December 04

On the cover
Hidive Restaurant, It’s Only a Step Away
MTC Trip Planner Unfriendly to Alameda’s Ferries
MTC Honors Excellence in Motion at 26th Awards Ceremony
Community Calendar
No Flu Shot? Could be No Worries, Mate!
Cool Places to Shop on the Eastern Waterfront
Places to Shop for the Holidays
Bay Crossings Cuisine: Neptune’s
Let Your Light Shine on Angel Island
Vallejo Ferry Chief Fired, Resigned or What?
Help Save the Palace
Holidays at the Exploratorium
U.S. Coast Guard Honors BoatU.S. Emergency Beacon Rental Program
WTA Pages: Making Cents for Ferries
Libations: Christmas,
South American Style







Bay CrossingsCuisine

Neptune’s Hazelnut Crusted Halibut

By Mary Swift-Swan

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.

With 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 family.

Neptune’s 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.

Neptune’s Hazelnut Crusted Halibut

Halibut              2 lb
6.5 oz fresh filet per serving
Hazelnuts          1oz       finely chopped
Polenta Cakes   2 per
plated serving
Demi Port Wine 9 oz
Cabernet Red    5 oz
Mizuma Greens 4 oz feather shaped lettuce
Shitake Mushrooms 10 oz each cut in half
Olive Oil           6 oz
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.

Heat 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.

Once 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 uncover and turn the fish. Add the Port Wine Demi to the mushrooms and cook until sauces thicken.

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 enough so that the plate does not show through yet the pool of sauce is not too thick.

Grill 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.

Place 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 30 minutes.

Chef Al Payton
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.”

Polenta Cakes
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
Port Wine          1/2 c
Mango Chutney 6 t
Sugar                 2 oz
Demiglaze         16 oz
Olive Oil            1 T
Corn Starch        2 T
Water                 2 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 Reduction
Cabernet Wine 16 oz
Port Wine          8 oz
Sugar                 3 t
Shallots , Diced 1 t
Rosemary          1/4 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.

Al 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 previously experienced.

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.