Monterey Bay Fish Grotto—Pittsburgh, PA

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Monterey Bay Fish Grotto is the premier spot for fresh fish in Pittsburgh, PA. With twenty to twenty-five different varieties of fresh fish arriving daily, the Bay is able to not only offer the mainstays of a fish menu but also to put their own creations and developments on a plate. They stand out as serving the greatest variety and highest quality fresh fish in the ‘Burgh, a fact recognized by Pittsburgh Magazine through which they have been voted the Best Seafood for fourteen years running.

Monterey Bay also receives high accolades through the app Open Table where they have earned the following Diner’s Choice Awards: Best Ambiance, Best Food, Best Overall, Best Service, Most Booked, Most Romantic, and Best Special Occasion.

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If you’re unfamiliar with Pittsburgh a geography lesson is in order. Pittsburgh is defined by its three rivers. The Allegheny comes in from the north and the Monongahela joins from the south forming the Ohio River. Downtown is defined by two sides bordering the rivers and the point at the confluence is called, well, “The Point.”

Pittsburgh’s rivers and hills create an amazing and beautiful cityscape. The picture above I took from across the street from the Bay atop Mount Washington along the road also aptly named “Grand View Avenue.” From this point I was able to see thirty different bridges (in total Pittsburgh claims a staggering 446).

Monterey Bay occupies the top two floors of a building which already sits atop Grand View Avenue for a truly staggering view of the city, especially at night when downtown lights are reflected upon the dark ink rivers and stretch to meet in the middle with the lights from Station Square at the foot of Mount Washington.

This alone makes the Bay a desirable location to dine and, as I was about to learn, is was only the tip of the iceberg.

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I met with Executive Sous Chef Joe Shandor midday for a look behind the scenes of the amazing views and fabulous food. Joe showed me how they break down several kinds of the fish that come through the door fresh off the plane. As he breaks down the Tuna above he tells me “This was swimming yesterday.”

I got to see Escolar, Sea Bass, and Hawaiian Moonfish (I think a few more swam by at one point, too). After cooking in the Rockies and dealing with three or four different fish at most, I found the variety at Monterey Bay stunning and exciting. As are the preparations they offer, which include an amazing amount of diversity and customization.

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Pairing your beverage with your meal is like matching your shirt with your pants. Monterey Bay excels at providing both excellent pairing suggestions, and stocking the best wines and liquors available. If you’re unsure what you would like, or are still learning, like me, their educated staff can help you into a glass of something delicious, or provide the whole table with a fabulous bottle.

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For an appetizer, you may want to consider the Crab Cake. You’d find it thick and flakey and delightfully moist. The slaw on the side provides a nice fruity counterpoint, and the remoulade is the perfect condiment.

If this were your first visit to the Bay, the crab cake would also be your first indication of the wealth of freshness and taste in which you were about to partake.

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This Parmesan Encrusted Escolar was another delight. The crust was wonderfully crisp and the white fish inside was both firm and moist. Each bite was a long, low ride through the palette with a buttery sharp, yet mellow, flavor.

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Next, something I was really looking forward to: my first and only other time for Swordfish was in Pittsburgh as well, and my mouth had been watering for weeks at the thought of a repeat experience.

Chef and I went into the back to prepare a fresh plate of Monterey Bay’s Swordfish Caribbean. First, the swordfish steak is rubbed in some Jerk spices, then placed on the grill. While it cooks we took a small sautee pan and thickened pineapple juice with chunks of pineapple and diced red pepper.

Once the juice had thickened to a sauce and the swordfish was properly grilled and cross hatched on both sides, we slid the fish onto a plate and poured the sauce over it. Some blades of fresh chive complete the presentation of this delightfully anticipated dish.

Invariably, folks compare swordfish to steak. The large fish lends itself to nicely cut steak sized portions, and it’s firm enough to grill without falling apart. Swordfish steaks can also be ordered cooked from Rare to Well (but you’d never order them more cooked than Medium, right?).

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Speaking of cooking temperature, Tuna is a fish that seems to confuse people. How can this thing we get in a can, and we get for sushi be the same animal? This confusion is often paired with the greatest tragedy for a chef in the kitchen: having customers force him or her to overcook something.

My heart has cried out, like the long shot of our hero in the movie, drenched in the rain, asking God “Why!?!?!” his loved one dying tragically in his arms. If you want to eat charcoal, McWally World sells briquettes. Stop making me ruin awesome food!

If you order tuna somewhere (and it’s not Tuna Salad) and they ask you how you want it cooked, the correct response is: “Barely.” We’ll also take “Seared.” What you want to see is evidenced in the picture above, a perfectly thin line of seared tuna with everything else completely raw. If you don’t like raw food, order a different fish. When tuna is over cooked it gets dry and chewy, and it’s a waste of a beautiful piece of fish.

The Bay’s Stuffed Yellow Fin Tuna is a beautiful piece of deep pink fish, seared on both sides, then cut in half. In between the two pieces of filet are “stuffed” sauteed spinach, mushrooms, and goat cheese. Then the plate is topped with a Marsala Wine Sauce.

This plate made my mouth water enough for a whole school of fish to swim around.

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All this emphasis on fish is well warranted.
Don’t think, however, this is all Monterey Bay can do for you. Besides the amazing fish, the astounding wine, and the liquor shelf to die for they also offer some chicken and steak dishes. This way, if you have a large party and someone (for some strange reason) just doesn’t want fish, you can still eat at the Bay and everyone will be happy.

We all know desert is the punctuation to a meal. It is the denouement bringing closure to our experience. The Bay ensures you leave on a happy with the Opera Cake by Pastry Chef, Eugene Kanar. Eugene just won Best Dessert with his Angel Food Grilled Cheese Sandwich desert through Whirl Magazine’s 2013 Chef’s Best Dish. Like everyone else at Monterey Bay, this gentleman knows what he’s doing.

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Before I left the Bay I had the chance to sit down with General Manager, Jennifer Marshall. Jen has been with Monterey Bay off and on since it opened in in 1997 when she started as a server. She has left a couple of times to pursue other opportunities, and each time the Bay has pulled her back.

There has recently been a change in the guard at the Bay, and Jen is at the forefront of a bottom-up effort by everyone in the restaurant to take what they have been doing excellently for fifteen years and step it up a notch. Scrutinizing everything from the menu to the decor, Monterey Bay as a whole is staying current. They are not comfortable to rest on their laurels.

Jen spoke passionately about the Bay, the menu, and the staff. Here is a woman believing strongly in a cause and working hard towards a goal, an attitude everyone there shares. And when you eat at Monterey Bay Fish Grotto, you taste it. You taste the commitment to quality, and you will walk out of there smiling, because you just had some of the best food and most gracious service of your life.

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