If you’re casting around Nipomo for some good seafood, check out The Rock Seafood & Grill.
Located on West Tefft Street next to the Vons shopping plaza, the casual eatery sports just over a dozen tables and exudes no pretensions. At first glance, it’s probably not a place you’d expect to find hand-cut fish, house-made tartar sauce and sacks of whole potatoes in the corner labeled “Tomorrow’s Fries.”
“We felt we needed to go back to basics, to go back to how things were done in our parents’ and grandparents’ generations,” explained Dan Rivas, who opened the restaurant in December with his wife, Susan Rivas, their immediate family and employees that have become like family.
“We had a vision and we felt a need for seafood that was treated with respect — no pre-cut, pre-made or pre-portioned anything,” said Rivas. “One of our only rules is that everything possible is done from scratch.”
As a result, The Rock’s kitchen staff cuts their filets and ceviche from whole fish, hand-cuts the sirloin for the charbroiled beef kabob, and chops peppers by hand for their chipotle-bacon potato salad. The rest of the potatoes end up either as freshly cooked chips or crispy fries made from scratch in a five-step blanching process.
“We do still buy bags of whole vegetables,” said Rivas, “and we want to support local people so we buy from them whenever possible. Even though we’re new, we’re still here to be part of the community.”
Given The Rock’s from-scratch approach, it might have made things easier to go with basic options, but “we wanted to have a very diverse menu, even in the non-seafood items,” said Rivas. “We wanted a variety of things in each category — salads, sandwiches, and entrees — and then choices within those of having your meal charbroiled, fried (in peanut oil), grilled and even blackened.”
Consequently, salads include everything from shrimp Louis, to chicken Caesar, to blackened salmon. Sandwiches run the gamut from grilled mahi-mahi to a tuna melt to a half-pound burger with blue cheese and bacon, and all are served on not-too-thick ciabatta bread with your choice of potato chips or fries.
Other entrees include charbroiled halibut, a chicken kebob with Thai-style peanut sauce, and shrimp with pasta. Of course, all manner of “Fill-in-the-Blank & Chips” are available — cod, snapper, calamari, oysters, clam strips, etc. — as are Baja-style tacos and house-made clam chowder.
The chowder recipe dates to the 1980s and ’90s. when Rivas managed the venerable Castagnola’s Seafood in Santa Barbara, a restaurant with a very similar menu and food philosophy.
That experience and a lifelong love of the ocean and fishing helped set the stage for opening The Rock, “because I felt a calling back to (the business),” he said. “Once you get into it, it’s hard to leave it.”
The restaurant was also a way to honor the longtime local roots of the Rivas family. While Dan’s heritage extends back at least five generations in the Santa Barbara area, Susan is the fifth generation of the Reasner family from Santa Maria, many of whom helped establish that area’s barbecue tradition.
“We felt the spiritual need to use our knowledge and background to do this,” said Rivas.
Indeed, The Rock is driven by faith and family, and it’s possible that on any given day you’ll see “four generations of the family here at the same time,” including Dan’s mother, Theresa Rivas. At 78 years old, she still comes in almost every day to whip up a batch of her homemade salsa.