Publication Date: Friday Jul 23, 1999
Restaurant Review: Ghost boastingMoss Beach Distillery is a hauntingly pretty place to pass a summer afternoon or witness a summer sunset
by Laura Reiley
Wearing blue, she glides soundlessly along the beach, searching for the lover she lost so many decades before. In a moment of pique, she slams doors, runs icy fingers along unsuspecting people's shoulders, turns on water faucets and silently visits the men's room. Robert Stack earnestly ticks off the Blue Lady's transgressions. It isn't just another "Unsolved Mysteries," it's our unsolved mystery.
The Moss Beach Distillery boasts of its ghosts on billboards before you reach the restaurant along Highway 1, just north of Half Moon Bay. The Distillery has been known by several names since it opened in 1927--Frank's Roadhouse, the Galloway Bay Inn--and they've all been plagued by a mischievous ghost in blue who occasionally performs petty acts of sabotage when consumed by her life's disappointments.
We discussed the myth as we drove along the coast; a little frisson of excitement ran through us as the Distillery came into view. Perched on a cliff, the ocean crashes below on two sides of the quirky little building. Psychics (including famous Bay Area psychic Sylvia Browne) have communed with the supernatural on a regular basis at Moss Beach Distillery, but on the evening of our visit, the most magical part was sitting on the rickety wooden gliders on the back patio, huddled under scratchy afghans as we watched the sun go down.
Before that, though, we passed a ghost-free and enjoyable dinner in the upstairs dining room. The restaurant is quirky and comfortable, with pale blue walls and dark blue trim echoing where the water meets the sky just outside the long expanses of window. A pressed-tin ceiling in the bar is festooned with a gaudy painting of a bull and toreador locked in battle, but the rest of the restaurant is all utilitarian bentwood chairs and laminate tabletops.
As one might expect of a seaside spot, the menu leans to lots of Pacific Ocean bounty. Preparations are straight-ahead American, for the most part, in hearty portions and without a lot of extraneous garniture and saucing. This is the kind of restaurant where the accompaniment to each entree is listed simply as "vegetable medley." And as at so many restaurants with a view, you pay for that eye candy with prices that are just a bit higher than one would hope.
We began with a simple Caesar salad ($6.95) and prawns tempura ($9.95). The former was chopped inner leaves of romaine napped with a lemony dressing and dotted with gratings of parmesan and croutons. The dressing could have used more garlic or anchovy punch, but otherwise the salad was a refreshing starter. The prawns tempura really seemed more like six fat, beer-battered shrimp, without the crunchiness of many tempura batters. It had a peculiar nutmeg quality that was fine by itself, but it clashed with the house cocktail and tartar sauces. I also would suggest losing the bed of mesclun mix under the prawns: The heat from the fried prawns causes the greens to shrivel and cling to the outside of the batter.
Watching big ships pass at the horizon, we settled on our entrees. A New York strip ($24.95) brought a big, rosy steak topped with sauteed shiitake mushrooms and onions flavored with brandy, served with a scoop of rustic garlic mashed potatoes and the veggie medley--a nice mix of crisp young carrots, steamed broccoli and snow peas. That same mix appeared alongside the "catch of the day," a breaded fillet of halibut ($21.95) squiggled with red pepper aioli. The fish was disappointing, tasting more like a frozen fillet than something caught that day off the California coast.
Before retiring to a glider outside, we ended our meal on a better note. A wedge of chocolate mousse cake ($5.95) paired crunchy cookie crust with velvety mousse, dots of whipped cream punctuated with fresh raspberries and a long curl of hard bittersweet chocolate. A bite of this, along with a cup of the strong house coffee, might be just the thing to cheer the Blue Lady and put an end to her ghostly meanderings. But then, Moss Beach Distillery might not be nearly as fun without the possibility of a supernatural encounter.
Moss Beach Distillery, Beach Way and Ocean Boulevard, Moss Beach (Take Highway 92 to Half Moon Bay, drive north 10 minutes on Highway 1), 728-5595
Hours: Noon-8 p.m. Monday-Thursday, noon-9 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Sunday
Atmosphere: A comfortable, seaside ambience fills the bar and upstairs dining room, and the downstairs patio is outfitted with gliders, deck chairs and lots of heavy afghans for snuggling and watching Pacific sunsets.
Highlights: Stick with the simple American sandwiches and burgers at lunch; at dinner, the chowder and other seafood nibbles are the way to go. Reservations - accepted Credit cards - yes Parking - lot Full bar - yes Takeout - yes Banquet - yes Wheelchair access - yes Highchairs - yes Outdoor seating - yes