As Restaurants Go, California Fish Grill Stands Out | Culture & Leisure

The Cajun Salmon Taco Plate is double corn tortillas (flour is also available) filled with succulent salmon and grilled corn.

For those of you who follow me regularly, you know that I’m not a big fan of big chain restaurants in general. Some have the lowest common denominator of quality, substandard service, and little pride in their product.

And then there’s the California Fish Grill whose motto is “Responsibly Sourced Seafood,” ranging from line-fished to farm-raised in pristine natural habitats. They are official partners of the Monterey Seafood Aquarium Seafood Watch.

Here at the grill, the key word is freshness, whether it’s the ocean or fresh water, little is done to mask the pure and fresh flavors of the grilled fish. A pinch of salt and pepper, maybe a light drizzle of olive oil and a dash of sauce on the fish or in a small cup on the side is all you need to make the fish takes center stage.

We ordered the Louisiana Delta Catfish Salad. The tenderloin is lightly blackened with garlic butter until cooked through and served on a mound of assorted greens, chopped tomatoes, shoestring carrots and purple cabbage.

It’s drizzled with a lime vinaigrette, and drizzled is the key word as it was barely noticeable. We asked for an extra cup of dressing and it added significantly to the flavor profile of the greens.

Likewise, on the ocean greenery side, a coleslaw that included sprigs of nori (green seaweed) could have used some extra sauce. Sesame oil and vinegar would probably be ideal.

The Barramundi, a fish from the ocean waters off Australia, was perfectly grilled – flaky and moist and topped with a peri peri sauce (of South African origin). It has a sly warmth that rises crescendo in the mid-palate. The fire grilled corn side dish was superb. The sweet corn was nicely charred and sprinkled with a handful of red pepper flakes, garlic butter, Parmesan and cilantro.

The final grilled dish was a fillet of branzino, also known as European striped bass. It is prepared in a half-cajun and half-garlic butter sauce. Again the fish was moist and succulent. Whoever runs the grill certainly knows how to cook fish. Each grilled fish item comes with two sides. We opted for virtually fat-free sweet potato fries and rosemary-kissed diced zucchini.

The Cajun salmon tacos came as a duo on double corn tortillas (flour is also available) filled with succulent salmon, grilled corn and an earthy cilantro dressing before Green Goddess. My preference would be to remove the skin as its oily character can impart a distinct “fishy” aroma to the overall flavor profile. Kale salad was the chosen accompaniment for this dish. I generally bypass any kale type salad because kale has too many rough edges and little flavor. This combination of kale and cabbage worked really well, however, given the surprisingly soft texture of kale. However, there was not enough dressing and the extra lime dressing really brightened up this salad.

Our final dish was the Dynamite Shrimp Bowl. A plethora of prawns, fried quickly in a slow-heated dynamite sauce, turned out succulent, with a pleasant snap. They are accompanied in the bowl with rice, red and green cabbage, green onions, tomatoes and fresh cilantro as well as a sesame soy sauce which pleasantly tempers the heat of the dynamite sauce.

Your order at the counter and they give you a beep that lights up when your order is ready. Your dishes are placed on a large metal tray to be transported to your table. The counter staff are pleasant, if not particularly knowledgeable about the ins and outs of the seafood available. But given the quality and reasonable prices, it’s easily overlooked.

David Cohen is the former co-host of the PBS show “Table for Two.”

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