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Getting your drink on in Manhattan Beach

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We're loath to make any generalizations about how distance from an ocean affects a restaurant's bill of fare and prices, but we still approach any restaurant within easy walking distance to the Pacific with a healthy dose of skepticism. Will we get middling fare at prices justified by the location? Will we get great food at stratospheric prices? Will we get crappy food served up while the waitress carries on about the breakers not fifty yards away?

Happily, when we visited Manhattan Beach Brewing Company on Saturday night, the answers were: no, no, and no. What we got was a casual, low-key evening that didn't break the bank.

The brewery's located on the steep block on Manhattan Beach Boulevard that leads right down to the pier -- perfect for a postprandial stroll along the shore -- and its menu, while heavy on California bar fare (appetizers, salads, sandwiches), is well-rounded enough to satisfy the Atkins adherents, the South Beachers, the vegetarians and the old-school carnivores in your party. We headed in at 8:30 p.m. on Saturday night, and although the place was wall-to-wall with people, we were seated at a clean table within 10 minutes and sipping our Rat Beach Red Ale in 10 more.

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What our party of two had: a heaping plate of calimari as a starter (you're a few blocks from the ocean, of course you're going to go with the seafood), cooked to tender perfection with a lightly-spiced batter and served with thick, creamy tartar sauce; a fantastic, dinner-sized raspberry-gorgonzola salad with baby greens, candied pecans and raspberry vinaigrette; a plate of fish tacos, which carried the breading thing too far but made up for it with generous portions; and the raspberry creme brulee, which was surprisingly good for all that we were ordering creme brulee in a bar. And the beer. Did we mention the beer? If you like reds, you're in luck. Next time, we're trying the Manhattan Beach Blonde pale ale.

Our total before tip: $49, which isn't bad when you throw in the drinks. We tipped generously, because we were pleased with the friendly, unobtrusive service.

Also, we were in a better-than-average mood. Like we said, the Manhattan Beach Brewing Company is on the steep block before the pier, and we were able to watch a lot of people try to totter in and out of the bar on very high stiletto heels. With that kind of comedy, anyone will be in a good mood. The brewery fare and subsequent night-time stroll on the beach just made our mood better.

Manhattan Beach Brewing Company is located at 124 Manhattan Beach Boulevard; call them at (310) 798-2744. Although there's metered parking on the street, remember that you are a block from the ocean and calculate your odds of finding a space accordingly. We prefer to park in the free spaces up at Valley Drive and 13th, walk down 13th to Highland, wander past the Current Events Newsstand and flip through their wide selection of magazines, then turn right onto Manhattan Beach Boulevard. You can opt just to park in the free lot and shoot straight down Manhattan Beach Boulevard.