Paradise Pie promised macadamia-nut ice cream over a bittersweet chocolate crust. It was a tasteless white blizzard in the mouth, like lapping up Siberia. We discovered that if you concentrated really hard, you could discern a touch of macadamia-nut flavor beneath the generic blast of icy sweetness. There was a lot of whipped cream, and a bit of ordinary chocolate syrup. My espresso was drinkable, and the waitress did deliver it as requested along with the sweets.
The busing, on the other hand, left a lot to be desired. I tend not to notice this service, because my sole waitressing experience was confined to two years working “sit-down dinner nights” in a college dining hall (no tipping), scarcely the paragon of the genteel Midwestern “gracious living” those dinners were supposed to epitomize. As waitresses, we also bused, once the table’s occupants were done and gone. Steve, on the other hand, has been a real-world front-of-the-house guy. “After the first course,” he said, “they never cleared away the oyster forks and soup spoons. After the entrées, they still didn’t clear away the used silverware. We’re eating dessert with a whole meal’s dirty cutlery still on the table. They obviously have low standards for service.”
Even more unfortunately, the standards of cooking were far less than we’d hoped. The place is pretty and comfortable, but from what was on the plate, I think they’re living on scenery, not quality. Yes, we were merely a twosome eating during Restaurant Week, but that’s when restaurants are supposed to be putting their best feet forward to turn experimenters into regulars. I suspect that this kitchen can do some simple things well. I wouldn’t trust them with fish (judging by that desiccated halibut), and the gritty oysters bespeak a sloppy attitude, but simple shellfish might come out all right — it’s hard to ruin a chilled cracked Dungeness crab, unless you leave it in hot water too long, which they might. Overall, though, it seems to be one of those “view” restaurants that give our “view restaurants” a bad name. If Crab Catcher netted me for a moment and I threw it back, it’s their problem and none of my own.
Bargain Restaurant Find
A letter-to-the-ed a couple of months ago accused Tin Fork of only reviewing “dives.” Well, my new posse member Steve is a big Tin Man fan, and a few days ago he took me to Ed-Bed’s priceless find of Cantina Mayahuel on Adams Avenue at 29th Street for the Friday night special of chicken molé. (It’s also available on Tuesdays.)
The restaurant is named for an Aztec/Mayan fertility goddess who gave mankind the agave cactus, source of tequila. The owner, a modest gringo named Larry, has traveled extensively in the Valley of Mexico, plunking himself down in any small town where he found a great dish and staying until he learned how to cook it himself. His red (actually red-brown) molé is one of those zillion-ingredient, two-days’-cooking extravaganzas, with hints of tropical fruits, deep sesame flavor, and multiple complex chile flavors — not just an exquisite version of this great sauce, but personal, eccentric, a distinct individual cook’s molé. The spiciness is perfect. He also imports a sweeter black molé paste direct from Oaxaca, and if you want to taste both, you can order “half and half.” The chicken under the sauce/s was cooked tender, and the salsa and guacamole are all fresh-from- scratch — no can-opener, no deep-fat fryer, no shortcuts, no cheating. Besides the daily specials, the menu consists of simple, authentic mainland Mexican dishes (as opposed to Cal Mex) — mainly a limited selection of authentic soft “street tacos” (with sirloin, chicken, mahi mahi, or shrimp, each with a different marinade), plus salads and “bowls.” Top price is $10.
The lime-y, refreshing Margarita “rocks” ($5) is totally addictive. Instead of a typical bar mix, it’s flavored with organic lime juice and sweetened with natural agave nectar. It’s probably light on the tequila, since I had four, and so did the ladies at the next table, and none of us fell on our faces when we slid off the high wooden barstools. There’s an awesome list of 135 tequilas and 20 mezcals, and beautiful, warm, terra cotta–painted decor, bedecked with huge masks and superb paintings, including several spooky-thrilling canvases by an artist who seems to be an updated Latin version of Aubrey Beardsley (illustrator of Oscar Wilde’s Salome) — mystical and Gothic and deeply Aztecan, with that doomy, scary fluidity of Art Nouveau (the inspiration for many psychedelic rock posters of the ’60s). The place is crowded by now, of course — it’s become a neighborhood favorite. There’s a delightful Mexican-style courtyard patio out back; but to sit inside in winter, go early. But go. Steve says the other nightly specials, e.g., chile colorado, are terrific, too, though none quite so grand as the molé.
1298 Prospect Street, La Jolla, 858-454-9587, www.crabcatcher.com
HOURS: Lunch Monday–Saturday, 11:30 a.m.–3:00 p.m.; dinner Sunday–Thursday, 5:00 p.m.–10:00 p.m., Friday–Saturday to 10:30 p.m.; Sunday champagne brunch, 10:30 a.m.–3:00 p.m.
PRICES: Dinner appetizers, salads, and seafood-bar items, $10–$25; entrées, $27–$40 (plus many at higher “market price”); side dishes $8–$10. Sunset Supper, 5:00–6:00 p.m. daily, three-course dinner for $30 per person. Sunday brunch à la carte.
CUISINE AND BEVERAGES: Primarily seafood, with a few upscale surf ’n’ turf and “land” entrées.
PICK HITS: Short-rib potstickers; probably the short-rib entrée, or any simply prepared shellfish (not fin-fish), e.g., steamed or chilled Dungeness crab; seafood cocktails, ceviches.
NEED TO KNOW: Validated garage parking, entrance on Coast Boulevard (opposite Cave Store); valet parking on Prospect Street. Elevator access (same floor as Trattoria Acqua). Adjunct Seaside Cafe bar/oyster bar happy hour 3:00–9:00 p.m., with $3 drinks and $5 sushi specials Thursday–Friday. Family-friendly atmosphere.