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dineLA October 2009: Ports O' Call

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Ports O' Call restaurant, which is in Ports O' Call Village in San Pedro, has an immediate strike against it. It is a common belief that restaurants with views always suck (cough Castaway cough). Even if in this case it is just a view of oil drums and tankers. Then to really make a seasoned diner nervous, they have weddings there. Like all the time. Sometimes two at a time. Would you like the pistachio-crusted chicken or the poached salmon with dill sauce? Stop running! It's OK. Come back. They have cake.

No, really, it's OK. It's actually pretty good now. My mom has always loved this place. Seriously. I have eaten so much mediocre surf n' turf here it's not even funny. But this time when we returned to check out the dineLA menu something was very different. Sure, there was still the vague Don the Beachcomber feel, with shells, shells, everywhere (I especially like the shell lamps), but the menu had been completely revamped. There was pancetta! And Thai flavors! The server said, "Yeah, well, we had the same menu for 20 years. The chef added all of the Thai stuff, and then the owner wanted to put in some catfish and things because there's nowhere to get Cajun food around here."

The dineLA appetizer choices were Tuscan Meatball Soup - Served with Tomato Pesto Baguette, a Sampler Plate - Crab Stuffed Mushrooms, Fried Calamari & Lemon Slivers, Chicken BBQ Bites, Creamy Cajun Cole Slaw and choice three -- The Fabulous Fifty-Item Ports O’ Call Green Grocer Salad Bar - Our Original-Recipe Dressings & Lemon-Garlic Croutons are Handcrafted in our Kitchen Fresh Each Day (emphasis mine). OK, it is one crazy-ass salad bar. Which, oddly enough, is often another sign of a bad surf n' turf wedding factory (cough The Odyssey cough). So my mom went for the fabulous salad bar and I went for the fierce appetizer sampler.

All of the grocer's items on the salad bar come in fresh every day, and the salads are also made fresh every day. The salad bar is nothing if not fresh. It is also kept spotless and changed out frequently. I didn't steal a bite because that is wrong at all-you-can-eat salad bars and I do have my morals, but mom seemed to enjoy it very much.

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Now. Check out this sampler plate. The crab-stuffed mushrooms were a-ma-zing. If you had these at your wedding I would be very impressed, like, "I can't believe they have something so good at a wedding." The crab was fresh and clean-tasting, the mushroom was cooked to the perfect moment, not watery, not mushy, not a bit raw. Perfect. The white sauce, albeit unattractive, was rich and delicious. The fried calamari had a very nice tempura batter, although the squid were a tad bit chewy. So goes squid. I wasn't into their Asian dip. I think a Cajun remoulade would have been a better choice, since as they are going down to the bayou anyways. The BBQ chicken skewers were meh. The chicken was kind of dry and the glaze was too sweet, reminding me oh yeah, they have weddings here. The slaw was delicious, but had saldly been used as a bed for the chicken instead of given its own little cup, so it was not appetizing.

For the main dish I was dying to go off the menu because they had catfish. I LOVE catfish. But I am devoted to LAist and its readers. I was on a mission. And dragging my mom along. I let my brother do his own thing, and he went off the dineLA menu to order a lovely salmon. I forgot to try a bite because at this point in the conversation we were talking about his kids or Christmas or something.

Entrees included the Grilled Shrimp “BLT” Sandwich - Bacon, Lettuce, Tomato, Lemon Aioli, Roasted Corn-Papaya Relish, Toasted Country Hearth White Bread, the Napa Valley Picnic Salad - Baby Lettuces, Roasted Beets, Almonds, Grapes, Red Bell Pepper, Shallots, Roasted Pancetta-Wrapped Asparagus, Chardonnay Vinaigrette, Herbed Goat Cheese and a Top Sirloin - Cabernet Reduction, Roasted Garlic Mashers.

OK, the salad sounds just lovely. I mainly just noticed goat cheese and pancetta-wrapped asparagus, which were exciting enough for me. But you really can't go to this restaurant and order a salad. Not with that fabulous salad bar staring at you. It would be pure madness. So, I ordered the shrimp BLT, which kind of scared me. Lemon Aioli and Roasted Corn-Papaya Relish? Someone was so excited to finally get to change the menu they were out of control. But they wisely used a very light hand with the condiments, so light in fact I'm not sure there was any relish in there. The shrimp were superfresh and nicely grilled. The shrimp and bacon married so well I can't believe we haven't been eating bacon-shrimp club sandwiches everywhere. It was a perfect sandwich. The fries were crispy without being greasy.

The steak was a nice cut, although my mom orders it medium which I have issues with, but it's my mom, OK? So I'm not saying nuthin. They gave her such a huge mound of mashed potatoes she must have been winking at one of the servers.

Instead of offering three different desserts, Ports O' Call offered everyone all three desserts. Genius. We were brought plates with a Sweet Bites Trio - Vanilla Bean Ice Cream, Chocolate Suicide Cake, Bread Pudding with Chocolate & Caramel Drizzle. The ice cream was your standard "bought" ice cream, although it was necessary to balance out the other desserts. The chocolate cake was rich and intense, almost flourless and heavy with dark chocolate. The bread pudding was a bit bready for me, but my mom declared that it was the only bread pudding she has ever liked other than her own version. And she knows her bread puddings.

Now that Ports O' Call restaurant has got its new menu together I am excited at the thought of coming back for a catfish po'boy. Let's just hope that they can afford a space in the new shopping mall the San Pedro Revitalization will be demolishing the cute little wooden town to build. The staff at Ports O' Call restaurant assured me that the project is "many, many years away and we will always be here."

Oh, and my mom totally bought me lunch. Am i supposed to I disclose that?