Circular stickers have been affixed to the menus at Anthony's Rancho Bernardo and the other members of the locally owned chain of Anthony's seafood restaurants.
"Mama Ghio (restaurant founder and matriarch Catherine Ghio) is concerned about your health!" announce the stickers, which continue, "She removed 1/2 the salt, 1/2 the calories, all the cholesterol but none of the flavor from her famous tartar sauce, coleslaw, Louie and house dressing."
Any change is noteworthy at Anthony's, since the recipes were more or less engraved in stone some decades ago and have become an immutable part of dining out in San Diego County. In this chain's case, the reluctance to revise anything is healthy, as it gives Anthony's a reliability offered by few other places.
Anthony's Rancho Bernardo falls into the chain's mid-range, which means that it takes an upscale tone compared to the Anthony's Grottoes but does not attempt the fancy tricks performed at the waterside Star of the Sea. The dining rooms at this sprawling restaurant are comfortable but far from formal, a comment which also describes the clientele. The seafood's the thing here, and in that department Anthony's continues to deliver a quality remarkably unchanged from years past.
The cuisine makes little effort at "gourmet" niceties, although the daily specials list now mentions shrimp-flavored beurre blanc on the orange roughy and dilled beurre blanc with the salmon. What other ethnic overtones exist are Italian, a reflection of the Ghio heritage, but these, too, are few; they include pasta with clam sauce and a "fisherman's style" clam chowder flavored with tomatoes.
The main attractions remain the sheer length and diversity of the standing menu; the extensive, ever-changing selection of fresh fish and the unique "grill-broiling" process that treats fish to a light coating of bread crumbs and simultaneously grills them from below while broiling them from above. The process results in a moist, evenly cooked piece of fish, as was certainly the case with a filet of halibut that a guest recently gobbled down in record time.
The local lobster season opened in early October, and Anthony's char-broiled a fine specimen in so careful a manner as to refute those who suggest that Eastern beasts are better than our own. The meat was exceptionally moist and sweet, and the lobster generously sized for the price. The accompaniments with this, as with other entrees, were simple but satisfactory and included a choice of chowder (the New England style is creamy and flavorful) or simple salad, and a second choice of decent french fried potatoes, pasta or San Diego's oddly beloved rice pilaf.
The hot and cold appetizer lists concentrate on shellfish and include the luxuries of lobster cocktail, cracked Dungeness crab and a plate of lightly breaded, crisply fried crab claws; these last were beautifully cooked and plentifully portioned. The standing menu begins with fried items but branches out to frog's legs (few places offer this under-appreciated meat); sauteed scallops finished with a nicely pungent bordelaise sauce; creamed crab casserole; sole stuffed with assorted shellfish; abalone, and even grilled rib eye steak and a chicken breast done Cajun style.
The fresh fish list ranges broadly and recently included a few items that other restaurants rarely serve, most notably rex sole. Other possibilities included tuna filet; boned, charbroiled fresh trout from Idaho; catfish in either the recommended grill-broiled style or the dubious Cajun rendition, and mahi mahi, again in beurre blanc , but on this occasion with chopped macadamia nuts stirred in for an Hawaiian accent.
On the dessert list, the hot fudge sundae would seem indicated as the most suitable close to this menu, but the cake in zabaglione sauce makes a decent alternative, even though the cake has a less than winning texture.
ANTHONY'S RANCHO BERNARDO
11666 Avena Place, Rancho Bernardo
Hours: Lunch and dinner daily.
Cost: Dinner for two, including a glass of wine each, tax and tip, $35 to $65. Credit cards accepted.