03/29/2012 07:29 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Marina's Cafe del Rey Is a Romantic Dining Spot!

The stunning view from our table in the restaurant.

In a few days, on April 10, I will be lifting a glass of cheer and silently toasting an event which I am probably the only person in Los Angeles to remember. On that day, in 1965, Marina del Rey was formally dedicated. I happen to know this because some years ago I wrote an article about the seaside harbor, which is four miles north of Los Angeles International Airport and southeast of Venice. I interviewed a former construction head and he told me that the total cost of building the marina was $36.25 million. It is the world's largest man-made small craft harbor, with 19 marinas with a capacity for 5,300 boats. Last week I kind of did celebrate this anniversary with two close (anonymous) friends and my ex. The long-time friends have had a boat at the marina for several years... originally an old derelict ferry boat which they bought in San Francisco and converted into one of the most breathtakingly beautiful craft I have ever seen, three stories of teak and glass, with state of the art electronics. I often come down on weekends to visit them on the boat, although I have a strong aversion to boats which ever leave their docks. About three months ago, they decided to depart Beverly Hills, where they have lived for years... and moved into a stunning four-story house on a canal in the Marina.

Cafe del Rey's Executive Chef Daniel Roberts.

Which leads to the heart of this story...which is where we celebrated their move and the Marina's anniversary. There is something inherently romantic and yes, peaceful, about sitting at a restaurant table with a drink in hand and looking out at a fleet of small boats gently swaying on anchor in the water, especially when the sun is setting and the food is delicious.

Enter Café del Rey (4451 Admiralty Way (the main street of the Marina), 310-823-6395, valet parking $4). I had first gone there some 21 years ago, just after it opened, and have returned several times since, usually with a new date that I wanted to impress/romance. After all, who can resist the setting sun on the waving waves amidst the creaking of anchor chains? This night I was astonished at the pleasant changes which the restaurant had undergone since my last visit, with colorful blue walls, Italian-inspired paintings by artist Nicole Blackburn, small olive trees throughout the dining area... and the food of a talented new chef whom I knew in another time.

I first met Executive Chef Daniel Roberts fleetingly when he worked for Levy Restaurants at the Staples Center's exclusive club, and then favorably reviewed Asia de Cuba's Sky Bar in the Mondrian Hotel when he was chef there. He has been at Café del Rey for about a year, and tells me that he has been fashioning seasonal menus which focus on the flavors of the French and Italian Riviera, which is fitting since the Marina is an essential part of the coastal strip which I choose to call the American Riviera. I had a nice reunion with Shaun Freeman, the general manager, who has been here for nine years. Here, Chef Daniel mentioned that the seafood is extraordinary, and we began our dinner with an amuse bouche of his home-cured smoked salmon (done with vodka and herbs).

It was silky smooth and a precursor of the choice meal to come. But I must make note of the bread..oh, yes, the bread... small squares of foccaccio, served with garlic and red pepper-infused oil. Be careful, this is addictive.

Beef tartar, home-made chips, and a stunning duck confit pizza to start the meal.

Cups of chilled pea soup ($8) featured lemon crème fraiche, snippets of bacon and truffle oil. Piquant, followed by a frisee and spinach salad ($12) candied walnuts and goat cheese. We followed this with a unique pizza made with duck confit, roasted cippolini onions, smoked gouda, drizzled with tomato-basil sauce ($19). The duck, cooked in its own fat, was an unusual topping for the pie. They alternate this with a truffled (cream) pizza with caramelized onions, which I prefer ($19). I was not enchanted with the Wagyu Beef Tartar ($16), made 'picadillo' style, which means with black currants, almonds, olives, shallot, harissa vinaigrette atop a potato gaufrette. Too many ingredients masking the flavor of the excellent beef, and I jokingly said it needed a touch of mayonnaise (no one laughed.) But the Maine Diver Scallops ($32) more than made up for it, a superb dish served "BLT" style, with a seared beefsteak tomato, grilled Romaine lettuce wedges (just fabulous), with bacon and basil bacon vinaigrette. I was intrigued (and happy) with the presentation of the Branzino ($29), the two filets of Mediterranean fish atop red cabbage and applewood bacon. I relished the crisp braised potato cake which came with it.

Branzino is the Mediterranean fish served with a braised potato cake and red cabbage.

Veal saltimbocca is a new dish on the menu.

My favorite dish was the seared Diver scallops.

Daniel wanted us to try a new dish on the menu, the Veal Saltimbocca ($29), the thin scallope of veal topped with prosciutto, mozzarella, sautéed spinach, lemon ricotta gnocchi, sage, white wine and shallots. Yes, it was a daring and interesting presentation which, frankly, I must try again for a final evaluation. Many Yelp bloggers have remarked favorably about another dish yet to be tried: the Chateau Steak ($38), a specialty cut of beef from the center of the ribeye with the thickness of a tenderloin. I will be back shortly for this and other new items on the Spring menu. We finished our dinner with a Carob Pot de Crème ($8), not as sweet as a chocolate pudding, very satisfying, with apricot marmalade and apricot biscotti. My friend said that she was enchanted by the Pistachio Carrot Cake ($10), with its cardamom mascarpone frosting, pistachio ice cream and candied carrot. Yes. Excellent, somewhat pricey wine list, good choice of craft beers.

Pistachio carrot cake is oneof the delicious desserts that are home-made here.

Café del Rey means "restaurant of the king," and this delightful, picturesque venue is indeed regal and royal in its setting and approach, while offering a culinary dining experience which befits the spectacular location. So lets lift a glass in nbirthday tribute to Marina del Rey and toast those unknown people who had the foresight to build this glorious harbor in our fair city.

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