Restaurant Reviews: Pacific Catch

When I was a little girl, my family ate dinner out every Thursday, because it was the maid's night off. In the San Francisco of the 1970's, the best choice for an informal family meal was at the one of the many ethnic restaurants, usually Thai, Mexican, or Japanese. In these small, family-run restaurants, children were welcome, the cuisine reflected owners' birthplace, the food was fresh, interesting, slightly exotic, always delicious, and the meals were inexpensive. There was usually a patriarch who greeted the guests, newly arrived aunts and uncles who worked in the kitchen, American born teen-age children who took a break from their school work to wait and bus tables, and a mother who presided over the cash drawer. These restaurants, owned and operated by new immigrants involved the entire family, as they pursued the American Dream.

30 years later, the Marin County spin on the Pacific Rim, family-involved, child-friendly restaurant has emerged. Pacific Catch is the latest venture by World Wrapps founder and Belvedere resident Keith Cox. Aaron Novashen, the executive chef at World Wrapps is also a partner at Pacific Catch, and provides the necessary leadership in the kitchens. His wife Amy created the charming and colorful graphics for the menu. In keeping with the all-in-the-family theme, Laura Smith Blair, Cox' next door neighbor and wife of another founding partner of World Wrapps painted beautiful canvas murals with her interpretations of Mahi-mahi, Tuna, Halibut and Snapper. Cox' wife, Hilary Foss, put together Pacific Catch's first location in San Francisco, and now stays home and focuses on new son Kylan and two year old daughter Leila. The chain's board of directors includes another Belvedere neighbor, Scooter Simmons, founder of Chevy's.

Corte Madera's Pacific Catch is in the for Fresh Choice location in Town Center. The large, bright room is casual, yet many of the appointments are elegant. Bamboo, rice paper, and bamboo leaf are part of the sophisticated look. The overall feel is casual comfort, with banquettes, high back chairs, bare tables, paper napkins and disposable chopsticks. This location can host 100 diners indoors, with an additional 50 seats on the heated, sheltered terrace outside. The initial inspiration came from a Hawaiian fish restaurant Cox visited on Maui.

An appetizer of Coconut Shrimp ($6.50) brought two skewers of farmed prawns, coated in rich coconut batter and deep-fried, and served with a gelatinous, sweet and spicy orange dipping sauce. We asked for and received the mango salsa as well. The mango salsa was fresh, with fresh mango, chilies, and red onion. I didn't receive the burst of tropical flavors that I expected. The fried shrimp were very mild, but I did enjoy the meaty, doughy coconut batter.

Also listed under starters is Baja Shrimp Ceviche ($7.50). Small shrimp were marinated, essentially "cooked" in lime juice and chilies. The flavors were clean and crisp, augmented with fresh cilantro, and embellished with chopped avocado and served with crunchy tortilla chips.

We had been told by our dinner partners (Belverdere resident and Keith's sister Laura Cox and her husband Jay Cohen) that Sweet Potato Fries ($2.95 as a side, $3.95 for a basket) were not to be missed. They are indeed scrumptious, especially served with Wasabi Aioli. Crispy batons of sweet potatoes are fried to a crisp exterior and soft interior, sprinkled with a touch of salt, and served very hot.

We tried the Mahi Mahi Fish Taco ($3.25 each or $8.95 for a platter)-Grilled Mahi mahi sat atop a small mound of crunchy shredded cabbage, that rested on a warm corn tortilla. I thought it was really good, and I particularly enjoyed the lime crema and smoky tomatillo salsa. The spice rub added flavor without overpowering, and a short grilling time kept the fish moist and tender.

Wasabi Salmon Bowl ($11.95) offered a lot of food. We received a generous fillet of grilled farmed Chinook salmon, several hefty avocado slices, a dash of slightly piquant daikon sprouts, some peeled cucumber slices, a scoop of seaweed salad, some pickled ginger, mounded on top of a small hill of sticky sushi rice and garnished with nori threads and sesame seeds, then drizzled with a wasabi spiced soy sauce. There were a lot of competing textures and flavors, but no single element stood out significantly or overpowered another component.

The concept of the CB-Chalkboard Special is to provide fresh, well-priced fish. By relying on the fluctuation of the market, says Keith Cox, Pacific Catch can supply the best of the season at the best price. On the night of our February visit, the specials were farmed Canadian Chinook salmon, ($16.95), Hawaiian Mahi Mahi ($17.95), Hawaiian Opakapaka ($18.95), and California Striped Bass ($18.95). This notion allows the diner to enjoy great, fresh fish prepared one of four ways-Hawaiian, Japanese, Baja BBQ, and California Grill. We opted for the Bass, prepared Hawaiian style.

A large bass fillet was grilled and presented on a banana leaf. Accompanying it was the best part of the dish, grilled baby bok choy. Crisp Maui onions were battered and deep fried. The rings were flavorful but a little soggy. I really didn't care for the pineapple fried rice. I found it low on flavor, mushy, and bland. The bass was good, a bit overcooked, and therefore dry, but there was plenty of soy-based sauce to soften it up.

Ahi 3 ways ($17.95) is a House Special Entree and easily and happily could have served two adults. A large plate was presented with sticky, short grain rice molded in the center of a lovely square platter. The poke component was the best- ½" cubes of red tuna, lightly dressed with a hint of sesame. The other two ways were fairly similar to each other-"grilled rare sashimi", and seared with a sesame seed crust. The grilled version was good--ultra fresh tuna, cooked ever so briefly as to seal in the flavor on the exterior, while leaving the center soft and succulent. The sesame crust on the seared Ahi was a little excessive for my taste, and reminded me of tahini. I loved the wakame seaweed salad. The delicate ponzu dressing had slight citrus overtones and contrasted wonderfully with the texture of the deep green glistening

The wine list reflects the restaurant's focus on the Pacific Rim with selections from Australia, New Zealand, Argentina, California, Oregon and Washington. Because of Pacific Catch's focus on seafood, the white wine selection is more extensive than the red, but we very much enjoyed the 2003 Avalon Cabernet ($7.75 glass, $31. bottle). The 2002 Olivet Lane Chardonnay ($8. Glass, 32. Bottle) was a good, if not a bit heavy, complement to our Asian-inspired dishes.

Desserts are not the main focus, but do provide interesting Pacific Rim inspired twists on brownies and ice cream. Mochi Fondu ($5.50) could easily serve a family. We were served 12 wedges of chocolate, vanilla, and coffee ice cream, each wrapped in sweet, rice paste, and skewered with a toothpick, ready to be dipped in rich, melted chocolate. Caramel fans should appreciate Fried Dulce de Leche Spring Rolls ($5.95). Vanilla ice cream and warm caramel sauce were oozing all over a deep-fried cylinder of thick dough that had been filled with a sweetened cream cheese like mixture. I found this dessert a collision of too many tasty elements from several culinary traditions led astray. Perhaps the advertised Macadamia Brownie would have been a better attempt at cultural fusion.

There is an extensive children's menu available, offering tasty selections for California's kids, such as a California Roll ($4.95), Teriyaki Bowl (Chicken or Shrimp $4.95) or Grilled Fish Tacos ($4.50). The service is swift, friendly and efficient, and waiting time is minimal.

Similar to a small, family run establishment, Pacific Catch focuses on serving " fish items, cooked-to-order, utilizing fresh ingredients and house-made sauces." They are committed to offering great value in a friendly environment. The difference however is that this is a restaurant with a board of directors with extensive big business experience. They plan to roll out the chain slowly, (one new store a year) in their effort to pursue the American Dream.

Pacific Catch is located at 133 Town Center in Corte Madera.
Hours are 11:30 am to 9:30 pm daily.
Reservations are accepted for parties of 8 or more. Credit Cards accepted.
415 927 FISH (2474)
www.pacificcatch.com

From The Ark Newspaper

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