Monterey Bay Fish Grotto
1411 Grandview Ave., Mount Washington (412-481-4414)
146 Mall Circle Drive, Monroeville (412-374-8530)
We inlanders here in the 'Burgh might enjoy fishing out of the Mon once in a while, but you wouldn't want to eat your catch regularly. Or at least I wouldn't. So it's comforting to know there's a place that offers great seafood from outta tahn.
That would be Monterey Bay Fish Grotto. It's a restaurant that's no stranger to receiving recognition from City Paper readers and other judges. But while it's hard to be humble when you're the best, that's exactly what head chef John Dober is. And he's a born-and-raised Pittsburgher, too.
Dober's philosophy is one echoed by all great chefs: "It's really all about finding the freshest fish available. It's a lot less about what we do to make it special. And we spare no expense."
True enough. Monterey prepares fish that is sent all the way from Hawaii on a Thursday night, arrives in the kitchen Tuesday morning, and is served on your plate that afternoon.
"Hawaii is the only live-person auction left in the United States for fish," says Dober. "You can actually bid on a particular fish. So these are physically eye-purchased fish."
Monterey Bay serves upwards of 20 different kinds of fresh fish, including some you certainly won't find in your local grocery store: nairaigi (striped marlin) from Hawaii, black cod from Alaska, Scottish salmon and bronzini from Greece.
All the seafood is made to your liking, with preparations like Cajun style or Caribbean style -- one of my favorites because it balances sweet and salty with a combination of jerk spices, pineapple, red peppers and green onion. The staff will make suggestions, but it's always prepared as you like it.
Dober's own preferred dish, the ahi tuna served "sesame style" (with lemon butter and soy sauce), is his favorite for a reason. "That's the first dish I ate when I came here 10 years ago. That dish is the reason I wanted to work here," says Dober, who has been at Monterey Bay for more than six years and is a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu.
Monterey Bay is definitely a white-tablecloth experience, and Dober says it attracts its share of "foodies." But you'll never be intimidated, as you might be at some other fancy-pants restaurants. It's accessible, and you get the feeling that Chef Dober has a lot to do with that. And while it's not a cheap place to eat, the prices are fair for what they're giving you: Entrees from the fresh-fish board range from $20 to $40.
Servers are well trained, and that only enhances your dining experience. They won't ask you things like, "Still workin' on that?" They aren't in your face every five minutes asking you if everything's "OK." But they do have a knack for showing up precisely when you need them.
They're also ready with an impressive wine list, which includes some very fine selections, chosen especially to be paired with seafood. If you're not sure what goes with what, your server will be happy to help.
City-dwellers will be most familiar with the location "high atop Mount Washington." But while the Monterey Bay in Monroeville opened in 2006, that location is closer to the original restaurant, which started as the Rodi Grille House back in 1991.
Dining reservations are recommended at both venues. But you'll never have any reservations about how good the food is.