Phil's Fish Market at
Unpretentious Coastal Fare Done Right
written by Reyna Lingemann
When you eat at Phil's Fish Market
at Moss Landing, you are satisfying that deep hunger
that is born out of too many "fresh-frozen" leave-the-restaurant-hungry,
dinning experiences. You will not forget the steaming giant
bowl of cioppino, chockfull of
mussels, clams, crab legs, fish calamari and scallops stewed
in a rich aromatic tomato broth.
Nor will you forget the soft, crusty, sourdough bread and
the selection of wines by the glass
or bottle. A dining experience at Phil's is truly a coastal
My friend Jenny and I ate at Phil's
one foggy afternoon. Nestled among warehouse style
buildings in one of California's few remaining working harbors,
the restaurant/fish market
appeals to tourists, locals and fishermen. We chose a cafeteria-style
Formicia table under
a heat lamp on the greenhouse patio. After ordering at the
counter, we took our number
to our table and helped ourselves to silverware and napkins.
The ambiance at Phil's is
unpretentious. Customers are often casually dressed and the
families with kids and inter-table conversation.
Our first appetizer, deep fried artichoke
hearts ($5.95) arrived promptly, as we sipped a '98
Mirassou Pinot Blanc ($5 per glass) and a '99 Lago de Merlo
merlot ($6). A hearty selection of
pint beers is also available. Surprisingly grease-free and
light, the artichokes were crispy on
the outside and moist inside, accompanied by a ranch dipping
sauce. Just when I popped the
last one into my mouth, I saw our waiter heading toward us,
his muscle flexing under a giant
bowl, and realized I should begin to pace myself.
Our second appetizer, the bowl of steamed
little neck clams (one of several various choices
they gave us) arrived with a stack of grilled garlic bread
($16.95.) The broth was perfect, filled
with the flavors of chopped fresh tomatoes, green onions,
garlic, thyme, white wine and butter.
We tore of pieces of bread and dipped vigorously in the broth.
The clams were medium-sized
and sweet, and only one or two in the whole two pounds were
a bit chewy.
Next, our salads came. Mine was a half-order
Caesar and Jenny's was was a house salad with
creamy Italian dressing. Both were ample portions of crispy
greens, but we found them slightly
Just when we were feeling quite full,
our main course arrived. The house specialty cioppino is
served in a bun or a bowl for $12.95. It comes with a green
salad and garlic bread, and could
have easily served the two of us. The seafood was so fresh
it taste like ocean breeze one of
the best cioppinos I've tasted on any coast. If you purchase
a Phil's T-shirt when you leave, you
will find their not-so-secret cioppino recipe printed on the
My entry, the special charbroiled California
Seabass with feta cheese and Greek salsa ($14.95),
was served with lightly sautéed summer veggies, a slab
of melt-in-your-mouth sun-dried tomato
polenta and more garlic bread. It too rivaled any fresh grilled
fish I've eaten anywhere.
The service at Phil's is deliberately
minimal. The experience is meant to be friendly and casual,
while the food speaks for itself. Our waiters were attentive
and promt, but we did notice a lack
of busboys in the post-lunch, pre-dinner hours.
If you're in the mood to cook your
own meal back home, Phil's also offers a full-service fresh
market in the same building. Or, you can order your food to
go, purchase one of the assorted
loaves of fresh bread and a bottle of wine (their selection
is reasonable, with many fine choices
from $10.95-$23.95), and have a picnic on the nearby beach.
We narrowed the dessert list down to
the two homemade options, but had a tough time deciding
between the cannoli ($2.95) or tiramisu ($3.50.) We opted
for the latter, a delightfully rich marriage
of cake and mascarpone, light on the liquor. After a cup of
coffee to bring us back to life for the 20-mile
drive back to Santa Cruz, we hit the road, satisfied and happy,
joking that Phil's is an appropriate
name for a place that really fills you up.