Friday, May 13, 2011

A Jaunt Up The Coast -- Part II The Sea Chest

When we go to Moonstone Beach -- which we have done many times over the years -- we always stay at the Castle Inn. It is not fancy. Really, it's just a motel, but it is spotless and right across the road from the ocean. The owners Diane and Ed are delightful and welcoming and from Quebec and Ireland, respectively. If you know me, you're probably laughing at this kismet. Quebec and Ireland are deeply important to us. My father is from Montreal and our hearts belong to Ireland (and its whiskey!).

The view from most rooms is stunning, and literally all you have to do is look both ways, cross the street, and you'll find yourself on the wooden walkaway alongside the ocean cliffs. You can hop down the stairs and walk through the tide pools. Just be careful not to disturb the sunbathing seals!

Moonstone Beach is our quick and easy getaway. It's relatively affordable and I swear it feels like our little jaunt cleansed my head and spirits in a much needed way. You're surrounded by incredible beauty and lots of cool animals (sea otters(!), harbor and elephant seals, bunny rabbits, ground squirrels, hawks)! Another plus is that there is some rather tasty food to be had.

Moonstone Bar & Grill has really good fish tacos at lunch. The outdoor seating with the view of the ocean is not to be missed. I just cannot recommend eating dinner there. Get a cocktail -- just under 8 bucks for Jameson and Grey Goose -- and enjoy the sunset. The seafood pasta is flat out awful and expensive.

My preference is to dine at the fabulous Sea Chest. It is very seaside -- rustic and casual -- with an exceptional view of the ocean. There are business cards stapled to the ceiling, fishing-lore knick-knacks decorate the shelves and the servers are clad in Sea Chest t-shirts, and still the restaurant is very lovely with roses on the white linen tablecloths.

The Sea Chest is an oyster bar and seafood restaurant. They're serious about it. You'll find one vegetarian pasta on the menu, but that is the only time the menu strays onto land. Skip the ultra-bland Blue Point oysters from the East coast and try the smaller, brinier Morrow Bay beauties. Eat local, right?

I'd recommend controlling yourself as best you can, when it comes to the piping hot sourdough rolls slathered in butter. It's hard, but try, because the portions are massive and most come with a choice of clam chowder or garden salad. The salad is crisp and fresh, but the chowder is fantastic. Besides raw oysters, I've never tried the appetizers, but I'm awfully tempted by the Clams Casino and the Devils on Horseback. Heck, they even have oyster stew and escargots!

I follow in my Dad's footsteps. I easily become a creature of habit. I don't always order the beef taco and cheese enchilada (my Dad does!), but when I like something I find it hard to give it up. What if the new dish doesn't satisfy the same way? Will I be filled with regret? It's true, sometimes decision making is not my strong suit.

At The Sea Chest, I do not flounder.


I always order the Cioppino, my first night there. I was a wreck, when I realized the Sea Chest is closed on Tuesdays -- our first night in town!

As you may have noticed, I love Cioppino, and Steve's version at the Sea Chest is hands down my favorite. The fish stew comes out scalding hot in a scarred Le Creuset saucepan. It's exquisitely soupy and chock full of mussels, salmon, white fish, clams, squid, scallops, and shrimp. There's a crab leg too, but it's probably the least impressive part of the dish.

The spicy broth is loaded with black pepper and tomato. You'll even find zucchini and carrot in there, which is not traditional at all, but doesn't seem to offend. Your brow will likely be moist from the heat and the spice of the dish. It's a huge pot of Cioppino, and by the time your done with it and a couple glasses of Sauvignon Blanc, you may discover that you are exhausted from the experience. In an exceedingly good way.

The second night at the Sea Chest, I felt the need for some variety. I ordered sea scallops with linguine. The enormous scallops were plump and sweet. The pasta was slicked in olive oil and littered with capers and garlic and shallots. I'd order it again without hesitation.

I have just one other tip for you. Stop by Linn's in Cambria for an olallieberry cream cheese muffin for breakfast. I'm not much of a muffin gal, but these are scrumptious.

Sea Chest Restaurant & Oyster Bar
6216 Moonstone Beach Drive
Cambria, CA 93428


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