Sunday, January 02, 2011

Duarte's Tavern, A Trip for Holiday Crab Cioppino Dinner

To celebrate the end of year 2010, we decided to have the end-of-the year dinner differently.  We made a special food trip to the Duarte's Tavern in Pescadero, California next to Highway 1 between Santa Cruz and Half Moon Bay for the 'famous' Crab Cioppino.  While my family is quite capable of cooking this delicious heart warming seafood chowder feast, they just know how, we wanted to check this place out after viewing the Guy Fieri's show.  So, after a few weeks of talk, I made a reservation for Thursday, December, 6 pm.  For us, it is an adventure trip as we have to cross the Santa Cruz Mountain, about 55 miles trip to the destination.  We all had a great expectation and anticipation of great cioppino, like our homemade ones, so, we skipped breakfast and had only a small bite of lunch.  The Tavern is a cozy family style dining area.  Imagine walking into someone's home.  Nice cozy front living room with bench against the front window for 4 guests and a small standalone bench opposite the cashier register for two.  The rest of the guests need to stand, and especially, if you don't have reservation... and think that it is very very cold outside, and maybe even drizzling with rain.  So, make the reservation before going.  For us, luckily we had 6 pm reservation and arrived early at 5:30 pm (left San Jose at 4:30 pm, going up La Honda, but recommend going 280N to Half Moon Bay, then Hwy 1 South), we were seated within 15 min.  As you step into the dining area, there are couple of round tables against the walls for 4-5. Country style... like a tavern.  They installed this cushioned bench against the walls where I sat.  A bit awkward, I thought.  My back felt like I was sitting up against a plank (wall). A square or rectangular table might have been better for this setup but.... becareful with the table legs.  If you didn't know, your knees would hit the table legs, ouch! but since there are only three of us, we had plenty of room surface for our dishes.  There is a larger rectangular family size dining table for 6-8 and like twelve more tables in different sections of the 'rooms'.  They made a cute little coffee shop counter seats right in front of the kitchen way.  The round bar stool chair looked like a mini-stool for kids.  The tight counter seating is also the way to the restroom and to the Tavern bar next door.  But all the minor discomfort of the seating were forgotten as soon as the hot sourdough breads were delivered.  They were fresh, and they were delicious.  We ordered three Crab Cioppino, $31/ea. One order each of Fried Calamari, $8.50, Mexican Coleslaw $3.50, and the two famous Ollielaberry Pies A la Mode $8.
The crabs in the Cioppino was good. What is good?  what is bad?  my own interpretation is - Bad, if the crab meat is powdery or dry stringy strands.  Good, if it with tenderness of fresh flesh that has some 'bounce' to it. But like many other guests who have been there and commented in the yelps, I agree that the sauce is missing 'something'.  I think it could have used a bit more salt. and, can't pinpoint what that 'something' is.  I had to request for the Tabasco sauce.  Could do without the cumin. We ate every bit of the seafood in the plate.  When we requested for the 3rd refills of the bread, that's when we got disappointed.  Each one of our plate had a plenty of good sauce and loose crab meat in it to be eaten.  We needed that wonderful hot bread to clean the plate.  As we patiently waited for it, the sauce has already cooled to the room temperature.  But we figure the hot bread will compensate for it. When it finally arrived....when we touched the bread basket's napkin, we kew right away that this is a 'Cold Bread'.  The waiter did not bring the bread himself.  We noticed he requested another service person to bring us the bread.  As I noticed that he is not waiting at any table to receive menu orders from the guests, I think he is a busboy.  How can the first two baskets of breads were so pippin' hot and this basket is dead cold and the cut pieces of the loaf were not 'contiguously' connected?  we wondered..... we leave it to your assumption.  We had to clean up the rest of the goodies in the plate so, we reluctantly took the bread and 'soak' it in the sauce, hoping that we can bite into it.  Forget it! it is rock hard.  So, we skipped the bread and finished the rest with good spirit.  (The fried calamari's very good.  The Mexican Coleslaw? thought it needed a bit more vinegar or something 'spunky' to awake our palate as the name is "Mexican".  Maybe we were expecting for some kind of 'heat'.  It was not there.)  We ordered their 'famous' Ollielaberry Pies A la Mode.  The pie is wonderful.  It is like eating a tangy and sweet blackberries and raspberries.  I would ask for the fresh cream topping the next time (if I ever return) rather than the Ice Cream, though.  Overall, I think the chef/owner knows exactly what he is doing when Guy was visiting.  I know our Cioppino's were prepared by the cooks.  But wished they prepare the sauce consistently as Guy described it.  And most of all, the bread should have been HOT.  The restroom should be well stocked even at 6 pm or 7 pm, and should not need other guests to let me know there is no toiletry in the stalls and for me to go request for service.  As with any restaurants, the unattended restroom  would win or lose customers instantly, and the cold xxxxxxxd bread is definitely a minus.

So, the $147.66 trip to the Duarte's Tavern?  It was a good food adventure trip that we made to celebrate the end-of-the-year.  Good or bad.  It was a great year.

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