I try to eat at every new restaurant incognito. I think it is important that I get the same experience that everyone else will when dining. But sometimes, the owner, chef, even wait staff know who I am, so it is a challenge. Mr. Bayus and I were dying to try the new Ocean Grill in Avila Beach, as I am a fan of the owner and chef. We took a ride on the Seaweed Express in Avila (Seaweedexpress.com). A marvelous way to see the whole bay, learn the history and appreciate all the wild life from the water. Our thinking was that we would get wet and that would be our disguise. The wonderful Captain Lee, took us all the way out past the Breakwall to the Lighthouse, to Pirates Cove and even in some caves in his 6-seat skiff, but we did not get wet. I would recommend this tour to everyone and took my grandson the next day. After our ride, we body surfed in the waves and went to dine, salty, wet and hungry.
No one recognized us in this drippy state and we got a first taste of what would become one of our favorite ocean dining spots. First, there is not a bad seat, all have a magnificent view of the Avila shoreline and the food and service of Ocean Grill exceeded expectations.
This new beginning for Executive Chef Michael Reyes and Cabo San Luis founder Dan Harper who acts as the General Managing Partner, is astounding. With the financial partner of Forster-Gill and a handpicked wait staff including the marvelous Nicole and Login, Ocean Grill is an achievement in culinary perfection. I started with a Talley Trifecta to warm my salty hands with the crispy calamari that was a welcome delight with ginger and scallion, a delectable Yuzu remoulade (think tartar sauce on steroids) and a surprisingly delicious Vietnamese sauce with a vinegar touch and sweet essence from the diced carrots. It was so good Gary kept it to mop up his bread sticks that were long, thin and dreamily seasoned with crunchy sea salt.
Our main courses came with a bottle of Graffigna Reserve from Argentina as the waitress explained the specialty is the extremely fresh and creatively prepared seafood. Chef Michael skillfully prepares the seafood each evening that mostly comes straight from the fishing boats in the harbor. I had the Diver Scallops that tasted divinely good. Big luscious scallops flawlessly cooked sitting on a bed of couscous, dates, sliced almonds with a lemon and honey cream sauce. Gary had the plucked from the sea Opah that was grilled to excellence and served with our local Windrose farm vegetables. It was topped with an Aji Rocoto sauce that added an exotic touch to this mild fish. After we were done, Dan came by to see how our meal was and recognized us for the first time (sea rat disguise was successful) and I was glad to say that everything was perfect even not knowing I was there to review the restaurant. Chef Michael then came to say hello and we thanked him for his culinary artistry and promised to visit often.
My next visit consisted of a group of ten friends. It was a random bunch of women who fielded my call on Facebook to join me for lunch and to try everything on the menu. Strangers almost immediately became compatriots as we traded stories on husband, children and grandkids. We passed around each dish so all could get a nibble of everything. Our first was the Peruvian Ceviche using fresh halibut, a dish that originated in Peru with lime and orange citrus juice “cooking” the fish. Seasoned with a mild Peruvian spice called Aji Amarillo and Andean corn, this was a perfect dish on a hot day with a glass of Tolosa chardonnay. Then we shared my favorite, the Ahi Avila with nice thick slices of seared Ahi laid on a crispy wonton with a Peruvian salsa (like a chimichurri), cilantro creama sitting on spicy arugula sprigs. Next we passed around the Baja Shrimp Cocktail that was more like a cold gazpacho than a traditional cocktail with a spicy tomato and shrimp broth swimming with shrimp, clams and Hass avocado slices and cucumbers.
Another round of wine came and we dug into the salads. I was very impressed with Caesar as it was done correctly with Spanish white anchovy and a house made Parmesan dressing and croutons. The best, most creative and tasty dish was the Tricolor Quinoa with a rainbow of grains all complemented with sweet corn, green beans, piquillo peppers and marcona almonds. The mint highlights really brought out the earthiness without sacrificing flavor.
Next came the wood fried flat breads, baked in the authentic hearth toward the back of the restaurant. We tried the Margarita with its house made mozzarella, fresh from the vine heirloom tomatoes and basil. The cracker bread like crust with the crisp ingredients made this a dish to be coveted. The Normand with its sliced See Canyon cinnamoned apples, caramelized onions and creamy Brie were sweet and savory.
The couple of entrees we shared consisted of the Cabo San Luis Fish Tacos with Corona battered cod, aioli white sauce, mild salsa and fresh cabbage. A squeeze of lime brought out the flavors of Mexico. The Fish & Chips was a combination of delicately flavored Halibut with fresh cut and twice fried fries.
Ocean Grill is open from 11:00am to 3:00 pm every day for lunch, 5:00pm to 9:00pm every day for dinner. They are open for pizza, beer and wine from 3:00pm to 5:00pm on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Chef Michael Reyes uses only local produce and fish so the menus changes daily and look for fall menu coming out next month. Ocean Grill is located at 268 Front Street in Avila Beach; call them at (805) 595-4050 for reservations and information.