In addition to the musical presentations at Theatre by the Sea, there have been two other reasons to head for this summertime destination: a stroll down the amazing, always unfolding, garden walk, and the possibility of having dinner just down that walk from the theater. The current restaurant incarnation is called Bistro by the Sea, and complete with its after-show cabaret, it’s a popular spot pre- and post-theater.
The three dining areas each have their charm: the bar/lounge with booths along two walls; the main room with a huge stone fireplace; and the adjacent porch, with stone pillars that match the fireplace. The view from both of the latter two rooms is onto woods and a portion of Cards Pond. The walls are a light summery green, with wooden blinds at the win-dows, wall sconces with candles, and Southern-style ceiling fans with light fixtures as well.
We were meeting fellow theatre-goers Channing and Bianca for an early supper before Evita, and within half an hour of our arrival, every table was filled. Nonetheless, the servers were unruffled and attentive, and our orders arrived in plenty of time to amble over to the show.
Because of the late-night bistro, cheeseburgers and grilled chicken sandwiches are offered, along with standard appetizer fare: crab cakes, chowder, bruschetta, and that ole standby, fried calamari. We were all open to sharing that classic ($8), and the dish came, adorned with fresh basil, sliced pepperoncini, and cherry peppers. You couldn’t fault the calamari for crispness, but that was its highlight. The squid rings were so small, it was almost as if there was nothing inside the batter.
Another popular starter that evening was the iceberg wedge, with crumbled bacon and blue cheese dressing. The grilled portobello with baby greens and the shrimp/goat cheese bruschetta were also tempting.
But we dug right into the meat of the menu, as it were, with Channing declaring his desire for the New York sirloin ($25), and Bill picking the chicken Savannah ($20). Both dishes were accompanied by chunky red bliss mashed potatoes and steamed broccoli, as was my swordfish special ($22). We all agreed that the potatoes were super, but the broccoli needed a bit more steaming.
The steak’s presentation was impressive, with a large fat onion ring curling on top of the generous cut of sirloin. The beef was just as rare as Channing and Bill like it, making it quite flavorful, and it was pumped up a notch by the mushroom demi-glaze. Bill’s chicken breast was sautéed with peaches, pecans, a bare hint of curry, and finished with the sweetness of Frangelico liqueur.
Bianca had chosen a lighter entrée, the eggplant Florentine ($18). It was described as fried eggplant layered with spinach and cheeses, but it was actually served with a large plate of bowtie pasta, marinara sauce, and lots of ricotta and mozzarella. She liked it just fine, but it was much more filling that she had expected.
And so was my swordfish, served with a butter and citrus sauce, which is somewhat like gilding a lily. The fish can easily stand on its own, but the sauce did not blast it out of the water, and it was a generous steak in its own right.