My Rating: 3 Stars
In my July 8th post, “Of Pelicans, Seals, and Ghosts,” I blogged about the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve in Moss Beach, California, and mentioned the Moss Beach Distillery, a historic restaurant with a special story. Apart from having been a speakeasy in the late 1920s, it boasts a ghost, who purportedly appears occasionally to visitors, and sometimes makes strange, inexplicable things happen. I had the opportunity to dine there last night, and I emerge from the experience with mixed reviews.
The ever-changing view of the Pacific Ocean, dotted with fishing boats and changing light and cloud patterns, is gorgeous. The large windows on the upper floor are positioned to take full advantage of nature’s grandeur, as is the outdoor patio below. Dogs are welcome here (outside) and they even offer a doggy menu.
The decor is interesting: the stained-glass front windows seem to be original, while the bar sports a mixture of various tiffany-style lamps. The stamped-metal ceiling in the upstairs dining room gives an Old Spanish feeling. The large windows dominate, however, drawing your attention to the view.
The ambience is relaxing and the bartenders and waitstaff are jovial and attentive. The food quality is somewhat spotty, and the menu selection a bit unusual. For example, I ordered oyster shooters with vodka as an appetizer. You can only buy them by the piece (a lot of seafood places will also offer a six-pack). The oysters themselves were rather miniscule, and for $5 a piece ($7 with vodka), one would expect something a bit more substantial. The glasses in which they were served seemed too big for the oysters, and there was definitely too much tomatoey booze for my taste. Also, you can’t get a traditional crab cocktail or a crab louie here.
They served delicious, fresh, hot sourdough rolls with butter, and refilled our basket three times. Three people in our party of four ordered salads with their dinner. They were substantial in size and could easily serve two, each. I was able to sample two of them. The Caesar Salad had crisp, fresh lettuce and an irresistible creamy dressing. The Beet and Mandarin Salad was delightful, with fresh “designer” lettuce, freshly cooked beets, tasty mandarin slices, and delicious candied walnuts.
The meal unraveled, however, when it came to the entrées. One person in my party ordered the Crab Quesadillas, which were “good.” Another ordered the Pesto Salmon ($32) which she reported was way overcooked. Two of us ordered “Coquille de Mare” (also $32), which was described as a casserole of rock crab, prawns, and crimini mushrooms baked in jack, swiss, and parmesan cheese. I expected to find pieces of seafood in the casserole portion, but all I could find were mushrooms, and while it was flavorful, it was also quite heavy and greasy. The brown rice and vegetables that it was served with, however, were excellent.
Upon returning home, I researched the story of the ghost (the “Blue Lady”). She apparently had been the lover of the piano player at the Distillery, which she frequented in the 1920s. Unfortunately, her husband discovered her affair, and murdered her on the beach below the speakeasy, attempting to kill her lover as well. Her ghost is said to enjoy the company of the living, and she is reportedly seen from time to time at the bar.
Wikipedia reveals that some of the “sightings” of the Blue Lady were deliberate hoaxes by restaurant personnel, who admitted to placing images of the Blue Lady in the mirror of the women’s restroom (I did notice that the mirror seemed like one-way glass), piping in the sound of a woman’s laughter, and making lamps sway in the bar. The establishment is proud of its ghost, displaying her glowing head and bust in its entryway, and including her story as an insert in their menu. I also overheard our waitress telling another guest about some unexplained incidents that she had experienced in the restaurant: things being moved, and unexplained messages on the intercom.
This place has a lot of charm, history, and cachet, not to mention location. As some reviewers on Yelp pointed out, the restaurant can get by on these things alone, and tourists will continue to come here. If you want to get a drink and some appetizers, enjoy the view, and maybe catch a Giants’ game on TV, this is a very acceptable place. If you come here for fine dining, however, as the pricing on the dinner menu would lead you to expect, you will probably be less than satisfied. Not enough attention is paid to the finer points of food preparation, especially of the dinner entrées. I give Moss Beach Distilley three stars out of five.