This week on Dueling Dishes: California Fish Grill versus Malibu Fish Grill. Both operate on the concept that fish dinners should not cost you a week's paycheck. Both are better options to get your Omega-3s than a Filet-O-Fish.
Though the California Fish Grill I visited (Irvine) has an army of cooks and employees, while Malibu (in Santa Ana) had but just two, Malibu offers a seemingly vaster variety of food choices than California, i.e. pastas. And instead of just garlic butter or a Cajun spice blend to flavor their grilled fish, Malibu also does miso-glaze and lemon-oregano.
So for fairness, we judge the merits of a dish that can be procured from both: The grilled white fish, sauced with garlic butter, with fries and coleslaw, and a side of grilled zucchini.
At $7.99, California Fish Grill's plate (Swai White Ruffy Brand®) is similar in price point to Malibu's $8.49, though Malibu's plates are generally larger.
For each grilled fish plate, Malibu gives the choice of the two sides from a list of eight, whereas California gives you the option of whether you want fries or rice. Coleslaw is standard at California; it's considered one of the sides at Malibu.
Now a point-by-point comparison of the two dishes.
The Fries: California Fish Grill's fries are thin, endearingly crisp, and inexplicably buttery. Malibu's fries are of a thicker stock and are prone to limpness. Edge: California.
The Coleslaw: Malibu Fish Grill's coleslaw is riddled with raisins, lightly dressed and refreshing, and they give you plenty of it, perhaps too much. California's coleslaw also contains raisins, and the doled out portion is smaller. But I detected a subtle off-putting flavor to it, which seems consistent even between visits. Edge: Malibu.
The Bread: California's plates include a slice of baguette I often use to wipe the plate clean of excess garlic butter sauce. Malibu opts for nicely toasted and fluffy warm pita bread that I can eat almost by itself. Edge: Malibu.
The Fish: California Fish Grill's perfectly cooked white fish melts--so tender it seems as though it you're putting your fork through soft-serve ice cream. I encountered a few areas in Malibu's fish that required me to see-saw my fork. Malibu's also has a subtle but present burnt-carbon flavor, even in spots not touched by grill marks. Edge: California.
The Sauce: California's garlic-butter sauce is made of actual butter, melted down, frothed up, and then mixed with what I assume is real garlic--a plate-licking concoction that could make just about anything it touches delicious. Malibu's garlic-butter seems to contain more than just garlic and butter, employing maybe a thickener of some sort because it sits on the fish pre-congealed even when the protein is hot. Edge: California.
The Zucchini: Malibu's slices their zucchini to a thinness that's about a quarter of California's thickness. They also seem to finish it with a swipe of butter on the grill to add additional flavor. California's zucchini are almost thick enough to feel like a meal onto itself. And from what I can tell, they don't rely on butter or other fats, just the natural sweetness and snap of the vegetable itself. Edge: California.
So the winner this week: California Fish Grill.
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For locations, menus, and hours check:
California Fish Grill website: http://cafishgrill.com
Malibu Fish Grill website: http://www.malibufishgrill.com/