How to improve a harbor view: Tony P’s famous fish and chips (left) and a bacon avocado cheeseburger Photo by Jorge M Vargas Jr

How to improve a harbor view: Tony P’s famous fish and chips (left) and a bacon avocado cheeseburger Photo by Jorge M Vargas Jr

Sometimes food tastes better with an ocean view and a cold beer

By Richard Foss (Richard@RichardFoss.com)

Boats are often in my daydreams, seldom in my days; I enjoy every chance I can get to go out on the waves but have few friends with the same interest, and none who own watercraft. I am left to gaze at sailboats longingly, imagining afternoons under canvas and the rocking of the swells. I enjoy seeing them even at the dock with sails furled, and imagine them waiting impatiently for a captain and crew.

This doesn’t mean that I’m always a fan of waterfront restaurants, since some rely on location and tourist trade and get away with food and service that is distinctly substandard. I always arrive at dockside places with a mixture of hope and wariness, and I am always happy when the experience is positive.

I have passed Tony P’s Dockside Grill many times and always meant to drop in. The place is co-owned by Marina del Rey impresario Tony Palermo, who headed a Hard Rock Café kitchen, and former five-star executive chef Dan Ringwood — so certainly the culinary skills were there somewhere. When we dropped by one sweltering afternoon, the first impression didn’t tell me much except that it’s a big place with an extensive beer list. There’s selection of Belgian ales and other delights that would do credit to a gastropub. This isn’t a gastropub menu, though — instead of self-consciously modern items, the list is heavy on classics like pastas, pizzas, seafood and steaks.

One item stood out. The menu notes that they smoke their pulled pork for 12 hours, so we had to try it in something. We decided on a pulled pork quesadilla, which is offered individual-size as a starter, and with it we had a “Seafood Guac-tail” made with shrimp, crab, avocado and pico de gallo. The cocktail was good save that the avocado was cut too large — each bite was all avocado or none, which is fine if you want to alternate, but we would have preferred the flavors blended. The quesadilla was more noteworthy, with lots of smoky, sweet pork along with a smattering of onion and cheese. And not the typical overabundance of the latter; standard quesadillas are mostly cheese with protein for flavoring, but this was the opposite. This was a juicy, knife-and-fork starter, not finger food.

We paired the quesadilla with summer day libations of Ace pear cider and Great White Belgian-style wheat beer. The cider was a pleasant sweet-tart drink, the beer scented with citrus and coriander, and both were great for beating the heat.

When we ordered I opted for a small Caesar salad, both because it sounded refreshing and because Caesars tell me a lot about a kitchen. This one had a very good robust dressing with generous amounts of parmesan but was a bit heavy on the croutons — good, homemade croutons, but still a touch too many.

For main courses my wife chose an ahi tuna sandwich and fries while I picked the Spicy Louisiana Seafood Creole, which was surprisingly true to its name. Creole flavors are less assertive than Cajun, and this had a good mix of mussels, clams, shrimp and fish accented by warm flavors of bell and red pepper. It wasn’t really hot, even cumulatively, but savory and bright. I liked that it was served over mixed pilaf rather than white rice, which added a dimension of texture. The portion was ample, and I took half home to enjoy for an eye-opening breakfast the next day.

My wife’s sandwich was simple but very well executed — a big chunk of fish seared just past rare on a brioche bun, with mixed lettuces, tomato and roasted onion. The skinny fries arrived hot and crisp, and the coleslaw on the side was lightly dressed and tangy rather than being drenched in mayonnaise.

Desserts were offered, and under most circumstances we would have jumped at the idea, since Ringwood made his mark as a pastry chef. Alas, we were too full, but we’ll save room on a future trip. The food here is good, and prices not unreasonable; our bountiful lunch for two with appetizers and drinks ran $30 per person.  As a bonus, any time I come back I can rely on a nice view of boats to fuel my dreams of seamanship.

Tony P’s is open from 11:30 a.m. to 9:45 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, 11:30 a.m. to 10:45 p.m. Fridays, 9 a.m. to midnight on Saturdays and 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Sundays. Full bar; corkage $12. Some vegetarian items. Ample lot parking; wheelchair access good. Menu online.

Tony P’s Dockside Grill,  4445 Admiralty Way, Marina del Rey  (310) 823-4534   tonyps.com

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