Listen to the locals. It’s become a mantra on my travels, and it’s led to plenty of memorable food and drink experiences. An interview with Verve Coffee Roasters head trainer Chris Baca inevitably led to a discussion of nearby dining options, and his description of the cioppino at Phil’s Fish Market was vivid enough to get us to ditch Pacifica dinner plans.
Phil DiGirolamo opened his fish market in the tiny harbor town of Moss Landing in 1982. The market’s become a destination, and a line snaked out the door when we arrived for an off-season dinner. To enter, walk by a fisherman statuette and small boat, then grab a menu and decide on the way to the counter. The line was long, but it moved quickly, so consider the dozens of options – plus dry erase board specials – quickly.
On our way to the counter, we passed the fish market and dog show photos.
We started light with Oysters on the Half Shell ($2.50 apiece). Small pacific were rougher, Blue Point had a smoother shell, and neither was especially briny. We squeezed on lemon juice and added a judicious amount of horseradish’d cocktail sauce.
We were eating near the artichoke hotbed of Watsonville and of course had to partake. We ordered Fire Roasted Artichokes ($7.95), which were totally addictive on their own, and probably didn’t even need the tangy aioli dipping sauce, but it sure didn’t hurt.
We bypassed Champagne Oysters sautéed with butter, champagne and shallots in favor of Grilled Sardines ($8.95) dressed with shallots, capers, and olive oil. The bony, naturally oily fish came alive with a squeeze of lemon, even though they were headless.
Phil’s Fish Market has become famous for Grandma Nina Catalano’s cioppino, which slayed Bobby Flay on Throwdown. We ordered cioppino in a bowl ($20.95) and they seasoned the zesty tomato broth with oregano, onion and garlic. Abundant local seafood included crab claws, shrimp, bay scallops, Manila clams, black mussels, calamari, and fish fillet. They opt for whatever’s freshest, either halibut or salmon, but either way, trust the Pacific.
Our only misstep was the Sicilian Style Artichoke ($6.95), a gut buster that negated any possible nutrition (or flavor) from the choke by bombarding it with molten yellow cheddar and mozzarella. Whole garlic cloves and seasoned breadcrumbs filled cracks between leaves.
Phil’s Fish Market turned out to be just the kind of down-home, locally focused, reasonably priced seafood restaurant that’s often hard to find, but oh so satisfying.