As Jasper and I sat down to discuss the location of this Bear Bites segment, I came to two realizations. While the restaurants we had eaten at in past installments had been uniformly phenomenal, we were underrating the factors of location and price. While some geographical diversity and high-quality dining is undoubtedly fun, the large chunk it takes out of my finances for gas and meals is an issue that, as a high schooler myself, I feel confident in saying many Bears can empathize with. With this in mind, we decided to pick a beloved favorite in Cook’s Seafood (Cook’s) as a more realistic alternative to our previous venture into Burlingame.
Located on 751 El Camino Real, Cook’s contends with the nearby Jeffrey’s Hamburgers (which is probably the most popular dining destination for M-A students, especially after minimum days) as being among the most well-known restaurants within walking distance of M-A. Though Cook’s is admittedly less popular than its dinner counterpart, its location — you can see the bright blue fish emblazoned on its sign from Jeffrey’s — means that most students will have at least heard of it, if not tried it out.
Astute readers of Bear Bites might notice some resemblance between Cook’s Seafood and our most recent location, the New England Lobster Market and Eatery. Both places serve seafood. But more than that, Cook’s, like the Lobster Market and Eatery, also has an attached market, where the restaurant offers fish, crab, and various forms of aquatic lifeforms wholesale, alongside. Unfortunately, Cook’s did not have a massive warehouse in which to store the live fish, but then again you can’t have everything. It offers a wider selection than the Lobster Market and eatery: alongside lobster, Cook’s Seafood’s fish market sells everything from salmon and halibut to oysters and live Dungeness crab.
As for the restaurant itself, it was definitely rather gloomy. Part of that can be attributed to the clouds and darkness and generally somber weather, as well as the Halloween decorations (mostly a couple of neon paper skeletons). But even discounting those, the building was almost entirely the same shade of surgical appliance gray, aside from the occasional nod to the ocean in blue cushions and some tiles. At any rate, it seemed even colder inside the building than out. I award the restaurant no points for ambiance — I have the cold tolerance of an equatorial baby.
My opinion on the atmosphere of Cook’s greatly differs from Jasper’s, likely because I am a professional food critic and he is simply an amateur. As a fairly frequent diner at Cook’s — considering how much fried food they offer, I go far more than I should — for the first time in our culinary journey I was in my element when I stepped into the restaurant. The first thing that strikes you when you enter Cook’s is the design of the restaurant, a palette of blues, grays, and whites, that, while not necessarily creative, radiates a homely, New England-esque vibe throughout the establishment. I stepped up to the rustic counter and ordered my personal favorite meal, calamari, and chips, initially without a drink as I was trying to stay healthy for once in my life. After Jasper ordered, we made our way over to a booth in the corner and settled in as we waited for our food to arrive.
The food, however, was a different matter altogether. Cook’s is quite well known for its fish and chips, but I decided to try something new and get prawns and chips instead. I realize now that it was probably a bad idea to try to review the first prawns I had ever eaten. If I secretly loathed prawns in any shape or form, I would never know if Cook’s served second (or third, or fourth) rate prawns or not. Luckily, they were great. They came piping hot, and I warmed my hands over them like a tiny fishy campfire as Ben laughed at me.
I have mentioned before that I love sauces, and the tartar sauce that the prawns were served with was no exception. In fact, I quickly consumed the little plastic container of tartar sauce in just two prawns. As I had ordered eight, I soon realized that this would be a problem. I went up to the counter and asked for more tartar sauce. The cashier asked how many, and when I said three she raised an eyebrow. Feeling judged (if not by her then certainly by Ben), I hurriedly ordered a root beer in a moment of panic. Attempting to balance the tartar sauce containers with the root beer, I eventually had to resort to cradling all four items in my arms as I quick-stepped my way back to my seat. I do not know why I thought the root beer would be a good idea.
The prawns themselves were — well, ‘prawny,’ in my unquestionably inexpert opinion. A lot of the flavor came from the thick and crunchy batter, and even more of the flavor came from the tartar sauce. As a rule of thumb, I tried to have approximately the same amount of tartar sauce (which, by the way, was very good — tart, as would be expected, and with a sharp, crunchy texture and very creamy otherwise) as prawn, which may have altered my perception of the prawn slightly. I will admit that I can’t really judge the finer aspects of the prawn. All I could really taste was prawn, batter, and tartar sauce, but the combined effect, if lacking in subtlety, was still delicious. Next time, I swear, I’ll eat whatever we pick as a meal in its own right, instead of a makeshift sauce-holding platter.
In fact, I used so much tartar sauce that it took all of fifteen minutes to get mildly sick of it; by the time I had finished with the prawns and moved on to the thick, slab-like steak fries that came with it, the sauce was tasting less like tartar sauce and more like pickled mayonnaise. But I persevered, and eventually finished the last container of tartar sauce. At that point, I was faced with a dilemma: I was out of sauce, but still had a fair few fries left. I was neither inclined nor willing to get more tartar sauce, and even if I were willing to brave the cashier I probably wouldn’t actually enjoy more tartar sauce. I spied, after a moment of careful thought, a wedge of lemon that had been sitting unnoticed by the fries, clearly meant for the now-consumed prawns, and decided to lemon up my fries, with a dash of vinegar for good measure (I don’t understand me, either). This was as much of a mistake as it seemed.
I cannot in good conscience, however, blame Cook’s for my own mild (or not so mild) stupidity, and despite my personal culinary adventure, I still loved the meal. I give it a strong four out of five, and heartily recommend it to anyone who can control themselves around tartar sauce and vinegar.
The waiter brought our meals in a timely fashion, and we tried our best to resist our rumbling stomachs and control our weak wills for a couple of minutes as we took photos. Luckily, my faulty phone decided to die despite being at 90 percent battery life before I could even take my first photo, and I was thankful to dig into my meal uninhibited as Jasper was forced to bear photography duties for the both of us. After dousing my calamari and french fries in a shower of lemon juice (I’m talking a whole lemon here) and coating it with disturbingly liberal amounts of tartar sauce, salt, and pepper, I speared a piece of calamari with my fork and sampled it, taking care to actually observe the food rather than ravenously stuff my face full like I usually do.
Each piece of calamari was phenomenal; the crispy golden rings of goodness were salvation to my mouth as the crunchy, salty, fried dough exterior mingled with the chewy, fishy squid pieces. Squid itself is not the most flavorful meat, so I would be hard pressed to describe why calamari is so darn good. If I had to guess I would say it’s because when it comes down to it, what food isn’t good when you coat it in a salty batter and stick it in a deep fryer? My philosophy was further supported with each piece of calamari I voraciously devoured, and before I knew it, all my calamari was gone. I wanted something to wash it all down before I continued on to my french fries and finding myself unsatisfied with the water on hand, I attempted to sneak a few sips of Jasper’s root beer, which I had been eyeing like a hungry dog for the past ten minutes or so. Upon meeting nothing but vulgar language and slight physical retribution, I realized it was a futile effort and returned to the counter to buy my own bottle. I wish I could remember the name of this particular root beer brand, as it was extremely tasty, and I greedily guzzled it down until not a drop remained.
While I casually munched on my french fries, Jasper finished meticulously coating each of his with a less than appealing mix of vinegar and tartar sauce, and before long we had finished our meals. It was a great meal, and the informal atmosphere in the restaurant made it an extremely relaxing refuge from the rain which pounded on the windows from outside. For my personal rating of Cook’s Seafood, I give it a five out of five, best explained by the words Jasper muttered as he nibbled on a prawn, “Not gonna lie, this is pretty lit.”