A&E

Pacific Catch makes a splash

New to Mountain View, restaurant offers succulent seafood and lively libations, but service is uneven

Pacific Catch landed a big one. Besides opening their sixth and largest Pacific Catch restaurant at The Village at San Antonio Center in Mountain View, David Gingrass was hired as corporate executive chef in March.

Highly regarded Gingrass has cooked at Spago, Bix and Postrio in San Francisco, as well as owning the sadly missed, deliciously upscale Hawthorne Lane in the city. His signature is bold, rich flavors. Gingrass is just starting to exert his influence with new Pacific Catch entrees in conjunction with wild salmon season.

Besides Gingrass, the food, ambiance, and prices make Pacific Catch a worthwhile casual destination. Located adjacent to Paul Martin's American Grill, the restaurant is open, spacious and stylish with a large patio, indoor/outdoor bar, booths and tables, private dining areas and a tumbling wall of water. Decor-wise, it's Pacific Rim -- a blend of Hawaiian, Asian and West Coast.

Pacific Catch was founded in San Francisco's Marina District in 2003 by partners Aaron Noveschen and Keith Cox, the same two who created World Wraps a couple of blocks down Chestnut Street in 1996.

I was a tad confused when I opened the three-panel Pacific Catch menu during my first visit. There were more than 60 items, plus a lengthy beverage list with craft cocktails and an additional menu of daily specials that added another dozen options.

Fortunately, the selections were categorized into groups like Pacific starters, Hawaiian poke, sushi and salads, fish and chips and sandwiches, island tacos and Pan-Asian rice bowls. There was also a kids menu, gluten-free menu and bar bites -- the latter mercifully not presented.

Unfortunately, without information on the preparation, presentation or portion size, we didn't know what to order. I mentioned to our waitress that we had never been in before. She was unfazed and wandered off, returning three times to take our orders without making suggestions.

Meanwhile, at a neighboring table, a different waiter recited detailed information about what the dishes were, what was on them, what the fish was and how each dish was prepared. After overhearing his expert advice, we knew what to order. On her fourth pass, our waitress smilingly took our order. At the same time we ordered draft beers, and despite the bar being sparsely populated, it took 15 minutes for service.

The original poke ($12) came as cubes of sushi-grade ahi tuna that had been marinated in sesame-soy and spicy seasonings. Topped with toasted sesame seeds, the ahi was firm and melt-in-the-mouth delicate.

Cabo calamari ($9.50) offered crispy squid with deep-fried lemon slices and Fresno chilies. The spicy chipotle aioli added just the right touch.

The island taco platter ($12.50 for two, $15.50 for three) offered a choice of mixing or matching from five fillings. We chose mahi-mahi for one and crispy shrimp for the other. The mahi-mahi had been rubbed with spices and deep fried; it was served on a bed of cabbage, avocado, tomatillo salsa and lime crema. The battered shrimp had similar ingredients. Served with black beans and choice of side, the tacos reminded me of street food -- crisp, fresh, flavorful.

The Korean rib bowl ($16.50) was a heap of rice with barbecued ribs, green onion banchan (chilies, soy) seasoned cucumber, shredded omelet, daikon sprouts and shredded nori (seaweed), mounded over. The ribs were tasty but after the meat and few shredded vegetables, it was just a lot of rice.

Of the eight sushi rolls, I opted for the "rising sun" ($13), an over-sized wrap of tempura shrimp, rice, avocado, ginger and cucumber wrapped in ahi tuna with ponzu (citrus sauce). Sticky, fresh and slightly spicy, it was an excellent roll, but meant for sharing -- it's way too big as a single appetizer. Half-orders would have been wonderful. Doggie-bag sushi just doesn't do it.

The fish and chips ($10.50 for two pieces, $12.50 for three, $14.50 for four) was catch of the day (cod), lightly battered and fried in canola oil, served with slaw and your choice of fries. Overall, it was the most disappointing of the dishes we tried -- not bad, but bland. Even the jalapeno tartar sauce didn't offer much spark and the allotment of fries was meager.

Spencer Lutz is the chef in the kitchen. His food was very good -- the portions large, the presentations artistic and tempting, food arrived hot. However, one night the entrees came when we were only halfway through our starters. No apologies, the waitress just pushed the food onto the table. Our entrees were cooled by the time we got to them.

Service-wise, other visits were spotty as well. Sometimes, waiters disappeared for lengthy periods; other times, it seemed they hovered near the table. In three visits, nothing ever seemed quite in sync in the front of the house.

For dessert, don't miss the terrific leche rolls ($7). Fried dulce de leche was divine. Sweet, yes, but not overly, with a crumbly, phyllo-like exterior and soft, creamy interior under a fat scoop of vanilla ice cream drizzled with caramel. I'd go back just for that.

Pacific Catch

545 San Antonio Road

Mountain View

650-941-1810

www.pacificcatch.com

Hours:

Sunday-Thursday 11 a.m.-10 p.m.

Friday-Saturday 11 a.m.-11 p.m

Reservations: yes

Credit cards: yes

Parking: lot and valet ($5)

Alcohol: full bar

Corkage: $10

Children: yes

Catering: yes

Takeout: yes

Outdoor dining: patio

Private parties: yes

Noise level: moderate

Bathroom cleanliness: very good

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