Richard Foss


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admiral risty restaurant palos verdesI generally like restaurants to stay right where I left them. This is not just a matter of them not moving from one place to another. Even if I haven’t been there in years, I’d like to be confident that they’re still offering a steady, unchanging service.

Naturally, I’m often disappointed. The place that used to serve classic French suddenly goes modern; the one that used to provide fascinating original cuisine rests on its laurels. The restaurant with fresh tasting food becomes a buffet, and the waiters at the place with great service all become communists. I weep.

Which is why a trip to the Admiral Risty is such a pleasant trip through a time machine. The place that became famous for great cioppino, fresh seafood, and an unrivalled ocean view still has all three great items. Manager Wayne Judah still looks much the same, having been there so long that if the building ever changes hands, he may be included in the lease. For those who crave a bit of certainty in an uncertain world, the Admiral Risty is an oasis.

We dropped in on a Tuesday without a reservation, and were pleased that a table near the window was still available. I knew I was going to have the cioppino as soon as I decided to go there, and so could forego examining the menu in favor of enjoying the sunset. My companions studied the menu exhaustively while I watched the evening shadows gather; the sun turning into an orange ball seen through early evening clouds. It was a relaxing moment in a peaceful room, and the acoustic guitarist in the adjacent bar provided a musical background of seventies soft rock.

We decided to start with the artichoke and a plate of gravlax, the Scandinavian pickled salmon with dill. Unfortunately, the salmon and dill combination was the only dish of our meal that was unsatisfactory; though gravlax is salted while being pickled, the final product should taste more of dill and seafood than salt. The salt was definitely out front, and accordingly, we didn’t finish this appetizer. We were much happier with the artichoke and the accompanying basket of warm crusty bread, and focused on that instead. My wife also enjoyed her salad, which had a nicely tangy blue cheese dressing. We accompanied our appetizers with glasses of Honig Sauvignon Blanc from the short but reasonably priced wine list.

After a few minutes of contemplating the last afterglow of sunset, our meals arrived. Cioppino at the Admiral Risty is served in two portion sizes: the “appetizer,” which is enough for a hearty meal, and the dinner, which is the same portion with the addition of fettuccine noodles and a side salad. A dinner portion is easily big enough for two persons to share, but whichever I order, there are always leftovers. And I always do order cioppino when I go to the Admiral Risty for two reasons: it is always excellent, and it is too much work to make at home. I know, because I made it once. It was delicious, but it took hours and required a vast clean-up operation.

The cioppino at Admiral Risty’s is a regular medal-winner at competitions, and it’s easy to see why. The tomato-herb stock with onion and just the right dash of bell pepper is tasty all by itself – add in a generous portion of fish, shrimp, and shellfish and it’s just heavenly. I happily devoured as much as I could, and still had a third of it left to go home. (It’s not bad when reheated the next day. It reheats well). It was enhanced by a glass of Mark West Pinot Noir, a red which is generally excellent with seafood.

My companions had the clam chowder and a daily special of Ono, a Hawaiian fish also known as Wahoo. (I was puzzled regarding why a fish could be known by two names that sound alternately crestfallen and celebratory. It turns out that Ono means “good to eat” in Hawaiian, and Wahoo is an alternate pronunciation of Oahu. Both sound more exotic than King Mackerel, showing that the ancient Hawaiians understood good marketing). The Ono was a delicious, delicate, and flaky fish that was well suited to being dusted with spiced breadcrumbs and pan-fried. It was one of the best pieces of fish I’ve had this year, and I had to use advanced wheedling techniques to get a third nibble (from by protective companion). I also had to use charm to get tastes of the potato wedges, which were uniquely crisp. The delicious and plentiful haricots verts were more readily shared.

The chowder, a good stew well supplied with clams, ordered by our companion was less spectacular than our other meals. I’d happily order this as a starter for another meal, but as a main course it was a bit one-dimensional.

For dessert we selected a crème brulee and an item which was referred to as a berry-apple crisp. The brulee was good and lightly sweet, but the crisp was so-so – the layer of crumble on top was too thick and wasn’t crisp even at the surface, which seemed to miss the point of the dish. The fruit flavor was very good, and I may try this again to see if I just caught the dessert maker on an off day.

Our dinner for three ran $113.00 plus tip, and was a very relaxing few hours with good service, food, and surroundings. The details may change at Admiral Risty, but as long as those three remain constant I’ll be back, and I won’t be the only one.

The Admiral Risty is located at 31250 Palos Verdes Drive West in Rancho Palos Verdes. Open for lunch ad dinner daily, full bar, plenty of free parking. Handicap access good. Call 310-377-0050 for reservations.


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