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(photo by Café Del Rey Photo Courtesy)

We used to sail out of Marina del Rey. After a cold, rough sail, with Spencer seasick and Bonnie bored, we would return to the marina looking for a good dinner. About the best food around was a pizza at Hank Vendetti’s. But Hank is no longer there, and some modern, high-end watering hole is there in its place.

Folks still might not consider the marina a destination for high end dining, yet nowadays a number of good places have emerged. The best of these that I’ve found so far is Café del Rey. With their new chef Daniel Roberts, and their high-energy manager, this is now a fine dining destination “worth the voyage.”

I love boats, so the open, airy design of the restaurant overlooking boats in the marina is a treat for me. And the new décor takes advantage of the waterside views.

At a recent lunch I was promptly brought soft bread baked on the premises, still warm, with a garlic and red pepper infused oil for dipping. My wife said not to eat bread before lunch, but when she went to the ladies room I sampled it, while looking innocently at the lovely orchid on the table.

The cauliflower apple soup was A-plus. But the real apple of my eye was the pappardelle with squid ink, cubed cuttlefish, beans and shrimp, with a touch of spice. That’s something I don’t make at home, and rarely see on menus and the part I took home was wonderful at breakfast.

We had yellowfin tuna “nicoise” style, which was beautifully presented, with grated egg, olives, and green beans for a variety of flavors. Next was one of the best dishes I’ve eaten in a long time, an agnolotti of wild mushrooms in brown butter sauce with black truffles — perfect in texture so that it melted in my mouth.

The Moroccan lamb burger was a surprise. You might not expect such a big lamb taste, with harissa fries on the side. The only dish I found disappointing was the “traditional bouillabaisse,” and it was anything but traditional. First of all, no shellfish is added to a traditional bouillabaisse. But that aside (it could be Cioppino) unfortunately this one was a bit too sweet and lacked fish flavor.

I don’t usually eat salmon in restaurants because I make it at home so often, but Bonnie ordered it and it was very nicely prepared, with wonderful sliced potatoes on the side. We also shared the excellent lamb duo, with lamb prepared two ways as the name suggests.

One afternoon I had the Cinque Terre lunch special which is a nice sampling of six dishes.

There’s a very good wine list 16 pages long, including a number of half bottles which I very much appreciate. Prices are reasonable. At my last dinner there I had a glass of Portuguese white wine with my appetizer, and Portuguese red wine with my main course, and both were well selected and enjoyable. I passed up the beautiful dessert list, even though it featured Turkish coffee ice cream, and settled for a glass of Chateau de Pellehaut reserve Armagnac for $15 — very enjoyable.

This is now a first class act, a picturesque setting, great innovative food, a comprehensive wine list, a full bar, and perfect service. See you there.

If You Go

Café del Rey

4451 Admiralty Way

Marina del Rey

(310) 823-6395

Merv Hecht, the food and wine critic for the Santa Monica Daily Press, is a wine buyer and consultant to a number of national and international food and wine companies. He can be reached at mervynhecht@yahoo.com