Neptune’s Hazelnut Crusted Halibut
PIER 39 is the home of 11 fine restaurants, but
the restaurant with the best view and the most wonderful food is at
the end of the pier, Neptune’s Palace. Neptune’s Palace has
maintained a standard of excellent food at reasonable prices for 15
years. It is a place where people go to share special occasions, to
hold business meetings, banquets, and parties. Some simply go
because it is the best place to watch the activity of the Bay. The
views are fantastic. At night, the Bay is like a diamond necklace
glittering with the lights of the cities all around the Bay
sparkling off the water. Even when it is rainy or foggy, the Bay is
a magical place to watch ferries loom out of the haze or mist to
drive nearly under the windows taking people back and forth to
Alcatraz Island that lies directly in front of the restaurant.
three large, fine dining rooms, a bar area, and the attached Sea
Lion café for simple and family fare like pizza, hamburgers, and
fish and chips, Neptune’s Palace never seems crowded. That is
especially true in the winter months. In the summer, Neptune’s
Palace efficiently and expertly serves, on average, 1,400-1,500
people a day. In December, it becomes more the place where local
people enjoy spur of the moment fine dining, although reservations
are always a good idea.
Neptune’s Palace specializes in seafood. As the
Bay Crossings Cuisine feature restaurant for the Holiday issue,
Executive Chef Al Payton selected one of his popular creations to
share with Bay Crossings readers to make at home that would be a
colorful and tasteful treat to serve for holiday meals with the
Hazelnut Crusted Halibut
There are four recipes that can be made individually, but come
together here to make this a very special meal. In the sidebar are
three recipes that can be made ahead of time.
Hazelnut Crusted Halibut
6.5 oz fresh filet per serving
Polenta Cakes 2 per
Demi Port Wine 9 oz
Cabernet Red 5 oz
Mizuma Greens 4 oz feather shaped lettuce
Shitake Mushrooms 10 oz each cut in half
Lemon Zest 1 oz
Halibut is naturally moist. If the fish is washed
before cooking, pat dry with a paper towel and let warm to room
temperature for a few minutes. If wet with water, hazelnuts will not
stick to the fish. Pour the hazelnuts on a small plate. Press the
fish on one side in the finely chopped nuts.
a grill or large frying pan to medium heat (cast iron is best if not
using a grill). Lightly brush the grill with olive oil to prevent
the fish from sticking. Cook for 3 minutes first on the side with
the hazelnuts. After placing the fish on the grill, cover the fish.
When turning the fish, leave the cover off for the last 3 minutes.
Finally, remove from heat to let rest before serving.
the halibut is started, put the shitake mushroom halves in a sauté
pan with olive oil and toss. Set the burner to medium heat and
lightly salt the mushrooms, moving them frequently across the flames
or burner until a golden brown color begins to show. Deglaze the pan
with Cabernet reduction. This takes approximately 2 minutes. It will
then be time to
and turn the fish. Add the Port Wine Demi to the mushrooms and cook
Place Port Wine Demi by ladle into the center of
each plate. Roll the sauce on the plate until a larger circle forms,
keeping the coating of the think dark sauce dense
so that the plate does not show through yet the pool of sauce is not
the polenta cakes to heat them through using a small amount of olive
oil. While the polenta is heating, lightly sprinkle the Mizuna
Greens with olive oil and toss til evenly coated.
a polenta cake in the middle of the sauce.Add lightly oiled greens
to the top of the cake. Place another cake and add more greens to
create a base. Around the base, position the mushroom halves. Place
the Hazelnut Crusted Halibut atop the polenta cakes and garnish each
serving with lemon zest.
This meal is balanced, tasteful, and filling. If the sauces and
polenta are made ahead, this picturesque meal is ready in less than
Chef Al has been the Executive Chef for Neptune’s Palace for
seven years. He works with a fine and highly appreciated kitchen
crew of 80. One of his lead chefs was offered an Executive Chef
position at a nearby fine restaurant. After less than a year, he
came back to work with Chef Al because there is something very
challenging about cooking for 1,400 people a day and something very
gratifying about working with Chef Al and his simpatico crew.
From as early as Chef Al could remember, it was
his dad, mom, and himself in the kitchen. Out of a family of five
children, Al was the only one interested in the kitchen. The rest of
the family simply enjoyed the result. Al finished growing up in
Oakland, after graduating from Oakland Technical High School. “I
wanted to earn money as a teenager. My dad said, ‘Come with me.’ I
began working for my father, who was an Executive Chef for Hilton
Hotels.” His father had moved from Los Angeles to Oakland but always
stayed with Hilton. “He gave me a start as a dishwasher. One day, my
dad said, ‘Son, come over here and help me.’ I started making
clubhouse sandwiches and cobb salads. Cooks would leave and my dad
would say, ‘I’m not going to hire another chef. I’m going to hire
you.’ And I’ve been in the business ever since.”
Water 2 qt
Butter 1/2 lb Unsalted
Salt 3 T
Rosemary 3 T Chopped
Garlic 1/2 tsp Chopped
Parsley 3 T
Polenta 1 qt
Asiago 1/2 c Grated
Boil the water. When boiling, add butter, salt, chopped
rosemary, garlic, and parsley and reduce to simmer.
Allow to simmer for 35 minutes. Add Polenta and mix
together. Mix in Asiago then pore into a sheet pan.
Allow to cool fully. Can be made ahead. Cut with a round
mold, or empty cleaned tuna can, to make round cakes.
Need 2 cakes per serving. These proportions serve 4-6.
Port Wine Demi
Shallots , Diced 1/2 c
Mango Chutney 6 t
Sauté shallots in olive oil until golden brown. Add port
wine and bring to a boil then add mango chutney and
sugar. Mix corn starch and water separately to make a
slurry without any lumps. Works well to use the back of
a spoon in a small cup. Then add the corn starch to the
sauce and boil on low hear for 15 minutes to thicken and
reduce. (Boiling wine or alcohol will quickly evaporate
the alcohol keeping and intensifying the flavors.) It is
ready to serve at this point but can be made ahead and
stored till needed.
Cabernet Wine 16 oz
Shallots , Diced 1 t
Mix all ingredients in a sauté pot. Boil for 15 minutes
on low heat and it is ready to serve or can be stored
for future use.
“I like the drive in the kitchen, to make food
for people, create new dishes, plus it is a way to showcase my
talents.” He noted, “We do food shows for the American Heart
Association. It is not a competition, but we did take first place.
It had to be a low-calorie, low- sodium dish with a calories
breakdown. We prepared a seared Ahi dish that is served on our menu.
That way, if people like what they eat at the show, they can come to
Neptune’s Palace to enjoy the same dish.”
Starting at age 16, Chef Al has been in the
kitchen and restaurant business for over 20 years. Chef Al is
celebrating his 42nd birthday as we go to press. As his skills grew,
he was given more responsibility. At the nearly unheard of age of
18, he was offered a KM position with a small steak house in
Hayward. He stayed with them for ten years. He then went to work for
the Hyatt Regency, Sheraton, and for three years joined the
Restaurants Unlimited Group. After that, he took a short break.
took a three-year hiatus from the kitchen to try out a line of
sporting apparel he designed around his well-known brother,
professional basketball player Gary Payton. Then, he headed back to
the kitchen where his heart is and where his talents shine. It was
following his break that Chef Al decided to reach for a real
challenge. Neptune’s has a higher volume than any restaurant he had
To keep up with eating great food, Chef Al
works out nearly every workday at a nearby gym. For fun, Chef Al,
his wife, and family (Sequoia18; Kristen, 10; Alia, 6; and Ali, 2)
spend Sunday’s together as their family day. On Monday, after the
kids go to school, he spends the day with his lovely wife of eight
years, Nicol Payton. All the family so far are happy to have dad in
the kitchen. My wife is an excellent cook, but she says, “It’s
better when you cook because you’re a good cook and you do it fast,
making it look so easy.” Christmas Eve the family, including
brothers and cousins plus Mom and Dad, will gather at Al’s because
Chef Al is cooking. It is what he’s really good at and loves to do.