Each Tuesday night, Windows on the Water in Morro Bay is abuzz with oyster lovers gathering for the upscale restaurant’s popular weekly specials.
On Tuesdays, diners indulge in savory oysters — freshly shucked and served for 65 cents each—with the nightly cocktail specials.
But those who limit their visits to the oyster bar of the 10-year-old restaurant on Morro Bay’s Embarcadero may be missing the true culinary gem that is just steps away.
With the return of Chef Neil Smith (formerly sous chef, now executive chef), the chic restaurant is returning to its former glory.
Smith has revamped most of the menu, bringing in an array of meats — lamb, venison, duck and locally raised Hearst Ranch beef—and serving them alongside coastal specialties including brothy clam chowder, red chili cioppino and the house-special locally caught sand dabs.
I visited on a recent Tuesday night to get the best of both worlds —starting with oysters in the bar and then graduating to the dining room for dinner.
Windows serves its oysters three ways: fresh with cocktail sauce, grated horse radish and oil-soaked herbs; deep-fried with tomatillo salsa; and as shooters. All varieties are delicious, but the fried was a standout with the tangy salsa cooling the crispy oyster.
For dinner, the dining room is elegantly set with linen-covered tables topped with teardrop glass candles and large red wine glasses. The second-story location of the restaurant offers majestic views of the Morro Bay estuary, the Sand Spit, sea life and Morro Rock.
For starters, the fresh albacore ceviche martini ($10) and Kalbistyle Hawaiian short ribs ($12) are not to be missed. The short ribs are marinated in a thick, sweet soy sauce that was so tasty, I caught my husband sneakily sucking the meat off the bone.
The three ribs are served with a mango chutney and an Asian-style slaw that were a refreshing contrast to the warm and juicy ribs.
The ceviche martini is a light dish with its chunks of mango, pineapple, cucumber and avocado surrounding the smooth, nearly rare pink fish. Although I skipped it this time, the Cayucos-raised abalone ($15) served atop a Japanese cucumber salad with tobiko (fish roe) is a modern and light dish that provides an opportunity to taste this local delicacy.
Salads at Windows are also enticing. The frisee salad ($9) is drizzled with warm bacon vinaigrette and topped with a poached egg, and the endive and mixed green salad creatively pairs Stilton cheese crumbles, candied pecans, fresh fruit and berry vinaigrette with earthy popcorn shoots.
The sand dabs, caught in local waters ($19) — one of many seafood dishes at Windows—are a house favorite. The moist white fish is rolled up and sautéed, then served atop a crispy potato cake and wilted spinach, then covered with a garlic lemon sauce.
For the maple leaf duck breast ($23), fanned medallions of duck encircle roasted pumpkin risotto that is topped with wilted greens, figs and sliced fennel. The duck sits in a port gastrique sauce — thick and fruity, which completed the sumptuous dish.
The risotto was soft, creamy and slightly sweet and paired perfectly with the moist, rich pink meat, making this a table favorite.
The Dijon-crusted lamb chops ($29) came with a savory and creamy potato gratin filled with caramelized onions and cheese. Served alongside an arugula salad with tarragon yogurt dressing, this was a modern twist on a traditional way to serve lamb.
Not believing my meal could get much better, I tried the tiramisu ($8), which was a creative and eclectic twist on the espresso and chocolate-filled dessert. A chocolate shell shaped to look like a tea cup is layered with espresso-soaked spongecake, mascarpone, house-made espresso sauce and topped with whipped cream. The presentation was innovative and charming but still did not prepare me for how delicious this tiramisu was.
Windows boasts an extensive wine list and has received much acclaim for it. It’s extensive, features some unknown local gems, and it also offers a handful of enticing wines by the glass.
Chef Smith’s contemporary approach to global cuisine with the use of locally grown products has returned Windows on the Water to its status as one of the county’s best restaurants.