I have been to Clawdaddy''s four different times now, each time with two other people. I''ve tried it when it was busy. I''ve tried it when it was not so busy. I''ve tried it when it was not busy at all. I have sat at the bar for drinks. I have sat at the bar for dinner. I have sat at a table for dinner. I have sat on the verandah for cocktails and the beautiful view. Here''s how I see it.
Obviously, Clawdaddy''s is trying a New Orleans thing with a touch of Monterey: the menu includes po''boy sandwiches, fried oysters, Ponchartrain pecan pie, Southern fried chicken sandwiches and Bourbon Street baby-back ribs.
Then there''s the wrought iron fixtures on the bartop; colorful murals depicting New Orleans scenes; creamy white walls with glossy black trim; live, jazzy music waftin'' out over the Row; the happy hour that goes for four hours everyday and the Bayou martini and Hurricane Punch--you get the picture.
It''s a concept that encourages a casual, partying attitude, at least in theory. Whether or not Cannery Row is a fertile enough breeding ground for it remains to be seen. Personally, I think this space, upstairs at 660 Cannery Row, is like a lotto game--long odds with a possibility for a big payoff. Friday''s, the original tenant, finally pulled the plug on its own life support system and the last incarnation, Hamburger such and such, mercifully abandoned the space with as little fanfare as when it opened.
So, how do Chef Bob Montague and Steve Alexander, Clawdaddy''s co-owners, take this leviathan and somehow create enough local interest to attract customers during the long, lean winter months? Also, how can they get a high enough percentage of the 3 million or so tourists who walk past here yearly to climb the stairs and spend some of their money there? This last point is a particularly large obstacle because second-floor restaurants are notoriously unsuccessful at luring patrons upstairs. Most people just don''t look up when they''re walking around and they can''t peer into a place like they can one at eye level to get a feel for it.
The space itself is pretty interesting. Shaped like a mutated figure eight, it affords views of any part of the Cannery Row panorama, from boulevard to bay. The highlight of the space may be its underutilized wrap-around porch, which cries out for drink rails, cocktail tables, Cajun music and partying.
The menu is not profound but the 12 or so dishes I''ve tried all had the markings of a chef who obviously knows how to cook. Chef Montague, of Cafe Sparrow in Aptos and Ostrich Grill in Capitola, combines flavors beautifully. The Pernod beurre blanc under the grilled spinach cake appetizer ($4.75) was gorgeous. Tender, meaty baby-back ribs ($14.95) were dressed in a tangy, unique, Creole mustard barbecue sauce. The halibut special ($17.95) came smothered in a black olive salsa that added a zestiness to the fish while the lovely melange of fresh vegetables accompanying it provided graceful harmony.
The Maple Pecan Chicken ($13.50) with Dijon mustard and maple sauce was overpowered by a horseradish overload which was probably just the inexperience of the kitchen crew. That inexperience is evident throughout the Clawdaddy''s experience.
The front-of-the-house staff is composed primarily of young rookies. When combined with a novice back-of-the-house team, that means Clawdaddy''s will be the battleground upon which these young service professionals earn their stripes. Until then, the combined forces of management, ownership and the various seasoned veterans will have to overcome some of the staff''s shortcomings: spotty service and dishes that don''t always arrive on time.
Meanwhile, the savvy barstaff pumps out a quality cocktail. The wine list is more than acceptable with good domestic choices in most categories. Nice tap beer selections will satisfy beer drinkers, and specialty drinks, including a martini menu, are available.
That can all be overcome during the busy summer season with the proper leadership and a strong commitment by the staff. Add a few new touches here and there to bump up the excitement level and maybe Chef Bob''s Cajun-style Monterey Bay creations can have a permanent home.
Good luck, Clawdaddy''s.
660 Cannery Row at Prescott (upstairs), 648-8500. Open daily for lunch and dinner.