Though my personal project this past few weeks has been with farmers markets and challenging myself to meet new vegetables, one of my real work projects has been putting together a monthly happy hour. Foster camaraderie, encourage communication between mostly independently operating groups – wait, isn’t this HR’s job? Ah heck, I wasn’t going to complain about doing market research for a happy hour venue on the company’s dime.
So I visited a few places in the area like James Beach, Canal Club, and even went as far north as Santa Monica to Chaya Venice and World Cafe. But in the end, the young and overly ambitious made it clear that they preferred something within walking distance of the office, so that they could down a couple of obligatory drinks then go right back to work. That meant either the tiny bar at the Culver Hotel, or...there’s not much else in the way of bars in the area, so we ended up at Pacifico’s. Drinks are good. Food is not. And neither is the service.
For happy hour, we stuck to the usual happy hour bar foods that fit with margaritas and Mexican beers: chips and salsa, ceviche with tostadas, quesadillas, and a giant basket of fried calamari, shrimp, and french fries. Nothing outstanding other than the somewhat high prices, particularly since it was happy hour.
Pacifico’s is such a great idea – fresh Mexican seafood like what one would expect from an oceanfront restaurant in Cabo San Lucas, Puerto Vallarta, or the Yucatan peninsula. It’s built out like it’s on the beach, with thatched umbrellas on the front patio and a cozy firepit in the back. The interior decor is a blue and green ocean theme, bright and gaudy like most Mexican restaurants. If the decor didn’t feel authentic Mexican, then at least you can be impressed by the raw bar of sorts, a large glass paneled case up front, filled with ice, and prominently displaying whole fresh fish and enormous prawns.
But although the idea of Pacifico’s is great, and I want to love it, I can’t. The food and service the few times I have been there for a meal have been mediocre, at best. Years ago, when Pacifico’s was still fairly new, I went there for the first time excited to try lighter, somewhat tropical Mexican food that would be so different from the usual heavy cheese, bland chicken tacos, greasy carnitas, dry steak fajitas, and lard-laden refried beans. Unfortunately, the food didn’t impress me at all, and in fact, just didn’t taste any different from the restaurant chain Acapulco. Pacifico’s wasn’t worth the little jaunt down to Culver City, especially since at the time, Culver City was still a bit ghetto.
But now I work in the thick of Culver City. The downtown area is undergoing a bit of a makeover, so using the excuse of staying local or away from an icky neighborhood no longer applies. Before going there for happy hour most recently, I went back to Pacifico’s to eat several more times, for perhaps the first time years ago it had been opening day jitters. It wasn’t. The food was just more expensive with inflation, and still tasted the same. I even went back after that, because I had seen the restaurant featured on the Food Network because the staff throws red snapper from the glass case to the kitchen yelling “Huachinango!” I thought perhaps I had just missed something by not ordering the red snapper. No, I hadn’t missed anything. Bad Sarah! I already knew not to believe everything I see on Food TV! Pacifico’s is *eh*.
Even the dirtiest, dingiest, tiniest Mexican hole-in-the-wall brings chips and salsa to the table. Not Pacifico’s – they bring out jicama and cucumber sticks sprinkled with chile pepper seasoning, which could be alright except that the cucumbers have always been warm and limp and the chile pepper has no kick at all, not even salt. An order of chips and salsa costs $3.50. I’m not going to go into bankruptcy over $3.50, but it’s just annoying.
Food is light, since a lot of it is grilled fish, fruit and vegetables, but unfortunately, it’s also very light on flavor. Taco Lites are four hearts of romaine instead of tortilla shells, two filled with ceviche, and two filled with shrimp and tropical fruit. They didn’t have much taste, and needed quite a heavy dousing with Tapatio. Even my own humble homemade avocado, mango and shrimp salsa was better than the restaurant's *giggle* What Pacifico’s is famous for, the huachinango, or snapper, is only okay, and somewhat deceptive. Cooked in the Veracruz style with a
lot of highly flavored ingredients all over the plate like onions, olives and tomatoes, it looks like it’s going to be flavorful, but surprisingly, it’s not. I don’t ever expect much from salads to begin with, so Pacifico’s selection of main course salads from thirteen to fifteen dollars are the best bet. The Seafood Salad has plenty of fish and shrimp, a bit of crab. A new salad on the menu, the Tossed Seafood Salad seems rather expensive at seventeen dollars even with salmon and tuna, and almost a gyp, since it’s dressed with sweet, sesame and soy rather than a Mexican-inspired dressing.
The service is slow, sometimes condescending, and once, somewhat offensive. After sitting down, servers don’t come by for a very long time, even though the restaurant is almost empty. Strangely, the few times I’ve been to Pacifico’s, it’s always fairly empty. That’s a good sign that I should have paid closer attention to.
On one occasion, when a server finally came by, I asked to start with chips and salsa. He told me I have to pay. Of course I knew that, and I wasn’t so much irritated by having to pay, than his tone of voice. I didn’t know that chips and salsa took so long to prepare. When he finally brought it out, he didn’t even stop; just walked right by the table on his way somewhere else (to where, I have no idea, since there were no other people on the patio at the time) and plopped it down on the table.
When he finally came back to take our order, he was visibly irritated that we had questions about some of the menu items; he would heave a huge sigh before answering. Excuse me for not knowing what aguapico (avocado on top of pico de gallo) is, sheesh. I asked to substitute chips for the tostadas on the ceviche. He told me I could order chips from the chips and salsa. But aren't tostadas basically a larger version of chips? He said I could have saltines instead. Saltines? I ordered a salad.
The food took an uncomfortably long time to arrive at the table, highly noticeable since the kitchen couldn’t possibly have been even mildly busy and the server never came by to assure us with some sort of status. When the server dropped off the check, again, he didn’t return to pick it up for a long time. Irritated, I just walked it up to the front myself. I guess he realized he was rapidly losing percentage on his tip, because he ran after me, and as I handed the credit card to the manager, he says “I said I would take it.” He never said that. Not only was he slow, he was also lying. Ugh.
I wish I could love Pacifico’s, because the idea of it is good. I think a lot of other people want to love it, too, but like me, they just can’t. It’s no wonder that the few times I’ve been to Pacifico’s, whether early for happy hour, high-time for dinner, or late, the place only has a few diners. I am finally deciding not to go back there to eat, but I guess I’ll be going once a month for happy hour.
9341 Culver Blvd (@ Main St)
Culver City, CA 90232