Coronado Island can be nothing short of spectacular on an early summer afternoon and fortunately for me and my party that is just what I got to experience at Peohe’s Restaurant. The waterfront dining location has been a landmark of Coronado since 1980, serving Pacific Rim and Asian-fusion cuisine since its opening. Sitting right next to the ferry landing and directly across the bay from the San Diego Convention Center, the prime location is easily reached by taking the Coronado Bridge and provides some of the best views of San Diego Bay and the downtown skyline.
Peohe’s sits as the centerpiece of a waterfront shopping and dining district in Coronado. The restaurants exterior matches that of many other local businesses, but has the distinction of being the largest stand-alone building in the area. The brightly-lit sign and logo is framed by Queen Palms, which serve as an introduction to the upcoming experience. Large glass doors and windows provide a peek into the interior’s tropical setting and décor. As I walk into the restaurant I am first greeted by a cool color palette of sea greens and blues with a splashing waterfall. The waiting area is brightly lit by the afternoon sun pouring through the glass ceiling as a cool breeze flows naturally through the open doors. The host stand is surrounded by lush ferns and palms, and upon approaching my dining partner and I are warmly met with a smile and “hello.” The tranquility of the setting and warmth of the service instantly puts any tensions at ease and I prepare for a relaxing evening in good company and surroundings.
The host quickly prints updated menus and begins to show us to our table. We take a slow meandering walk through the large dining space where the aquatic and island theme becomes more pervasive. Lighting fixtures reminiscent of giant clam shells hang low over deep green booths and sand colored chairs. The walls are accented by contemporary art with gold and silver highlights that remind me of the shimmering of an underwater reef. The restaurant has been designed to feature views of the water from nearly every table. The dining area is tiered to allow patrons farthest from the water to gaze through the floor to ceiling windows out towards the bay. As we navigate the curving walkways, we arrive at a semi-enclosed temperature-controlled patio with unobstructed views of the bay. The tables are adorned simply with white linen and plates and a hand-blown green glass candle holders, doing little to try and compete with the fantastic harbor vistas.
The restaurant also has outside seating to take full advantage of the San Diego sun, with tables available on their wooden patio just feet from the harbor on. Peohe’s is open seven days a week for dinner, preparing a lunch menu Monday through Saturday, and a brunch option on Sundays. Lunch diners can enjoy casual meals like the Shaved Prime Rib Sandwich and Mahi Mahi Tacos. Brunch adds an option for breakfast items like the Bay Shrimp Omelets. Sushi is available only during dinner in the lounge and bar, where you can get the Chili Citrus roll, featuring rich Japanese Yellowtail, Serrano chilies, and a yuzu citrus ponzu.
We are given some time to look over the specialty drink and wine menu by Thomas, our server. The wine menu boasts a nice bottle selection, with a large selection coming from California and the Pacific North West. Their imports feature some increasingly popular Argentinean Malbecs and classic Chiantis. The wine by the glass selectio n is a little more limited, almost exclusively California wines, but the choices pair nicely with most of the menu. We selected from the specialty drink menu, which features four creative fruit-infused mojitos, like the Mango Mojito. They also promote several signature martinis, like the Melo-Tini, a summery tropical inspired martini with melon liqueur and pineapple juice. We each choose the Peohe’s Margarita, -- a blended, bright pink drink rich with the sweetness of Chambord and raspberries. Neither the sugar nor the tequila is showcased too heavily, making it an enjoyable refreshment any time of year.
We are heartily greeted by Executive Chef David Bland who is eager to sit down and speak with us about the restaurant. Having recently taken over the executive position, he is brimming with energy and excitement. He tells us that the menu features nearly fifty items that he and his team of cooks have to prepare each and every night. While there is a distinct Pacific Rim theme to the menu with daily fresh fish selections, sushi, and spring rolls, other culinary influences are well integrated. The Lobster Ravioli, Caribbean Jerk Chicken, and the Filet Mignon with truffle demi-glace all fit naturally with the idea of casual dining and elegant fare. Chef Bland is ready to showcase some of the restaurant’s signature dishes and we relinquish control over our dinner selection to him.
We are lucky enough to have Chef Bland take time away from the kitchen to serve us personally and speak in detail about the preparation of the dishes. He generously starts us with three appetizers, the first being the Crab, Avocado & Mango Stack. It is a chilled dish of 3-4 oz. jumbo lump crab meat served over mango, red onion, poblano chilies, and crushed avocado. The items are placed in a ring mold and stacked vertically to create a small tower of fresh fruit and seafood. It is presented on a white plate with a sea green border that contrasted the ivory crab meat and bright orange mango. The dish is finished with cilantro oil and large sourdough crostinis. The stack crumbles under the weight of my fork and releases the aromatic chilies and onions that hit your nose and produce the first hints of a sweet mango and spicy chili pairing. Everything pairs well together, with the crab providing the meaty, savory heft to complement the sweetness from the mango and creaminess of the avocado. The crostinis were give the dish texture and round out the experience.
Simultaneously, we are presented with the Coconut Crunchy Shrimp. Chef David goes into detail about the process behind the creation of this dish, explaining how labor intensive it is to prepare. The coconut is shredded in -house and then toasted, giving the appetizer the needed freshness and pop that it often lacks when trying it elsewhere. Four prawns, roughly 1.5 oz. each, are butterflied and coated in coconut then deep fried. The preparation helps the dish cook quickly ensuring that nothing overcooks. The prawns are served on a rectangular plate over crispy rice noodles with a side of plum sauce. The prawns came out sweating from having been just removed from the fryer and fill the table with the sweet smell of coconut. Each bite is crispy with the distinct tropical flavor of coconut and savory prawn. Dipping the prawns into the plum sauce, we find that the acidity and sugar contrasts the appetizer with amazing results. The dish is well balanced with no ingredient hogging the spotlight .
Next, we are served the Surf & Turf Roll, which comes from the sushi bar. Each detail is accounted for as Thomas prepares us with chopsticks, ramekins, and soy sauce for the appetizer. The classic, indulgent pairing of lobster is tossed lightly in aioli, with cucumber on the inside of the roll and seared filet mignon on top finished with eel sauce and sesame seeds. The roll is crafted with care-- delivering satisfying results. The first bite is tender, seared beef that is highlighted by the sweet and salty eel sauce. The roll is given texture from the cucumber and crunchy sesame seeds. It finishes with sweetness of the lobster and seasoned rice and is certainly one of the dinner’s highlights.
Our appetizers continue with the introduction of the Thai Coconut Ginger Soup. This is a standout dish due to its simplicity and excellent preparation. The deep white bowl is filled generously with about 6 oz. of soup, with lemongrass and ginger filling the nose as the bowl is placed on the table. The off-white broth has silhouettes of shitake and enoki mushrooms floating through that are contrasted by the finishing touch of bright green micro-cilantro. The soup’s warmth is a nice addition to balance the incoming cool harbor breeze. The mushrooms give the soup a meatiness that plays well with the sweetness of the coconut milk and the heat from sesame and chili highlights. While this dish is available at every neighborhood Thai restaurant, Peohe’s manages to craft a more balanced and elegant dish.
We finish the round of appetizers with the Peohe’s Salad. This is a light and simple salad making prominent use of citrus. Tangerines and Daikon Radishes stand out visually on the bed of dark greens. The citrus vinaigrette is lightly drizzled over the salad, which makes each bite about the quality of the greens and acidity of the citrus. The salad also features candied walnuts sweetened with honey and providing a nice toasted crunch, lending some texture to the overall profile.
Chef David’s generosity continues as he begins serving us his entrée selections. First, he presents the dramatic Crispy Wok Fried Bass. It is a whole bass that has been deep fried and comes out steaming over vegetables. The dish is paired with a hot and spicy Thai sauce on the side. Chef Bland explains that he is working hard to make dishes like this more traditional and authentic to their Thai and Polynesian roots. By removing the sauces and featuring the ingredients unadorned he can highlight their freshness and unique flavor profiles. The moist, tender meat of the fish tears easily away from the bones with the crispy skin providing a nice backdrop of texture. Rich with peppers and garlic, the hot and spicy sauce is savory and bold, helping coax more flavor from the fish.
We are presented with the restaurant’s signature entrée, Peohe’s Mahi Mahi Mai’a,: 7 oz. of oven baked mahi served with bananas, macadamia nuts, a rich Frangelico butter, and buttered wild rice. This is a classic sweet and savory dish full of different textures and flavors. The mahi filets are stacked and covered with half a banana, split length-wise, and finished with the sauce over the top. Served on a white plate, it is not as visually dramatic as other dishes, but that is easily forgotten as the sweet bananas and nutty butter hit our noses. Cutting into the dish provides little resistance with the flaky fish and bananas having a near creamy texture. Scooping up macadamia nuts in the sauce gives the dish some crunch and pairs nicely with the side of wild rice.
Chef Bland, launching another delicious attack, presents us the Peohe’s Prime Rib, a beautiful 12 oz. cut of prime rib, cooked to medium rare. He tells us the restaurant has a special technique for cooking the roast with a 3-4 hour cooking time that leads to its magnificent preparation. By far the simplest presentation in the restaurant, the beef is accompanied by a large spoonful of garlic mash potatoes and a side of creamy horseradish. The plate is only a little larger than the cut and cupped to allow the beef to sit its own juices. The buttery potatoes are salty and rich, and a choice complement to the savory meat. The glistening prime rib, tender and moist, is the quintessential savory finish to complete our sampling of entrees.
Our stomachs are granted a reprieve from the large meal as we wait for the chef to prepare the desserts. With an eye for detail, our server presents us chilled spoons for the dessert and offers the customary coffee. The chef presents us with tasting portions of several desserts, much to our delight. On a large platter, fruit, chocolate, and pie all work together to create a rich landscape of culinary delight for us to finish our meal. We are presented a miniature version of the Hot Chocolate Lava Cake, which comes in a demitasse cup, and finished with macadamia nuts, toffee, and hazelnut gelato. The dark, rich chocolate cake has deep, complex coffee-like flavors and it spills forth its molten interior when pierced. The gelato over the top cools the palate and contrasted the warmth of the cake. The toffee and nuts provided the expected crunch and rounded out the dish.
Next to the cake is a spoonful of Hazelnut Crème Brûlée for each of us. The custard is unexpectedly light and not overly sweetened. The crunchy candy shell is thin and doesn’t overpower the mild custard. The spoonful is brightened by the addition of some fresh strawberry and chopped macadamia nuts.
Featured prominently on the plate is a martini glass full of fresh seasonal fruit, topped with whipped cream and raspberry coulis. The simplicity is appreciated and the devotion to high quality ingredients shines through. Not one piece of fruit contains a blemish and each seems to be at the peak of the season.
Dedicated to serving a well-rounded and complete meal, Chef David also presents us with Key Lime Pie. The first bite of the pie is an explosion of tartness and sugar. Full-flavored and fruit-forward the pie is not lacking in boldness. The lime flavor cuts through the whipped cream topping, achieving a nice balance between the fat and acidity.
Peohe’s and Chef Bland have the daily challenge of competing with some amazing backdrops and vistas. While one could come just for the view, what makes Peohe’s unique is the ability to create food that takes your mind and eye away from the dramatic downtown skyline. The menu and cuisine allow the restaurant to integrate itself into its surroundings by serving impeccable local seafood, mere feet from its habitat--fostering a sense of community. It takes both location and the quality of the food to make a successful restaurant and that is why Peohe’s has been attracting people for over 30 years.
Insider Tip: While ample parking is provided directly in front of the restaurant and the drive across the bridge is nice, you can complete the ocean front experience by taking the ferry from downtown across the harbor to the ferry landing. Mild evenings allow you to eat here year round and it makes for a great place to watch the downtown skyline slowly illuminate as night settles in. Weekday happy hour specials are also available.