Monterey Bay Fish Grotto

A New Tysons Corner Seafood Niche


            Attorneys and others in the business Mecca of Tysons Corner sometimes escape advice and advocacy for some alimentation. And today, a tendril of a Mount Washington, Pennsylvania dining institution, Monterey Bay Fish Grotto, enters the local competition among top-of-the-line seafood restaurants.

            Choosing a high-rise office building — as did its principal rivals The Palm, Capital Grille and McCormick & Schmick’s Monterey Bay is immediately across Chain Bridge Road from the Tysons Corner Center. It does such an extraordinary job of replicating an underwater world that from Tyson’s Boulevard at night, one protruding dining room appears at first glance to be an aquarium.  From within, booths resemble niches on a rock face; hanging lamps are jellyfish; and two chandeliers in the main dining room are enormous swimming prey, seemingly woven from reeds. The visual appeal is staggering, surpassing the physical allure of any other eating establishment in McLean.

            The food largely matches expectations created by the interior design. Two entrées, Rodi-grille-style Atlantic salmon and West Coast swordfish, were exceptional. The tenderness of the latter was even astonishing, under its Oscar-style Hollandaise sauce with crabmeat and asparagus.

            As often happens in American restaurants, though, the side dishes seemed pale in comparison to the main event:  Baby carrots were visually engaging but too crisp; while a mashed potato was devoid of distinction.

Each dessert was a caloric colossus; crème brulée, a white chocolate macadamia tower with praline cookies, and others. Why, I wonder, are sensitive treatments of furnishings and fish so often not complimented by something lighter, perhaps a baked apple with an Arizona prickly pear coulis? 

            Meals in this price tier are frequently anchored by heavy deserts — and regularly share the table with over-the-top drinks.  Monterey Bay’s breadth of selection in single malt, cognac and wine was as impressive as it was costly. But look in on the private dining room encased in glass where every wall is horizontal wine bottles, floor-to-ceiling. Almost a coral reef, this is another triumph of architectural design.

            Finally, there was the Monterey Bay Achilles heel; a staff in training. The zeal to please and lack of transparency interfered with enjoyment of the food. In addition to communicating excessively, they delivered wine too late in the main course; and brought desserts to the wrong table.

Hopefully when service improves, the stunning décor and commendable entrées will earn Monterey Bay the recognition accorded similar restaurants nearby. That is something Monterey Bay deserves.


Monterey Bay Fish Grotto opened March 8, 2008 at 1800 Tyson’s Boulevard, Suite 100, McLean Virginia 22102. It is located near the Route 123, Chain Bridge Road exit to the Beltway.  Their phone is 703-917-0661.