Photograph by Stephen Laufer
Sea Harvest in the Sunset: The Moss Landing restaurant's atmospherically lit seafood medley looks good enough to get Ahab's mind back on track.
Sea Harvest puts Moss Landing on the map as a dining destination
By Selene Latigo
I have driven from Santa Cruz to Santa Barbara and back more times than I can count and am as familiar with this stretch of the 101 as I am with my own street. Although much more pleasant visually than I-5, the 101's numbing familiarity can make me insane. The only thing that breaks up the monotony is to stop in at interesting-looking restaurants, sometimes making great roadside culinary discoveries along the way. Heading home from the Thanksgiving holiday, our stomachs stretched and growling for more, we came upon the Sea Harvest Fish Market and Restaurant like a beacon in the dark Moss Landing night.
At 6pm, early by most people's standards, the place was packed with elderly couples, families and kayakers. During our 10-minute wait for a table, we had a chance to check out the large glass display case holding the day's ample "sea harvest." It gave us a sense of the direct connection between our meal to come, with the local waters lapping at the sides of this oceanfront building. We also read about the three brothers who each run their own Sea Harvest, one in Monterey, one in Carmel and the newest here in Moss Landing. As we were seated, we noticed one of these brothers scurrying around the busy room, bussing tables, chatting with customers and taking orders.
From the back corner table we took in the casual yet tastefully soothing sea-foam green and coral colors, vaulted ceilings and Asian fish drawings. Scanning the general wine list, we opted instead for Anchor Steam beer ($3.50). A basket of incredibly fresh and balanced francese bread arrived, and after two separate inquiries about the origin of this excellent bread, I could only gather that it was from a bakery in Monterey somewhere. I think I'll do my own extra research to find it again.
One side of the menu features soups, salads, appetizers and fried specialties with various breading styles such as Southern corn and cracker meal, and panko coconut. The flip side of the menu holds the meals from the grill, all $14.95 and with several different cooking and saucing options, including the choice to have any featured fish atop a Caesar salad for $12.95. We were pleased to notice that most of the seafood was described with localities and grades.
Of the half dozen specials, Dave chose the whole Dungeness crab ($17.95), hot and still in the shell. He also ordered a cup of the house-smoked salmon bisque ($3.95), a sweet cream-based soup with a gentle smoky flavor. His huge crab arrived with a shell cracker, drawn butter and the anything-but-bland cocktail sauce, full of kick. He happily embarked on the labor-intensive dish, drenching each succulent and sweet morsel in butter, pausing from time to time to take refreshing bites of the mixed green salad with grated beets and ripe tomato. His plate also held a few crisp green beans, one whole, peeled and steamed carrot and a small pile of roasted red potatoes with a hint of rosemary. All of the sides were simple enough to showcase the star of the dish while maintaining enough integrity and flavor to stand out on their own.
After hearing that the catch of the day was our local grenadier, I opted for my usual fish-house test of the fish and chips ($8.95). The large platter was heaped with french fries and four strips of the tender white fish. Everything could have stayed in the fryer a minute or two longer for my taste, but it was clearly fresh, not too greasy, and the distinctive flavor of this fish shone through fried flavor.
We said goodbye to the jovial owner and stepped back out into the cold, peering around the back to check out the heated outdoor deck hovering above the water before resuming our trek home. Both of us decided that this would be a perfect place to return for a bowl of chowder and a beer on the deck at sunset. The Sea Harvest provides consistent fresh, local and simple classic seafood dishes at a great value and is definitely a worthy destination, not just a stop along Highway 1.
Address: 2420 Hwy 1, Moss Landing
Hours: Fish market 9am-8pm, restaurant 11am-8pm
Price Range: $4-$18.