinations and flavors. The folks here would probably say that’s the Point.
POINT JOE’S MONTEREY
2169 N. Fremont Blvd., Monterey • 11:30am-9:30pm weekdays, until 10pm weekends • 655-3355