For distilled pleasurable excess, it's hard to beat the plate of baked scallops ($19.95) with buttered crumbs. Despite the topping, it's the full flavor of seasonal sea scallops that shines through. A side of pilaf reinforced by a meaty stock or base is hearty in itself. And if it's an absolute diet killer you're after, try the "Seafood Alla Allison" ($23.95), who takes her shrimp, scallops, and lobster with garlic and cream over a vast heap of fusili pasta — the latter unfortunately fully cooked.
Now, about that tripe: a heavenly bowl of red "gravy," the meat slow-cooked to a melting texture and a rich flavor, with only a whiff of the barnyard for complexity. The waitress needed two trips to the kitchen to verify that there was some left. (Zia Maria herself probably was checking me out on a hidden camera to see if I was qualified to order such a thing.) But it was worth the effort — this was superb peasant food, and not something you'd want to make at home. They brought extra bread to help clean the plate.
The newly introduced wine list was set up by someone with a nose for . . . economy. We had a bottle of the 2007 A by Acacia chardonnay ($7/glass; $25/bottle). I remember the excitement of the early Acacia single-vineyard chardonnays and pinot noirs, made in the French style. This bottle has done the cheap trans-California line proud. It may be the best low-cost chardonnay out there, a clean blend with a balance of oak and acidity, mild fruit aromas, and not a hint of the press-wine bite that used to mar all inexpensive California whites.
Even more impressive, Off the Boat has mastered espresso ($2.50), decaf cappuccino ($3.50), and decaf "Americano" ($2). Those will set you up for any of the three desserts: an entirely competent cannolo ($5); a chocolate-vanilla bomba ($5), an ice-cream cue ball encased in chocolate candy; or a "tropical" bomba ($5) with mango and passion-fruit flavors in white chocolate. I think these bombas are in fact off the boat — the one from Italy, that is. They're delicious and refreshing, so I say let the cooks concentrate on those scallops and octopi and leave the desserts to those who've mastered it.
Service, by a single waitress, is excellent. She knows the menu, keeps the water glasses filled, and brings things out as they are ready. There are the natural pauses of a real kitchen making food.
The room has one large mural, made to look as if it were the windows of a trattoria overlooking a sea. The painter had some fun. A bottle of Menino 2003 merlot appears to be sitting on the ledge. When it gets dark, the waitress brings a liquid candle with beach stones in the glass. "After everything else," I joke, "you can't really expect us to eat that, too."