| Publication Date: Friday, May 21, 2004|
An oasis in a strip mall
An oasis in a strip mall
(May 21, 2004) Rushed service mars Scott's fine seafood
by Dale F. Bentson
We arrived at Scott's at 7 p.m. and were out the door by 8:10 p.m. I had hoped for a leisurely dinner with companions, but the waitress rushed us through the meal so quickly that, had it been a week earlier, I would have thought she wanted us to get home in time to watch the final episode of "Friends."
The restaurant was not even half-filled that evening, so there was no pressure to turn the table over.
Don't get me wrong -- Chef Herman Nava's food is fresh and flavorful. Yet the uneven service on each of my visits marred the experience so much I am hard-pressed to want to return any time soon.
Scott's has been around long enough to know how to take care of its customers -- nearly a quarter century in Palo Alto, with the last two years at Town & Country Village. The 330-seat restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
The decor is simple, with one section consisting of two rows of booths toned in earthy ochre, while other sections have linen-lined tables with rattan chairs. Tables for two are diminutive and can scarcely hold the plates. The shopping-center interior has an open beamed ceiling painted in creamy hues. The Cardinal Room, one of two private rooms available for banquets, is festooned with Stanford memorabilia.
We had not been seated 30 seconds when the waitress appeared to take our order. I sent her away but she was back again within a minute. Our appetizers arrived soon after she took the order.
I loved the crab cakes ($14.50), which came with a scoop of black-bean corn salad on a bed of lettuce with a slick of horseradish cream sauce. Jumbo wrapped prawns ($13.95) were like won -ton shrimps on skewers with peanut dipping sauce. A mound of Napa cabbage accompanied. Interesting, but the dipping sauce could have been livelier.
The clam chowder ($5.50 cup; $6.75 bowl) was one of the best I've sampled. The bivalves were supple and full of fresh briny flavor, and there were just enough clams to balance out the cream and potato. The consistency was masterful, coating the spoon yet not too thick. Thin slices of blackened ahi tuna ($14.95) were presented with cucumber and carrot salad. The tuna was melt-in-the mouth good and the lightly biting dressing worked in harmony.
The fried calamari ($9.95) was not so good. The squid was not crisp enough, leaving a mealy texture in the mouth. The lemon garlic sauce added little other than calories to the dish. I couldn't eat very much of the large serving and the waitress did not ask why.
As we were finishing up our first course, the busboy grabbed each plate the instant the fork hit the table, instead of waiting until all of us had finished. Our slowest eater complained that she felt so rushed she scarcely enjoyed her appetizer. Seconds later, the entrees arrived.
Grilled salmon ($23.95) had a healthy pink tinge, flaky and rich, especially with the tasty dill beurre blanc sauce (butter and shallots) served on the side. The generous portion came with a tuft of mashed potatoes and a medley of al dente vegetables. The sweet, mouth-watering sea bass ($24.95) was lean and firm, grilled to a tee and served with mashed potatoes and the same bevy of fresh sauteed vegetables.
Mildly flavored yet succulent fresh halibut ($24.95) had been grilled and was served with fingerling potatoes, green beans, onions, slivered almonds, red bell pepper and baby tomatoes. Petrale ($21.50) was equally delicious. Fleshy and flavorful, it came wrapped in a delicate lemon butter sauce. A convoy of green beans, fennel, red bell pepper, onions and a heap of French fries accompanied.
All the fish is fresh at Scott's, except the scallops, which are flash-frozen and shipped in from the East Coast. The seafood saute ($25.50) was mainly scallops with two prawns and a few shards of Dungeness crab. Garlic mashed potatoes and vegetables completed the plate. The large scallops were unpleasantly mushy inside. Either they were undercooked had not been defrosted before they hit the saute pan. Whatever the reason, it was not something I wanted in my mouth very long.
The lunch menu featured a half-dozen interesting sandwiches. Grilled prawns and avocado ($13.25) arrived on toasted bread with applewood smoked bacon, lettuce, and tomato, topped with a tarragon garlic sauce. Served with a pile of fries it was a delicious midday repast. Lobster roll ($14.50) offered rich, satisfying flavors -- chopped seafood bound in light mayo and served with tomato, lettuce and red onion on a large soft roll.
If you order fish and vegetables, you can justify splurging on dessert. Scott's classic raspberry jack ($6.50) featured a large scoop of French vanilla ice cream, oozing with triple sec, dotted with fresh raspberries and topped with whipped cream. Key lime pie ($6.50) was tangy and creamy with a graham cracker crust. Happily, the pie was not shrouded under a cloud of unnecessary whipped cream.
The moist devil's food chocolate cake ($7.50) was topped with an inch of gooey, lip-smacking fudge icing and drizzled with caramel sauce. A large wedge of tiramisu ($6.75) was adrift in a sea of espresso creme anglaise. The spongy layered cake was sweet but could have been creamier. The puddle of sauce added another a zillion or so calories without enhancing the cake.
Dessert took less than five minutes to show up after we ordered and was accompanied by the check.
The noteworthy wine list is expensive, with chardonnays starting at $38 for a fruity Edna Valley (2001) to $116 for a Newton (2000). There are a dozen sauvignon blancs available as well, ranging from a $26 Pepi winery to a $55 Cain Ventanna Vineyard. The selection is excellent for the seafood-dominated menu. There are exceptional red wines as well; alas, no bargains. A broad range of wines are available by the glass. Corkage fee is $12 for those so inclined.
Wine glasses were overfilled to the point where the bottle was emptied after two quick pourings. The waitress ripped off the lead capsule on the wine with the worm of her corkscrew, leaving tattered jagged edges, which then graced the table until she could fit the remaining contents into our glasses.
Despite its shortcomings, Scott's is an oasis in a shopping center, where excellent seafood is prepared using fresh, tasty ingredients. I only wish the service equaled the quality of the kitchen. Dinner for three with one of the least expensive bottles of wine was well more than $200 with tip. When I invest this much in dinner I want it to be something special and not feel as if I had just been jettisoned through a fast-food restaurant.
Internet reservations: www.scottsseafood.com
Credit cards: yes Parking: shopping center
outdoor seating: yes
Alcohol: full bar Children: high chairs and boosters
Private dining and banquet facilities: yes Catering: yes
Noise level: moderate
Bathroom cleanliness: excellent
Scott's Seafood Grill and Bar, #1 Town & Country Village, Palo Alto; (650) 323-1555; www.scottsseafood.com
Hours: Breakfast: Monday through Friday 7 a.m. to 11 a.m.; Lunch Monday through Friday 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.; Dinner: Sunday and Monday 5-9 p.m.; Tuesday through Saturday 5-9:30 p.m.; Brunch: Saturday and Sunday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
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