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Crab Catcher's food, matched with marvelous view makes for fine dining

Now it's easy to get to the heart of La Jolla from northbound Interstate 5. Construction work on Ardath Road has been finished and the road renamed "La Jolla Parkway." Traffic now usually flows smoothly and restaurants like Crab Catcher, George's at the Cove, Alfonso's and The Spot are quickly accessible.

La Jolla dining offers an alternative to the frequent congestion in the Gaslamp. Parking is usually less expensive. Walking distances to restaurants are shorter. And the ocean views from many restaurants are simply breathtaking.

I took advantage of the relative quiet of a Wednesday evening to dine once again at The Crab Catcher restaurant. To my happy surprise, the restaurant was packed with visitors and locals. Nevertheless, I managed to get a small table right next to the glass windbreak to enjoy a stunning view. The coastline curved away from me in a graceful arc that slowly twinkled to life when the lights came on in distant homes.

The Crab Catcher is below street level. The ground slopes downward west of Prospect Avenue and the small commercial center has three levels. Art galleries and stores ring an open-air atrium on the first two levels. The Crab Catcher is on the bottom level, with large cobblestone patios that lead to the restaurant and separate oyster bar.

Alternatively, you can climb a staircase to the restaurant from Coast Avenue, where the restaurant's validated parking lot is located.

The Burwell family has owned and operated The Crab Catcher since it opened more than 25 years ago. They lavish care and attention onto their business that makes it stand out above less personal corporate eateries.

Jerry Burwell grew up in San Diego. After he graduated from college, he opened his first restaurant in National City. Over the years, he and wife Jeani have owned and operated numerous successful dining ventures in California, Oregon and Hawaii, including the once-popular Springfield Wagon Works. Then they opened The Crab Catcher, named after a popular sandwich they made at one of their earlier operations.

Their son, Jon Burwell, is now the executive chef at The Crab Catcher. "He grew up in the business and started cooking when he was 10 years old," Jeani Burwell said. "He worked at several local restaurants when he grew older and then came in here to work for the summer. We took a look at the quality of his cuisine and we realized that he was far better than our chef at that time. Now he is here permanently."

"We make everything in-house, including our desserts and foccaccio bread," Jerry Burwell said. "Our large menu makes it possible for everyone to find something appealing."

The foccaccio bread should come with a warning label. It is so tempting and tasty that a plate of bread and a couple of glasses of wine could practically make a meal.

Dinner began with salads -- Ceasar and Roasted Beet. The Ceasar Salad was made up of crispy Romaine with a sharp dressing and even sharper shavings of aged cheese.

Like its name suggests, The Crab Catcher offers a good selection of seafood, both as appetizers and entrees. The Crab Martini combines Jumbo Lump Crab, chopped avocado and cherry tomatoes. Crab Stuffed Mushrooms blends crabmeat, sourdough crumbs, jack cheese, dill and sweet sherry stuffed into mushroom caps, topped with melted jack cheese. Crispy Calamari is delightfully deep-fried and served with charred tomato horseradish sauce. The Crab Bisque and the Clam Chowder are amazing. There is a long list of appealing appetizers from which to choose.

Entrees and daily specials are also weighted toward seafood. When I dined, "albino" salmon was offered, a dish usually hard to find. But pasta and meat dishes are listed alongside the salmon, ahi, crab, halibut and scallops, all beautifully prepared by the imaginative Jon Burwell. Maryland Soft Shell Crab is served over crispy sweet corn potato cake. Halibut is crusted with macadamia nuts and served over toasted sesame scallion jasmine rice, seared carrots and sugar snap peas with miso honey buerre blanc. The Bone-In New York Steak was large, flame grilled with crispy potato stack, tobacco onions and a three-peppercorn demiglace.

The "homemade" desserts are works of culinary art that bring the meal to a wonderful finish. Key Lime Pie and Tiramisu are long time favorites, but I fell in love with the Chocolate Decadence, made flourless, with lots of chocolate, sun-dried cherry and pistachio, topped by ice cream.

For over 25 years The Crab Catcher has served amazing cuisine that is now reaching new heights under the kitchen stewardship of the founders' son. After all, it's a family affair.

The Crab Catcher Restaurant is open for lunch and dinner daily and features a special Sunday Brunch menu. Validated parking is available off Coast Boulevard. Prices are moderate to expensive. The view is priceless. The restaurant is located at 1298 Prospect St. Call (858) 454-9587 for information and reservations.


Rottenberg is editor of Dining San Diego Magazine and member of the California Restaurant Writers Association.

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