Years ago, when we were sailing a lot, we used to sail south, down to King Harbor, tie up to one of the fishing boat docks, and walk to the big fish market in the corner of the harbor. We would pick out a few crabs, they would steam them for us on the spot, serve them with a wooden mallet and a newspaper, and we would pick a wooden table outside and enjoy the harbor, the crab, and a few beers. Those are good memories.
Now you can do the same thing on the Santa Monica Pier at The Albright, a spot that was a fish market many years ago, but now just serves fresh seafood (and a few other things). When you walk in you pass tanks of live lobsters and crabs. The menu is on a chalkboard, there are wooden tables inside and outside, and you can watch the people and the boats passing by.
I think the fresh lobsters and crabs are the best bet. The lobster comes with an ear of corn, which I always like because it gives me two places to butter up. The crab, of course, takes a lot of dexterity to eat, and more time, but in a way it‚Äôs more fun. The kids will probably prefer the breaded fish and chips.
I saw plates of oysters going by, and I saw fresh fish on the menu. But the last time I was there I splurged and ordered the spicy seafood soup ($25). The restaurant is owned by a Korean couple out of the fashion industry, and this soup was a lot like the seafood soup I often eat in Korean restaurants, but not as spicy. It was quite a feast; there were a couple dozen mussels, several clams, several shrimp, a large langoustine, several pieces of fish, onion and other vegetables, and saffron rice on the bottom, served in a large metal bowl that kept it piping hot.
I have a pretty good appetite for lunch, but there was no way one person could eat all of this, so I took about half of it home for dinner. I threw it into a big pot, poured in a bottle of white wine, added a couple of chopped garlic cloves and a touch more saffron and a cracked crab from the local market, and it made another great meal for three of us at home.
There‚Äôs a lot more on the menu than I‚Äôve mentioned. You can get tacos, hamburgers, salmon, and more. There is wine and a very good beer list. But there are a lot of places on the pier that serve those items. For me, sitting on a fishing pier in sunny California, eating a fresh steamed crab or lobster and drinking a cold beer is one of the great reasons to live in Santa Monica.
If you go
Santa Monica Pier, south side near the entrance
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 email@example.com.