Holy Mackerel!

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

We didn't get to meet Matty, one of the co-owners of the Catalina Fish Kitchen, but we met his marinade. It was lightly drizzled over a man's-hand-sized piece of carefully broiled salmon. The concoction of tomatoes, white wine and no-tellin'-what secret herbs coerced every trace of flavor from the tender pink meat, ensuring that this fish did not die in vain. There are a variety of other condiments available, including a pretty good version of the ubiquitous tartar sauce, and we fooled around with some of them—adorning the steamed rice, grilled vegetables and green salad that came with the entrée. But we protectively guarded the salmon from anything that might disturb the magical chemistry it was making with Matty's Marinade. Maybe someday we'll get to do the same with the man himself. We're romantic like that. Catalina Fish Kitchen, 670 W. 17th St., Ste. G, Costa Mesa, (949) 645-8873. Broiled salmon: $8.95. (DW)

The first cold rainstorm of winter was the perfect excuse for a plate of coho salmon, a native of the waters off the chilly, wet Northwest. Retreating into the burnished wood and warm carpet of the Original Fish Co. made it all the better. This place always feels like Seattle inside—even if it's always Los Alamitos outside. The coho salmon is a small relative of the burlier Chinooks and kings, rarely growing over 10 pounds; mine was less than 1 pound. It was mesquite-broiled and served in its crispy skin and tail, split open and boned, its orange-pink meat firm enough to chew but flaky enough to pick apart easily with a fork. It was a delicate experience in taste and texture. Entrées are accompanied by a choice of two sides, and my fish came flanked with hearty roasted vegetables and a tangled pile of tangy coleslaw. Given the weather and my own sniffles, I sipped a cup of hot tea with honey. The Original Fish Co., 11061 Los Alamitos Blvd., Los Alamitos, (562) 594-4553. Coho salmon: $16.95. (DW)

When you order your salmon grilled instead of broiled, it comes slightly rough around the edges—the way it would be if you were out on the beach, cooking a fish you caught yourself that day. That's the only way to order the salmon at Kinda Lahaina, the Hawaiian-inflected restaurant at the foot of Main Street in Seal Beach. I mean, what's the use of ambiance if you're only going to observe it? You've got to participate in it! Besides, grilling the salmon firms up a fish that tends to get a little mushy. The inside remains tender, the outside more substantial. Combine it with a plate of rice and a leafy green salad and voilà!—you've got aloha! Kinda Lahaina, 901 Ocean Ave., Seal Beach, (562) 596-3864. Grilled salmon: $14.95. (DW)

You don't go to Stubrik's for seafood. You go there because it's the best place in the entire North County to listen to blues, drink beer and eat red meat all at the same time. Unless it's Wednesday, in which case you get to hear Irish music all night and choose from among the approximately 20 single-malt whiskeys to sip whilst you sink your fangs into the hearty slabs of red, juicy meat. But if you do have a hankering for a bit of the pescado, you can't go wrong with the salmon at Stubrik's: resident chef Sterling does it up quite excellently. There's a char-grilled salmon, which is tender and juicy, and an herb-crusted salmon, which is a breaded and baked filet served beneath a creamy pesto sauce. Both dishes can be augmented with the garlic mashed potatoes, the garlic cheese bread, or both (c'mon, you're going to die someday anyway). Stubrik's, 118 E. Commonwealth Ave., Fullerton, (714) 871-1290. Char-grilled salmon: $12; herb-crusted salmon: $14. (SCL)

I first enjoyed fresh scallops (replete with shell) barbecued right on a sandy beach in Nha Trang, Vietnam, cooked by a food peddler who was carrying a huge basket of foodstuff on one end of a on a bamboo pole and a charcoal-burning clay stove on another. She let me keep the colorful shells. Back in Irvine, you can taste the same thing (but with larger scallops) also on its own shell and slobbered with a mysterious, almost imperial X.O. sauce, a high-priced condiment made of chile, dried shrimps and dried scallops plus other unknown spices—it's the rage now in Chinese seafood entrées. (In a smart marketing move, the sauce is named after a popular brandy.) You get four large, meaty and tender scallops, which are also available with garlic sauce or black bean sauce. S.W. Bar-B-Q Seafood Restaurant, 5406A Walnut Ave., Irvine, (949) 262-0128. Steamed fresh scallops in shell with X.O. sauce: $7.20. (DCT)

Lots of Hong Kong-style seafood houses have an extensive dim sum service, but the dumplings and rolls are mostly standard non-seafood items. Seafood World lives up to its name by wheeling out such goodies as fried scallop rolls (large scallops in a flaky pastry served with mayo and a maraschino cherry!), crab and shrimp balls with peas (wrapped in thick rice paper), and very large and juicy spicy deep-fried shrimp. Wash it down with some chrysanthemum tea, and you've had a seafood feast! Seafood World, 15351 Brookhurst St., Westminster, (714) 775-8828. Dishes: $10-$12. (EK)

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