Summer is over (it is, isn't it?), but that's no reason to stop jumping on the PCH and heading toward Malibu. No matter how cold it gets in Los Angeles, the beaches will continue to look beautiful from outside your car window (unless you're of the wet-suit-and-surfboard demographic). It will also look great from a wooden outdoor table as you nestle up to a bowl of New England clam chowder. While there is much appreciation for the bowls at spots like Water Grill, there's something about being able to view water while you eat the chowder, even if nothing you are eating actually came from the quadrant of ocean you're looking at. So while there's no doubt that the chowders at Neptune's Net and Malibu Seafood are a welcome sight after a face full of sand and lungs full of salt water, today we examine not just how they stack up against each other, but also how they do against the romanticized summer versions of themselves.
Malibu Seafood is closer and more expensive, though it probably has a better quality of seafood and a clientele that could all pass for college professors. The chowder arrives in a biodegradable “ecotainer” (or a bread bowl, if desired) with packs of oyster crackers, and is mild, but soothing, with a lot of the flavor coming courtesy of the commingling earthy vegetables. The biggest knock is the lack of oyster meat, which wouldn't be so pronounced if every once in a while you didn't happen upon a big chunk of tender bivalve that made every other bite pale in comparison.
At Neptune's Net, where you would only assume to find professors of subjects like motorcycle maintenance, surfboard waxing and hydroponic marijuana cultivation, things are slightly different. Ecotainers and oyster crackers are replaced with Styrofoam and saltines (though bread bowls are available there too), the deep fryer is a much more popular kitchen device, and there is, of course, beer. The chowder itself is a little clunkier, a good bit thicker, and tastes a tad more of butter (never a bad thing). In the end though, the extra degree of refinement at Malibu Seafood does seem to win out, as the bites at Neptune's simply don't finish as well, leaving something to be desired after your swallow. Sadly, in both cases, the memory of creamy chow from a sunset in July beats out the November reality. But Malibu Seafood will still do the trick, unless you just want to submerge your winter doldrums in an ocean view and copious amounts of fizzy alcohol, in which case you're not really going for the chowder anyway.