Eat Here, Not There: Fried Calamari
Think of the last time you saw an appetizer list that didn't have calamari on it. It's almost as predictable and reliable as the wedge of lemon it usually comes with. Before it became so popular, squid was one of the cheapest seafood, if not the cheapest, taking a minimal amount of prep and effort to prepare, a profit center unto itself. Today, it's still customer bait.
As I mentioned, you can get it just about anywhere. But in Benley's rendition ($7.95), simply called fried cuttlefish (though I believe it's really squid), the dish transcends the ordinary. It's still listed as an appetizer, and it's certainly appetizing, but there is no lemon wedge and not a trace of dipping sauce to be found anywhere in its vicinity.
All the flavor you need has already been introduced and married into the battered rings. There's salt and a flurry of pepper for sure, but then there's something else you can't place, an addictive substance perhaps, because once you had your first, you can't bring yourself to stop.
Bits of wilted cilantro are tossed into the finishing stir-fry, as is the juice of something citric. The pebbly batter crunches in spots like GrapeNuts. The squid is, itself, the natural foil, tender, soft and lovely. Any other fried-calamari appetizer would have to swim pretty far to catch up.
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