Capt. Pepper's Shrimp Boat Cafe, which is already operating in West Los Angeles, has sailed several miles east into a second port on San Vicente Boulevard. Berthed upstairs in a shopping center, it is a perfectly decent restaurant--not great, but decent. That means the food is acceptable, the packaging is nice and the people who wait on you are nice, too. So you leave with good feelings that compensate for any flaws or lack of excitement in what you have eaten.
Aside from handling hunger, the cafe is a nice place to relax after an active day. The room is quiet and soothing. Tables are spaced well apart. The lighting is soft. And in the evening, the windows that line the room bring in a wonderful view of the sunset over Beverly Hills. Sitting high above the street, you see only a golden-blue sky punctuated with bushy tops of palm trees, not the noisy traffic below.
Capt. Pepper's is the kind of place where friends meet for a casual, inexpensive dinner, where families go for a night out, where a baby is not out of place. The restaurant is uncrowded at present. People don't seem to know it's there.
The slogan is "Back to Basics American Seafood," and the menu is definitely basic--shrimp cocktails, seafood salads and fried, grilled and sauteed fish and shellfish. In case anyone is allergic to seafood, there are two alternatives--chicken jambalaya and broiled breast of chicken served plain, with spices or teriyaki sauce. The mesquite-fueled grill used for the chicken and for seafood stands in a view window, like the star of the kitchen.
As one would expect, shrimp dominates the menu. But there is also a lot of squid, most notably on Monday night when the restaurant offers an all-you-can-eat squid and gumbo special for $7.95. Softened coating made my helping of the fried squid rings seem wimpy. But the limitless eating lure was genuine. The waitress offered to replenish everything, including the French fries.
The gumbo, which is thick, brown and peppery, appears in additional combinations or can be ordered alone. A cup of gumbo, a scoop of seafood salad and a hunk of sourdough bread makes a reasonable meal for $4.95.
The salads are plain and substantial. Shrimp California is a bowl of lettuce and red cabbage topped with avocado, tomato, cucumber and a sizable handful of small shrimp. At $5.45, it makes a generous meal for a salad lover. I couldn't finish it with the help of a companion.
The dressing is not tossed with the salad but served separately, which enables a calorie watcher to control the amount consumed. On the downside, several dishes described as sauteed swam in more grease than if they had been deep-fried and sloppily drained. The offenders were Pepper's Scampi, 3-Alarm Shrimp and sauteed scallops. In each case, the flavors were praiseworthy, but I left most of the seasonings behind in the grease.
Entrees come with a choice of rice pilaf, French fries or sliced tomatoes. The helpings of rice and fries are large, which is fine if you want lots of filler. But the plates would be more appetizing and better balanced if they included tomato alongside a smaller quantity of the starchy foods.
Capt. Pepper's has an oyster bar and a wine list that includes Domaine Chandon, Schramsberg and other sparkling wines to accompany the bivalves. The bar offers full service from the regular menu, too, and would be a convenient place for single diners if the restaurant gets busy.
Capt. Pepper's Shrimp Boat Cafe, 400 S. San Vicente Blvd., Los Angeles, (213) 659-2233. Open Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m ., Sunday to 10 p.m. No reservations. Accepts MasterCard, Visa and American Express. Park in shopping center or on street. Another location is at 11057 Santa Monica Blvd., West Los Angeles, (213) 473-8488.