So say you're not Catholic and you hate fish and seafood, but your friend/date/spouse is observing Lent and can't eat meat today. He/she insists on fish, but you'd rather not succumb to the obvious choices of California Fish Grill and other seafood joints that get mobbed on Fridays and where you're relegated to chicken fingers or a lifeless burger. Well, here's five great fish dishes you can suggest to your friend/date/spouse at five great non-seafood-centric restaurants.
As for you, order whatever the heck you want, you heathen!
1. Hapa J's Macadamia Nut Crusted Mahi-Mahi
Last known price: $25
What is mahi-mahi if it's not crusted with crushed macadamia? It seems as cliched these days as chicken wings and Buffalo sauce. But in Hapa J's rendition, execution and a winning vanilla beurre blanc transcends the roteness. Plated in a way that makes food-magazine art directors drool, there's height and symmetry that starts with purple Okinawan sweet potatoes cut in rounds and arranged in a circular pow-wow around the entrée. Sauces appear as Pollockian dots and swirls, and not a garnish is out of place. If you've been to Hawaii, it will be evocative of that.
2016 S. El Camino Real, San Clemente, CA 92672
2. Benley's Catfish with Tomato Confit
Last known price: $13.95
This dish is what good can come when the new school Vietnamese meets the old school Vietnamese: catfish fingers, individually and lightly battered, are fried and rest on a chunky bed of warm, stir fried and simmered tomatoes. The restaurant calls the mixture “tomato confit”, but you'll call it “where have you been all my life”. The dish is what your Vietnamese grandma would cook you for dinner, except she'd call it “Ca Chien Sot Ca Chua”.
8191 E Wardlow Rd, Long Beach, CA 90808
Last known price: $15.95
There are many worthy fish dishes at Thai Nakorn, but this one on the specials menu is probably the best. A whole, deep-fried deboned trout is splayed open like a text book. You eat it all. The skin crackles like dry parchment. The moist meat flakes. The golden casing of batter smacks of turmeric. On top of each morsel you pile shredded mango salad that comes in a side bowl. A warning: The stuff is riddled with finely diced Thai chilies you might not see at first, but will melt your face into dribbling mess of flop sweat and tears. Approach with extreme caution but eat with gusto.
12532 Garden Grove Blvd, Garden Grove, CA 92843
4. True Food Kitchen's Pan Seared Halibut with Snap peas, Asparagus, Purple potatoes, and Umami Sauce
Last known price: $24
Before took my first bite of this dish, I had a chip on my shoulder. I was ready to hate True Food Kitchen for the pretentiousness that it brought to an already pretentious area. But then this perfectly-cooked, well-seasoned block of halibut, surrounded by raw snap peas and snappy asparagus came, knocked the chip off, and indoctrinated me fully and completely. The sauce balances everything and everything balances the sauce.
451 Newport Center Dr., Newport Beach, CA 92660
5. Cafe Hiro's Roasted Chilean Sea Bass with Asparagus
Last known price: $18
Delicate doesn't even begin to describe this dish. This is one of Chef Hiro Ohiwa's lightest, most refined, most colorful, and, coincidentally, lowest-carb dish. The tomatoes are poached (or something like that) to a softness that you can smoosh into a sauce. The asparagus glows like jade and is stripped of its fibrous outer skin. The whole meal, which includes a vegetarian soup and salad, also seems guilt-free, and what's more appropriate for Lent than that.
10509 Valley View St., Cypress, CA 90630
Before becoming an award-winning restaurant critic for OC Weekly in 2007, Edwin Goei went by the alias “elmomonster” on his blog Monster Munching, in which he once wrote a whole review in haiku.