Thursday, April 27, 2006
Given its library-catalog name (Marina Seafood Italian Restaurant) and lackluster location (next to a laundromat in a strip mall), it’s not hard to figure out why this modest gem feels undiscovered. But for some folks, these funky traits only add to the joint’s appeal.
Other aspects—like the small dining room and the amiable family behind it—also engender affection. Of course, these qualities don’t directly affect the tastebuds. That’s where the real charm kicks in: with quality, well-presented Italian dishes and seafood prepared fresh—all for about $15 and below.
On my first visit I decided against the linguini and clams lunch special ($9.95 with white wine or red sauce) and went with one of owner-server Renee Herrera’s recommendations: Calamari alla Parmigiana ($9.95). I barely had time to recon the spot, enjoy some garlic bread and sip my Pacifico ($3) before the food arrived. And the 30-person-capacity spot—simple, clean and tiled, with white paper tabletops, two-tone walls, red cloth napkins and an open kitchen—doesn’t take long to recon.
The dish looked great—great enough to inspire another table of lunchers to order it after seeing it go by. Five six-inch rolls of lightly-breaded, golden brown calamari steak lounged beneath a blanket of melted mozzarella cheese, marinara sauce, and grated parmesan. Shredded basil accented the plate, which also included some slices of grilled eggplant.
The unpounded calamari only got better when paired with the fresh garlic bread for some mini squidwiches. Herrera nodded his approval and told me such sandwiches on garlic bread are a popular lunch special.
Herrera, who bought out his partners three months back, also told me he’s won over many new customers in that time and that he plans to ride that momentum into a redesign in two months that will include a new name, Bella Luna, and an expanded specials menu. I imagine his earnest effort to please every table personally will remain constant, as it did for Alex and I on a Saturday night visit.
Though the small place was nearly full, a nice two-top next to the open kitchen with a single candle awaited us. As we uncorked a Robert Mondavi Coastal Chardonnay ($20) to go with the seafood and chicken we had on the way, Herrera honored a request for marinara to go with the killer garlic bread with a little soup cup of sauce with sweet basil on top.
Our entrees included soup or salad. I went for the minestrone, with everything from broccoli to tomatoes piled past the high-broth mark. Alex’s salad was a basic romaine.
For the main event I tabbed the special of the night, fresh sole in a white wine sauce ($15.95). The filet-and-a-half of sole arrived atop two big slices of zucchini and some broccoli with a two-shrimp escort. The wine sauce proved lavish, capitalizing on the salty sweet caper influence and harmonizing Italian herbs, garlic, mushrooms and chopped tomatoes to make the sole (and shrimp) sing. The sole itself was light and silky.
Alex’s order of Chicken alla Casarolla ($14.95) equaled three small pounded breasts of chicken that were tender and moist with clamata olives, mushroom, garlic and tomato flavor abundant throughout.
While the garlic bread dipped in the sole’s white wine sauce offered an epic dessert, we still chose to share some banana cheesecake ($3.50). Our decision was rewarded with a fat wedge of homemade indulgence sporting a top layer of sweet cream cheese, a heart of subtlely banana-flavored, not-so-dense cake on a graham cracker crust. Fresh whipped cream, a dusting of cinnamon and slices of strawberry made great greater. Herrera admitted that desserts are his specialty after 15 years in the business.
As we prepared to leave, a couple of comments from nearby tables summarized our quasi-discovery nicely. An older fellow celebrating a birthday shook Renee’s hand and remarked, “Glad I made it this far.” Roger that, birthday boy—while only 10 minutes from the Peninsula proper, Marina can feel a ways away. I too was glad.
Another local saluted Renee and the restaurant soon after. “It’s nice,” he said, “to have a place like this in Marina.”
MARINA SEAFOOD ITALIAN RESTAURANT 3056 Del Monte Blvd. #107, Marina • 11:30am-9pm weekdays 4:30-9pm weekends • 384-8525.