Catch of the Decade
Nearing 10 years in business, San Marino Seafood Market is all that you would expect … and much more
By Erica Wayne 05/12/2011
For many years after we established our residence due east of Caltech way back in ’89, there was only one outstanding choice for a simple neighborhood seafood meal. Cameron’s, almost directly north of us is easy: free parking, cozy booths and the freshest of fish, shellfish and crustaceans. Some of their seafood is arrayed for purchase by the pound if you want to cook it at home; but we usually eat in.
But a few years back, a friend who works at the Huntington Library began suggesting a seafood restaurant nearby, so we met to grab a quick lunch at the San Marino Seafood Market.
As I approached the restaurant (on the south side of Huntington Drive, just west of San Marino Avenue), the smallish courtyard with tables already filled by diners enjoying the mid-day sunshine struck me as extraordinarily pleasant. But hatless, I made for the interior to await my friend.
Once inside, I was pleased by my choice of table, right next to the large lunette window that spans most of the facade. Across its ledge was a parade of good-sized dried starfish. The nautical theme was carried further by a stuffed swordfish, harpoon and various charts displayed on a side wall. These included “Tuna of the World,” “Hawaiian Seafood” and “Crabs and Lobsters.”
The only one I didn’t care to peruse was “How to Cook a Live Lobster.” All my life I’ve maintained a strict emotional disconnect between food and how it gets to be food. Call me a hypocrite, but I could no sooner look a lobster in the eye (rather hard to do under most circumstances) and then kill the poor beast than I could fly to the moon. King crab legs, on the other hand, separated from their owners, pre-cooked and frozen, are one of my major indulgences.
Once my friend arrived and we’d updated ourselves on each other’s lives, I turned my eyes to the lunch and dinner menus. First of all, we had to have some homemade daily clam chowder. They were offering both New England style (you know, the creamy white one with chunks of potato and lots of calories) and Manhattan (red, with lots of vegetables and far less guilt-producing). We tried both and pronounced them equally satisfying.
To follow, we ordered sandwiches. I had sea bass (not Chilean, but a close cousin with a blue nose from New Zealand). It came on sourdough with chipotle mayonnaise, lettuce, tomato and red onion. I could have gotten some avocado slices for an additional charge ($2.50), but why gild the lily? The fish was fresh, charbroiled and had plenty of flavor.
Salmon, ahi, swordfish and halibut can also be charred and sandwiched. If you order snapper, they’ll slap some Cajun spices or lemon butter on it and grill it. Cold sandwiches include shrimp, Dungeness crab and smoked fish. Prices have gone up since our original lunch; San Marino Seafood’s sandwiches now run between $9.95 (bay shrimp) and $13.95(the aforementioned swordfish, halibut, crab and ahi).
The same seafood, mounted upon a romaine or spinach hillock, costs a bit more, from $10.95 for the bay shrimp to $15.95 for a shrimp, crab and smoked fish combo. Charbroiled salmon, scallops or sea bass, seared ahi or chili-glazed jumbo shrimp on greens run $15.95-$18.95; and seafood plates (with a house salad and a side of rice, veggies, coleslaw or sautéed spinach) range from $12.50 for snapper to $21.95 for king crab ($22.95 for seafood paired with tenderloin steak).
Ever since that first lunch, San Marino Seafood’s been a frequent midday destination, but I’ve rarely been there after dark. Last week, however, we joined two friends who adore the place for supper, and were glad we did. Entrée prices on the dinner menu rise but include salad and TWO sides (among which we highly recommend the smashed potatoes and garlicky, buttery sautéed spinach). We all started off with chowder ($3.95 per cup). My husband raved about the rich New England white while the rest of us enjoyed the kick of the spicy red, renamed “California-style” by the restaurant.
While my companions feasted on fresh charred Alaska halibut and sea bass and pan-fried rainbow trout — huge filets all — I broke ranks and ordered a bucket of steamed black mussels with garlic toast a la carte for $14.95. The heaping pail of mollusks in their fragrant broth kept me busy. I didn’t really miss the salad (very pretty) and sides that came with the fish dishes but did steal a taste or three of my adjacent mate’s spinach (which is way too good to resist entirely).
San Marino Seafood’s cooking is all one could wish for, explaining why it’s obviously thriving as it approaches its 10th birthday. They feature a superb selection of fish and simple preps which augment rather than overwhelm. The interior, which seems somewhat Spartan and a bit noisy during daylight hours (light wood chairs and tables, bright lights, high ceiling, tile floor and a huge transverse refrigerated case displaying wares; it is, after all, a seafood MARKET), mellows after sundown when the cash and carry crowd has disappeared.
The only important thing the restaurant doesn’t have is a liquor license (not even beer and wine), which means that my husband and I will still be heading north to Cameron’s for dinner and chardonnay or martinis, while (unless we settle for a pre-dinner cocktail chez-nous) I’ll be going south to the San Marino Seafood Market for lunch and iced tea with friends.
San Marino Seafood Market
2150 Huntington Drive, San Marino