Christened after the legendary Dutch ghost ship that appears to sailors in inclement weather, the Flying Dutchman restaurant has maintained an even keel on the Embarcadero ever since it was launched by the Van Beurden family in 1986.
The restaurant takes full advantage of its waterfront location, with a bright, open interior and expansive views of Morro Rock and the estuary. Seating can easily accommodate parties of two or 20, and the jolly pirate theme throughout should be an indication that “we don’t take ourselves too seriously — except for the food,” noted proprietor Paul Van Beurden.
He’s a passionate foodie, so look for tasty touches throughout the menu such as sweet Thai dipping sauce, housemade jalapeño hush puppies, red pepper pesto, orange ginger sauce, housemade chipotle barbecue sauce, local oysters barbecued with Firestone Ale butter, and thin, crispy bistro fries tossed with garlic, herbs and sea salt.
Mainstays run the gamut from sand dabs to seafood linguini, fish tacos to fish and chips, crab cakes to a fresh-catch sandwich.
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The offerings at this seaside restaurant are seafood-oriented, but landlubbers can enjoy dishes such as burgers or club sandwiches, grilled chicken pasta or pasta primavera, flatiron steaks or slow-cooked St. Louis Pork ribs with housemade chipotle barbecue sauce.
Van Beurden added that “we’ve always had nice soups and salads,” including the hearty, award-winning clam chowder made daily from scratch. Favorites from the salad side of the deck are the Harvest Chicken with honey curry dressing and fresh fruit, and the Louis Combo — the Dutchman’s version of the classic salad made with Dungeness crab and bay shrimp.
Typically, Van Beurden will slightly trim and fine-tune the Flying Dutchman menu a couple of times a year according to feedback from customers and his latest culinary discoveries, but the bill of fare recently got a major bow-to-stern overhaul. In part this was to work in some new dishes, but it was also to highlight the restaurant’s significant efforts toward sustainability.
“We’re working closely with the Monterey Bay Aquarium and its Seafood Watch program (a consumer-oriented guide indicating which fish are the best and worst choices for ocean health),” said Van Beurden. As a result, among the tasty new fish dishes at Flying Dutchman are selections such as wild salmon that’s pan-roasted with fresh basil cream sauce.
The fresh fish specials are always driven by sustainable options, and might include a Petrale sole sautéed piccata-style or an almond-encrusted halibut filet with orange sauce.
However, Van Beurden says that because he’s aiming to offer “affordable, good food,” a few of the menu items do feature nonsustainable seafood such as prawns. Their use is due to the high cost for suitable substitutes, “but we’re always out there looking for better choices,” he said. “It’s a constant process.”
The Flying Dutchman also actively pursues sustainability off the plate as well, and “zero waste is our big thing.”
Van Beurden is spearheading a local nonprofit group that’s exploring a composting program for green kitchen waste, and recent strides in reducing water use, generating less landfill-bound waste, and introducing compostable to-go containers have already earned Flying Dutchman first-tier certification by the Green Restaurant Association.
According to its Web site, “The GRA is a national nonprofit organization that provides a convenient and cost-effective way for restaurants, manufacturers, distributors, and consumers to become more environmentally responsible.”
Van Beurden firmly believes his tack toward sustainability is the right course, but he doesn’t want to set sail on the journey alone. “We definitely want to encourage other restaurants to do the same, especially here in Morro Bay.”