A year and many other distracting dining experiences 'in the city' later, my 'Designer' friend happened to want to spend Labor Day at the Getty Villa (also in Malibu - well, technically Pacific Palisades, but close enough) - and that there is a ginormous seafood platter to be had for $19.95 "at some place called Paradise Cove Beach Cafe" - we quickly put the two together to make it a Malibu day trip adventure.
Though advised not to take the drinks onto the open beach, and to stay within the roped area - the venue was thoughtful enough to provide some seating for those of us who were just looking for a place to kick back until our table was ready for dinner. We dutifully found the yellow umbrellas denoting the designated area - and was happy to see that the tables were still on the sand, though further back and closer to the parking lot - and plopped down to enjoy our drinks and peruse the menu.
Every table around us seemed to have a giant martini glass filled with a mountain of Crispy Calamari ($15.95) as a centerpiece. It looked amazing, but far too much food for us if we wanted to save room for the giant iced seafood platters we'd read so much about!
So, with superhuman self restraint, we held ourselves to just the drinks while enjoying the fresh air, ocean breeze, and people watching. And the crowd is very amusing to watch - running the gamut from local looking families, to college student couples, to girlfriends chatting over drinks and appetizers, to large and rowdy groups (the large table next to us clearly enjoyed the beach bar very much, and sang happy birthday to the girl at the head of the table throughout the night) and Jersey Shore types (of the MTV variety). I loved every minute we spent at Paradise Cove, but, the more serious-minded may not - we found it amusing that there was a guest at the bar who was so 'happy' with her various mojitos, that security traversed the restaurant to ensure the very expressive girl had someone to drive her home.
Though there is a huge potential in the location and setting for a romantic dining experience - perhaps due to the very reasonable food and parking prices, accompanied by the ultra casual atmosphere and lure of a private beach, Paradise Cove attracts a broad demo. This place could be great for a first date, if your date is into a more laid back vibe - and you don't mind a little bit of unpredictability - your experience could depend on the day, where you get seated and which guests are around.
It ended up being more than a half hour wait until we got seated at our table for dinner, but when the Iced Seafood Platter ($19.95 per person) arrived, the sound of drool hitting table drowned out the ocean waves and all thoughts of the lengthy wait. The platter served up, on a bed of ice in a giant ceramic bowl - 2 oysters, 2 crab legs, smoked salmon, 4 peeled shrimp, marinated calamari and scallop ceviche. Though not the freshest seafood I've ever tasted (it's hard to top sashimi breakfast at Tsukiji market) - it was really, really good for the price. The oysters, though not as plump as I'd like, tasted of clean, deep ocean and left me wanting more. The calamari was also delicious, at a perfect consistency - not too tough/chewy - with its light, refreshing marinade that tasted like Italian dressing. My only minor complaints were the smoked salmon, which was a little salty, and tasted like it came out of one of those vacuum sealed plastic packages you can buy at the grocery store. And the crab legs were tasty, but the shells were so soggy that they were impossible to actually crack - we ended up using our forks to pull pieces out of the shell from the ends. 'Designer' enjoyed the oysters, but had the same comments on the salmon and crab.
Though listed technically under appetizers, the platter was big enough to have for a meal in itself! We both left stuffed to the gills...but not before each ordering a bowl of New England Clam Chowder ($10) to take with us. The extensive menu also offered lots of mouth-watering surf and turf options, including mahi-mahi as well as oysters by the half dozen - reasons to come back another time. For those who don't eat seafood (blasphemy!) - the Beach Cafe also offers burgers and fries.
All in all, the only unfortunate thing about the experience was that we were there at the very end of summer, and by the time we finished it was already getting cold - even with heat lamps turned on around us. So we didn't stay to enjoy the beach and the intoxicatingly charming space. But next summer - note to self - Paradise Cove will be my second home!
Update April 2011:
Armed with an OpenTable Spotlight deal ($25 for $50) that was set to expire 4/13, Designer and I had two massive bowls of clam chowder (lots of fresh clams in every spoonful, love it! Though didn't love the cracker balls that were pre-dunked into the soup, which tasted a bit stale) and two giant iced seafood platters. Armed with an OpenTable Spotlight deal ($25 for $50) that was set to expire 4/13, Designer and I had two massive bowls of clam chowder (lots of fresh clams in every spoonful, love it! Though didn't love the cracker balls that were pre-dunked into the soup, which tasted a bit stale) and two giant iced seafood platters.
I also filled up on the Ice Cream Cocolada, served in a coconut shell - that made me feel even more like I was on vacation!
Although not a true foodie destination (I don't go home and dream of the food, but I do dream of the ambience / experience!), Paradise Cove is still definitely worth the drive out for drinks or just to chill on the beach and pretend, for just one afternoon or hot summer night, that you are in some tropical place far away from the daily grind in LA.
On a 7 point scale:
Flavor - 5.5 bitesPresentation - 5.5 bites
Originality - 5 bites
Ambience - 6 stars
Service - 5 stars
Overall experience - 5.5 bites
Price - $$ (2 bite marks)
Probability of return visit - 100%
Paradise Cove Beach Cafe
28128 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu, CA 90265
OpenTable: Look for reservations