Beguiling bargains appear in several places on Cannery Row.
Thursday, March 5, 2009
This luxury-for-less storyline soars with the famous soup, climaxes with the main course and closes with a tableside Caesar. But it starts with the heart.
As part of the beautiful thing John Pisto’s Whaling Station is doing for discerning diners looking for lavishness on limited budgets, the tender meat at the center of the chilled Castroville artichoke with tomato remoulade and mayo is all mine. To start the $19.95 prix fixe menu, every guest gets an entire choke to enjoy, which represents no small departure from Peninsula protocol that asks guests to shell out $8 or $9 and share.
So I’m already digging this deal early in the four-course sequence. The satisfaction doesn’t waver from there. The Station’s famous “since 1971” curry soup, thick, creamy and sprinkled with fresh shaved coconut, disappears quickly. For such small coin a large amount of upscale entrees are offered; a colleague and I take the dabs and ribs – the pan-fried sand dabs and boneless short ribs, respectively – and swear to share.
Our server loves the rib decision and also recommends the grilled king salmon filet; other choices include prawns scampi, filet mignon tips, beef Wellington, fresh cheese ravioli, “old-style” chicken scaloppine, seafood cioppino and three other dishes.
The tender and tasty ribs, wading in a demi-cabernet sauce and accompanied by whipped potatoes, meet the Station’s gourmet standards, but the size goes beyond expectations.
My colleague is smitten. The ribs do rock, but I like the little flounder filets even more, served dore-style, with a light batter and accompanying caper-butter sauce.
Bartender Luis Salinas IDs something else altogether as his favorite, but he’s biased – he’s drawing from a longer-standing but equally attractive slate of deals on the bar-only discount menu. Still, the steak sandwich (starring a chateau cut top sirloin) looks up to the legend. There’s also a blackened salmon sandwich, fish ‘n’ chips and a French dip, which, like the steak sandwich, come with a big iceberg wedge salad and pile of fries for $17.95.
The hardest decision, though, isn’t which Whaler dish to do, but whether to hit the Station or its fellow Wave Street heavyweight, the Sardine Factory, for its version of the prix fixe fix (folks can consider hitting the Factory for its very worthy happy hour before the Station, or could start the decision-making with dessert – salad or sundae – to make such tricky decisions easier).
The Factory’s-courser goes for $17.95 in the swanky lounge area. Guests can pluck from five entrée choices including a pound of steamed clams, celebrated short ribs or prawns with pasta campagnola – which comes after a Caesar salad and a starter like baked Monterey mushrooms, shrimp on spoons, fried artichoke rings, or sweet potato fries. A sorbet or hot fudge sundae complete the sequence.
The concurrent “prime specials,” meanwhile, start at $18.95 and include a USDA prime petite filet mignon, a boneless ribeye, New Zealand rack of lamb or a three-quarter pound of colossal red king crab legs.
As these two venerable Cannery Row veteran restaurants sweeten their deals, two top new restaurants in the immediate vicinity have expanded and enhanced their happy hours.
Both Willie’s Smokehouse and the C Restaurant have added contentedness time (to run 3:30-6:30pm and 4-7pm, respectively; Willie’s doles out the deals Monday through Friday and the C’s great value window opens Sunday through Thursday.)
Willie’s still has $3 drafts (including Abita Turbodog), well drinks (Eddie Banaszek can craft a mean cocktail) and house wines (Cedar Brook), and has knocked all apps down to $4, which makes the Pacific white shrimp wrapped in applewood-smoked bacon and the must-do “hog fries” with pulled pork and baked beans that much meatier. It’s also just added another bargain in a bucket: five huge ribs, plus a draft beer, for $9.95.
Across the Row at the Intercontinental, half price on small plates, smart flights and good micro brews means full satisfaction (without having to spring for a room).
For just $4.25, tiny cubes of melt-away tuna tartare set up the salty ocean encounter with oysters on the half shell; the $2.25 garlic herb fries feel blue-collar affordable against a blue-blood backdrop; and the bubbly wine flights are healthily halved in price ($8-$13 after discount) as well: the “New World” sparkles with an Australia-South Africa-American combination, the “Old World” with German, Spanish, Italian and French representatives. And the drafts beers (EA Fat Lip, Anchor Steam, North Coast among them) and Estancia wines are $3.75 a glass.
The delicious decision-making isn’t over yet, though: between the patio on the Pacific, the high-windowed dining room, the sleek bar and the beautifully appointed reading room off the lobby (which might be the top option), the choice options are everywhere, at both the Intercontinental and the Row at large.