Alvarado Fish & Steakhouse
Throwback Fish: Alvarado Fish & Steakhouse gives downtown Monterey a welcoming and worthy family-run restaurant.
Thursday, November 15, 2012
A woman walks by the new Alvarado Fish & Steakhouse and stops to check out the menu. An employee greets her. Angling for a bite, he casts a line: “The menu is only half of what we do. We have so many specials. Just tell us what you’re in the mood for. We love to customize.”
His word is true – signature fish like snapper, sand dabs and salmon come grilled, blackened, marsala or piccata for $11-$13 – and the results are tasty, which is good news for an address that has seen tenants come and go like the tides. This new occupant will thrive, so long as it continues to give people quality cooking, wallet-friendly prices and a family-owned vibe.
I pop in for lunch one dreary day at the start of its third month and find the 16 tables about a third occupied. It’s by no means bustling, but the mood is perfect for a rainy day, with couples sinking back in their seats, drinking wine and apparently relishing a good feed.
The menu has a distinct Italian flair, full of seafood pastas and things like sausage-and-wild-mushroom ravioli ($10) and Sicilian calamari (grilled without breading, $10). The wine list draws from local wineries like Bernardus, Chalk Rock and Carmel Road, and Italy too ($6-$10 per glass). Lunch and dinner menus are nearly identical in content, though dinner entrees are $1-$8 pricier. One exception is the half-dozen sandwiches (like the grilled crab or the calamari steak, $9-$14), which are only offered for lunch.
The man tending to the tables acts as if he owns the place, and it’s possible that he does, as several family members help staff the front and back of the house. In fact, it’s owned by the same extended family as the popular Monterey Fish House, the DiGirolamos, and Chef Steve Royston came over from now-gone Carmel Valley Fish House.
The server rattles off the day’s specials: fresh swordfish or sole in a variety of styles, a lightly breaded rack of lamb, New England scallops and a cioppino he apparently adores. The sound of honey-almond-encrusted swordfish is music to my stomach. I order the special without even asking the price, which goes unannounced. By chance, my own honey happens to pass by after I order. She asks whether the clam chowder ($6) has bacon in it. It does, and she doesn’t dig on swine. But the server goes back to speak with the kitchen.
He returns carrying a bowl of baconless chowder to which he’s taken the liberty of adding a spoonful of pesto to the bottom, which he says is the best way to eat it. Adding pesto to chowder is a bold move; it nearly overpowers the other flavors, but also makes this a standout in a town where clam chowder is common.
The superb swordfish ($20) comes out moments later – an inch-thick, triangular cut of fish, encased in crispy-thin honey almond slivers. It swims in a savory sauce of white wine, butter, shallots and house fish stock and is covered with thin-sliced button mushrooms. A side of creamy pasta with al dente veggies comes on a separate plate, a nice bonus value that accompanies the standard seafood plates too.
A table nearby receives a massive, wow-inducing bowl of cioppino ($22) that can be smelled from a distance. When a heaping bowl comes to my own table on a return visit, it smells even better. The bowl is huge – large enough to empty an entire box of cereal into and still have room – and full of piping-hot tomato broth and medium-sized prawns, generous portions of two kinds of fish (chef’s choice; tonight: salmon and cod), lots of clams, mussels, little oysters and a chunk of garlic bread. Excellent.
A classic fried calamari ($10) comes with generous tentacles and fewer rings, batter-fried, with tartar and marinara.
I’m no steak connoisseur, so I would much rather eat prawn pasta with vodka cream sauce ($19 dinner, $15 lunch), calamari-and-eggplant parmesan ($19, $15) or even the 50/50 burger – an equal blend of beef and bacon combined into a patty and served with sauteed mushrooms, peppers and onions ($12, $11) – but for the sake of this review of a fish and steakhouse, I feel compelled.
The New York ($21) is offered grilled, blackened or in a red-wine-and-garlic reduction – as promised, customization is key. My medium-rare meat is served in a pool of the wine-garlic sauce, but the first bite of the steak has a bitter, grassy taste that I can’t quite understand. Fortunately, that quality either fades or I get used to it, because I enjoy the dish, though I wouldn’t order it again. (But the leftovers made a mean sandwich the next day.) Other attractive options are bacon-wrapped filet mignon ($27, $19), ribeye ($23, $19) and teriyaki skirt steak ($20, $13).
The biggest gripe about the restaurant could be the plain space it occupies, which appears to be altered only in decor from the space’s previous tenant (minus neon Corona signs, plus a 37-pound mahi mahi and menagerie of old family photographs on the wall). But on the other hand, that syncs with the straightforward, strong-value, no-frills feel. To reach the unisex restroom, you walk through a narrow pass in the back, between the server’s station, a walk-in cooler, a storage closet and the open kitchen. Doing this is awkward, but at least those passing eyeballs ensure the kitchen remains clean.
The spot does a lot of things right: The food is good, the service friendly and prompt (though overbearing at first), and the mood warm. It feels like something customized for Old Monterey: an approachable place for seafood built for locals, not tourists.
ALVARADO FISH & STEAKHOUSE 481 Alvarado St., Monterey • 11:30am-9:30pm Tues-Sat; 4-9:30pm Sun-Mon. • 717-4468.