Frank Sabatini Jr. | Downtown News
Eddie V’s Prime Seafood
789 W. Harbor Drive (The Headquarters at Seaport District)
Dinner: Appetizers, soups, salads and iced fish, $9 to $18; entrees, $20 to $49
What used to be the courthouse building of the Old Police Headquarters is now a swanky chamber for seafood and steak, designed to capture the mood of Hollywood supper clubs from a bygone era.
Eddie V’s Prime Seafood is perhaps the only restaurant in San Diego where you’ll find waiters clad in white jackets and black bowties. Guests are also greeted by a two-story wine tower housing about 1,500 labels that start at $20 a bottle and climb to $1,700, should you possess a thirst for 2007 Harian Estate from Napa Valley.
Set within the 100,000-square-foot complex that was once home to our city’s police department, Eddie V’s is the most formal culinary tenant inside the commercially transformed compound, renamed last year as The Headquarters at Seaport District.
In addition to a courthouse, the grounds once embodied an indoor shooting range and a law library. For history’s sake, the nearby jail cells have been restored to their original condition, serving as an interestingly grim attraction to diners and shoppers.
The menu brims with fresh seafood as well as premium hand-cut steaks. Preludes include assorted oysters by the half dozen and dazzling seafood towers that incorporate Maine lobster.
The seafood is sourced from multiple locations: scallops from Nantucket Bay, salmon from Alaskan waters and tuna fished near Hawaii, to name a few.
Our starters included yellowtail sashimi, chilled to a refreshing degree and set in a puddle of zingy ponzu with Fresno red chilies and sesame seeds. A follow-up of jumbo lump crab fanned by avocado slices was equally exquisite with the exception of a pinkish remoulade draping the meat. I found it too mayonnaise-y while my companion appreciated its creaminess.
Batter-fried Gulf oysters served in half shells were lightly seasoned, thus retaining their oceanic flavor. Warm and crispy on the outside and cool and creamy inside, my companion summed up the mouthwatering contrasts precisely to fried ice cream.
Thinly sliced pickled cucumbers lining the bottom of each shell served as stimulating palate cleansers, as did a dirty martini followed by a well-constructed Moscow mule for my cohort and a glass of semi-jammy Argentine malbec that carried me happily through dinner.
In yet another round of appetizers, a plate featuring both steak tartare and chilled lobster delivered the added luxury of shaved black truffles accenting the raw beef. As for an order of pot stickers served in a light soy broth, their delicate house-made casings were commendable, but their dense fillings combining shrimp and pork tasted awkward.
Tender pieces of lobster surfaced in a bowl of Brandy-kissed bisque that was more peppery than sweet, but nurturing nonetheless.
More memorable was the crab-corn chowder embracing potatoes and invisible bits of bacon in thin, comforting broth. It’s one of those rare chowders that aren’t wickedly glutinous.
Our meal climaxed with a 12-ounce center-cut filet mignon, cooked simply with kosher salt and black pepper and hit with a pat of butter at the end. The kitchen complied accurately with my sacrilege request for “medium” doneness — rosy pink in the middle and sufficiently caramelized beneath the surface. (Yes, I’m lambasted constantly by fellow foodies who insist on “rare.”)
Florida grouper served in a lemony pond of white wine and butter was also superb. This white, flakey fish rarely lands in San Diego restaurants, so a treat it was. Restrained measures of garlic and shallots rounded out the sauce without distracting from the honey-like flavor of the flesh.
From a few ala carte side dishes we tried, the unexpected winner was crab fried rice, a light American rendition relatively free of salty soy sauce. Truffle mac-n-cheese and au gratin potatoes were addictively rich, though best paired with an appetizer or salad rather than full, hearty entrees.
At the finishing line are house-made desserts that include hot Godiva chocolate cake (good, but ordinary) and butterscotch pot de crème harboring little bursts of salt in the walnuts and caramel (unforgettable).
Just off the white-linen dining room is a handsome cocktail lounge featuring live jazz starting at 7 p.m. daily. It’s the crowning element that evokes a fine-dining spirit perfect for special occasions or some good old-fashion self-pampering.
Note: Eddie V’s is also located in La Jolla and in about a dozen other cities throughout the country. The menus at each, we’re told, are nearly the same.