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MONTEREY BAY FISH GROTTO

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Grotto is a funny word to describe someplace that sits high up in the clouds -- at the top of a tall building on the top of Mount Washington. Yet at night, with the walls, ceiling and interior fixtures all painted a dark blue, the lights dimmed to prevent reflection, and the vast expanse of twinkly scenery visible through the floor-to-ceiling windows, there was the curious sensation of being tucked away in the wide night, suspended somewhere between earth and sky.

And while just about every seat in this tiered restaurant has a view, we luckily secured one of the better tables -- front and center right up against the glass. And for two people at a four-top, we had no other dining companions impeding our view. I felt I could tumble into the Ohio at any moment. And the view out over the city is stunning: I've lived here 10 years, but this was a vista I hadn't yet seen. I was as giddy as an out-of-towner.

Reservations are recommended here. The joint was jumping on a weekday night. This is a noisy restaurant, but there was a lot of laughter, and who can begrudge a good time?

It may be a prejudice of mine, having grown up in a port city, but it's always heartening to have a water view when dining at a fish restaurant -- even if your fish isn't technically from there. The fish served here are flown in fresh from all over: Hawaii, the East Coast, the West Coast and points in between.

And because fish lends itself to endless preparations and dressings, fish menus tend to be overwhelming. I counted 35 listed fish options (type of fish plus suggested preparation) just on the daily menu. But the waitress -- in addition to rattling off more unlisted specials -- said mixing-and-matching was fine. For instance I could go wild and order the Idaho trout served "New England-style" with a cranberry and orange relish.

All fish entrees come with a salad or soup starter, and are accompanied by a rice pilaf, cheesy mashed potatoes or a vegetable. We each had the spinach salad with mushrooms, tomato, red onions, black olives and cucumber tossed in a warm, sweet and tangy bacon dressing. Also presented was a baby loaf of very crusty, warm sourdough bread with a pot of herbed butter.

We'd whetted our appetites with a crustacean: a "cake" of jumbo lump crabmeat that was just barely held together with a few crumbs of breading. Pure crabmeat indulgence, and though it came with creamy dressing on the side, all the flavorful sweet meat needed was a squirt of fresh lemon juice.

I had the house specialty: the salmon Rodi Grille (so named for the proprietors' earlier restaurant). The salmon filet had first been marinated in teriyaki sauce, was char-grilled and then coated with a honey-lime glaze. The fish was appropriately tender and flaky, had retained a nice smokiness from the marinade and grilling, and was very, very sweet.

I like sweet; my companion had gone for spice. He ordered his yellow fin tuna with a peppercorn and green onion sauce. A meaty portion of tuna had been coated with crushed black peppercorns, grilled to medium-rare, then finished with a mild piquant dressing that hinted at onions.

My fish finished, I thought I'd cleanse my palate with the portion of grapefruit that had been kindly provided as a garnish. Running the knife through the fruit, I thought: That's a bit tough. Upon placing it in my mouth, I instantly realized that in the dark I'd mistaken a piece of honeycomb for grapefruit. The salmon Rodi Grille is definitely for the sweet-tooths.

And speaking of sweet, I was game to sample some of the homemade desserts. My companion had the macadamia nut and white chocolate mousse. This mild, creamy, and slightly crunchy mousse was served between two crisp praline wafers and drizzled with chocolate sauce. I had a fancy bananas-and-ice-cream concoction: A very generous scoop of vanilla bean ice cream sat within a warm crepe shell, surrounded by sliced bananas, whipped cream and a banana-rum liqueur.

Sadly, one can't spend all one's time floating above Pittsburgh indulging in sugary fish and too-big desserts. The glass elevator returned us -- sated and still a little dizzy -- to Grandview Avenue and terra firma. * * *

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