Holy Mackerel!

We came, we saw seafood, we ate it, we left

Photo by Jack Gould"'Tis no man; 'tis a remorseless eating machine."

—Sea Captain McAllister, The Simpsons

The good skipper was talking about Homer Simpson, but you could say the same thing about the Weeklings. We've spent the past several weeks stuffing our faces with some of the best seafood in Orange County. We consumed calamari, ceviche, clams, crabs, catfish and chowders. There were shovels full of shrimp, salmon, swordfish and sushi. One brave soul even rated fast-food fish sandwiches. We're now taking up a collection for his impending angioplasty.

Among those filled to the gills with seafood are Gustavo Arellano, Matt Coker, Frank Goodnow, Victor D. Infante, Rich Kane, Ernest Kemeny, Stan Chen Li, Steve Lowery, Shelle Murach, Anthony Pignataro, Buddy Siegal, Will Swaim, Daniel C. Tsang, Kelly von Hemert and Dave Wielenga.

The clam and ginger soup at Capital Seafood is amazing. Small, chewy clams in their shells combined with a delicious, spicy, clear ginger broth make one of the most interesting and flavorful seafood soups out there. Capital Seafood, 8851 Westminster Blvd., Westminster, (714) 892-4182. Clam and ginger soup: $7.95. (EK)

If you like fish but not fish out of water, Inka Grill is the place for you. The Peruvian restaurant boasts three different soups that are chock-full of former sea creatures. The spiciest of the trio is parihuela, a bouillabaisse of fish, clams, shrimp and calamari in a spicy tomato sauce. Those who don't view meals as the time to clear out their sinuses might prefer chupe de camarones, which has prawns, rice and vegetables swimming in a rich, creamy milk broth. But the specialty of the house is jugoso de pescado, which has fresh white fish bobbing in a broth made of garlic, onions, tomatoes, Peruvian chiles and Chica de Jora (Inka wine). Inka Grill, 260 S.E. Bristol St., Costa Mesa, (714) 444-4652. Also in Lake Forest. Parihuela: $11.95; chupe de camarones: $10.95; jugoso de pescado: $10.95. (MC)

If you order cioppino (basically seafood soup), you must remember two things: 1) order it like Tony Soprano. It's not sea-uh-pino; it's chip-eeno. And 2) while many a restaurant, including Fullerton's own Il Ghiotto, offers the seafood soup in a red-wine broth, that's not really cioppino. For real cioppino, you must order it made with white wine. The cioppino di pesce fresco isn't cheap, but how could it be? Served in a generous portion, this seafood lover's dream is filled with fresh clams, mussels, crab, shrimp, scallops and the fish of the day. It's seasoned with garlic, onions and parsley and can be served over pasta. While the other seafood on the menu is also fine, it's the cioppino that gets our blood racing. Il Ghiotto Ristorante, 136 E. Commonwealth, Fullerton, (714) 447-0775. Cioppino di pesce fresco: $21.95. (SCL)

Crab Cooher
Photo by Jack Gould
There's nothing spectacular about Santa Monica Seafood, unless you've never eaten at a metal table in a gleaming fish market while customers mill about in front of massive cases of fresh fish, chilled white wines and a variety of spicy sauces. Watching these people hover over cold fish is breathtaking. The best food to eat while observing them walk slowly up and down the cases—hands invariably clasped behind their backs, heads carefully nodding as they take in all manner of dead fish—is a plate of fried calamari. The deep-fried squid rings are thick, chewy and never stringy. The cocktail sauce accompanying each order is tasty but hardly spicy. Santa Monica Seafood, 154 E. 17th St., Costa Mesa, (949) 574-8862. Fried calamari: $2.95. (AP)

Pop into your mouth a few of the tempura-like Firecracker calamari from Din Din at the Bamboo Terrace, and you'll think you've bitten into a light, delicate cloud of tasty batter. But a split second later, when the half-chewed concoction reaches your tongue and before your taste buds can hold up the white flag, a spicy blast will render the inside of your mouth useless. Must . . . reach . . . for . . . cold . . . Tsing Tao—so I can pop some more of these addictive jobbers into my mouth. The firepower comes courtesy of a crushed chile and salt seasoning in the breading that coats the tender squid pieces before they're tossed into the wok. N'excellent! Din Din at the Bamboo Terrace, 1773 Newport Blvd., Costa Mesa, (949) 645-5550. Firecracker calamari: $6.96. (MC)

My first dish at Taiko has remained my favorite ever since: the No. 10 Combi, a tender, chewy, delectable calamari steak with teriyaki sauce and sashimi. Taiko's calamari is a delicate homage to the squid. There seems real honor in its preparation and consumption. The true test for me is this: Can I prepare the same dish at home? I cannot. For reasons I can't explain, the calamari steaks I prepare at home are repellent; the vast leftovers from my several failed culinary experiments provide but one wonderful byproduct: bait. Taiko, 14775 Jeffrey Rd., Ste. K, Irvine, (949) 559-7190. No. 10 Combi: $12.50. (FG)

Try this next time you're at Memphis Soul Café: take a bite of the catfish po'boy sandwich, lean back in your patio chair, and close your eyes. You'll swear it isn't traffic along busy Bristol Street you're hearing, but rather a lazy river. The cornmeal breading blanketing the catfish slab is fried just long enough to make it crispy without robbing the fish of its natch'al juices. But any notion that this might be a bland culinary excursion is immediately put to rest once the horseradish mayonnaise kicks in. Yowzah! Served with a side of fried onions, the po'boy—like the funky little love shack that serves it—is too damn good to ignore. Memphis Soul Café, 2920 Bristol St., Costa Mesa, (714) 432-7685. Catfish po'boy: $7.75. (MC)

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