After checking up on the progress of the new California Fish Grill every time I drove by on Barranca, yesterday I finally saw its sign lit and a "Now Open" banner flapping in the breeze.
Finally, Irvine has it's very own "fast-casual" fish restaurant, where I can get a decent grilled fish dinner for no more than $10.
For a while, Malibu Fish Grill in Santa Ana was a fine substitute, the closest alternative available when I didn't feel like driving to California Fish Grill's other stores in Anaheim Hills, Cypress, or Gardena. But it wasn't close enough. I wanted something even more local; something I didn't have to jump on the freeway for. And now I have it!
To quote Bruce the Shark from Finding Nemo;
"I'm havin' fish tonight!"
With an average meal (complete with fries and coleslaw) just hovering around $8, it's unfortunate that they didn't decide to open here sooner. At this price, you'd be lucky to get away with a small appetizer at The Fish Market over in the Irvine Spectrum. And let's not forget tip and the Spectrum parking zoo. And The Fish Market's food? Fuggedaboutit!
Nope. California Fish Grill's got everything I need. A good seafood meal for about the same amount of money I would pay for a burger and fries, served in a reasonably chic and clean environment.
The brand new Irvine store is definitely spiffy and sleek. Although the polished metal chairs, exposed aluminum ducting, and the steel buckets stocked with condiments make it look like the Tin Man from Oz used to live there, the large plate glass window looking into the open kitchen was a welcome sight. The better to spy on how your food is prepared!
And the food is good.
The grill menu is your best bet. You choose from a list of species:
Cajun seared Ahi Tuna (served rare)
And once you decide, you'll be asked whether you'd prefer garlic butter or Cajun spices to top it, and if it will be fries or rice. Then you pay. You get a placard with a number. And you pick your own table and wait for the food to be brought to you.
The Grilled Salmon I ordered from the specials of the night ($7.99) included not one but two long filets of the fish, shiny and lacquered with a vigorous dusting of Cajun spices (a.k.a. "bammage") over a handful of shoestring fries. On the side; a crusty and dense slice of sourdough and a small scoop of tangy coleslaw.
The fries, tossed with salt and dried parsley, could have been more crisp, but the salmon was cooked perfectly. The flesh of the fish was still moist and buttery while the char marks added a smoky note. The Cajun rub wasn't overpowering, offering just the right amount of punch.
The Grilled Mahi Mahi ($7.45) was just as good. The light, flaky fish was creamy and subtle. The top was slathered in a melted butter sauce infused with garlic. All of it went beautifully with the faintly nutty rice pilaf served underneath.
But all isn't perfect yet at this new outpost. The salsa from the self-serve bar is inexplicably bitter, and the credit card machines didn't seem to work that night (bring cash). Regardless of these minor kinks, I'm glad to have found Nemo in Irvine.
"Fish are food, not friends!"
California Fish Grill
3988 Baraance Parkway #B
Irvine, CA 92606