Nowadays, there are some pretty upscale restaurants in Marina del Rey. Among the most popular, Cafe del Rey started out with a Japanese-California fusion menu. Over the years that morphed into more of a pan-Asian menu at the restaurant.
Now, general manager Michael Morrisette tells me that the balance has shifted somewhat and the menu offers more Mediterranean dishes. Certainly the new chef, Jason Niederkorn, has credentials to support this trend, as he comes from Aubergine, a top-notch French restaurant in Newport Beach.
I’ve had dinner at Cafe del Rey — 4451 Admiralty Way, Marina del Rey, (310) 823-6395 — a number of times, and so for a change of pace I went there recently for Saturday brunch. The menu was a bit abbreviated, but there was plenty to choose from, with six appetizers and 12 entrees. The average cost of an appetizer and an entrÈe, about $28 on the special Saturday brunch, seemed reasonable.
The food at Cafe del Rey is solid and well presented. There is nothing phony, such as an attempt to copy a Parisian restaurant. You can always get a good steak, or fresh fish, and there are also dishes a bit more exotic to choose from.
Some of the starter dishes on the dinner menu that I particularly like are the Niman Ranch pork ribs ($17) which come with cabbage and polenta, and the Hudson valley foie gras ($28).
I’m a stickler for fried calamari, and while it was nicely served here on a napkin, to soak away excess oil, it was fried in oil that was not hot enough. So although when the calamari arrived at the table the outside was nicely crisp, the inside of this delicate fish was over-cooked.
Well-prepared fresh fish dishes that are offered daily, along with seared ahi tuna Asian style, fish soup with monkfish (incorrectly called “bouillabaisse” on the menu,) and my favorite seafood dish on this menu, black seafood spaghetti, nicely round out the selections.
For meat eaters there is a terrific beef short rib dish, steaks, lamb, duck and fowl. Most of the main courses at dinner run in the $32 to $37 range, except for the poached Maine lobster at $46.
In the future, will the restaurant stick with its original concept, Asian fusion, or go with the ever-popular Mediterranean influence? Stay tuned, time will tell.
But, Cafe del Rey is no Shangri-La. For some reason that I was not able to identify, the layout of the room makes it a bit loud, but that also gives a certain liveliness to the place. I could easily hear the conversation among the people three tables away, but unfortunately their conversation was not very interesting.
On the other hand, the setting is hard to beat. What more could you ask for than views of boats, more boats, and waterways while comfortably seated in a well-lighted room with modern Asian dÈcor?
And for those who go to a restaurant to drink, there’s a lovely bar tucked away on the side.
As much as I like some of the dishes and adore the view, there is no question in my mind that this restaurant’s star feature is its wine cellar. Located just inside the front door, you can’t help but notice the glass-faced structure, an exhibition wine cellar. The manager claims that this cellar holds over 5,000 bottles. With a selection of about two dozen wines by the glass representing over a dozen different grape varietals, there’s plenty of choice.
The liquor menu is equally impressive. A good quality Armagnac is available at $10 a glass and there is a variety of cognacs from $11 up. Way up.
And the diners I observed were taking full advantage of this opportunity.ÝA surprising number of them chose to drink wine by the glass. I stopped to talk with some French tourists at one table where I saw a waiter correctly opening a bottle of Perrin Rhone-style wine.
At the table next to me, where the young couple was speaking Russian either to each other or on a cell phone, the lady rejected the glass of California Pinot Noir served to her commenting that it was “too heavy.” The waiter bowed, took away the wine, and returned with a glass of Oregon Pinot Noir. He made a happy customer. And I was impressed.
Because the restaurant menu boasts several seafood dishes, wine sales are about equally divided between red and white wines. Domestic wines greatly outsell French or Italian wines, but the waiters often recommend the Burgundies and Bordeaux. Price does not seem to be a decisive factor — the best selling Champagne is the Veuve Cliquot “Grand Dame” at $250 per bottle.
So much for talk of recession in Marina del Rey.