It must be a bummer living life as a bivalve. Especially if you're a bivalve living in a tank at a seafood restaurant.
One minute you're as happy as, well, a clam, minding your own business, siphoning water, combing it for nutrients. Then the next minute, you're scooped up, dropped into some sort of vessel you can't even try to crawl out of, because, let's face it -- no legs. And there you stay, as blind and immobile as a rock, while your buddies are piled up on top of you in one sweaty mosh pit of your own shells.
Then you get doused with wine.
It's about this time that you wonder, "We finished the Tour de France or something?" But just before you find out if you did, that little room turns into a sauna with the knob set to "Murder", and it gets hotter, and hotter, and hotter. And then, just as suddenly as this started, "POP!", you die -- your shell swung open, your guts hung out in the open for all to see.
But your humilation doesn't end there. Nay nay. It continues post-mortem, as your naked bodies are splayed out on a plate and trotted out into this big room with lots of smiling happy faces, all staring and salivating at your glistening corpses.
What's more insulting perhaps, is that the hot, steaming liquid which caused your premature demise is set aside in the center of the same plate in a deep bowl, presumably so that you can be dunked into it before you are consumed in a big sloppy slurp by some guy who paid $12.45 to have you as an appetizer.
Last Friday night, the guy slurping, was me. But those delicious little mollusks did not perish in vain.
Perfect and squiggly fresh, with a tender meaty chew and a sweet metallic tang, each lovely morsel we sucked down made us giddy with glee. That bowl of brothy liquid was indeed perfect for dunking those fleshy ocean jewels before each hearty gulp. Full of body from the dripping mussel and clam juices, fortified with a touch of wine, and enlivened with a fresh burst of lemon juice, it was good enough to sip like a fine consomme, which I did.
I had to apologize later for growling at the waitress when she tried to take the almost empty bowl away. Oh no, not yet. Not before I sop out each drop with this torn piece of crusty sourdough.
Suffice it to say this dish is the reason we come to King's Fish House, an outpost of the chain in the parking lot of the Laguna Hills Mall.
Judging by the cuddling couples on dates and families noshing on seafood, more than our share of sea-critters met their ends that night. But they couldn't have picked a lovelier room as their final destination.
The open dining area is classic in design -- a fisherman's trophy room mixed with a splash of art deco. Silkscreen banners and mounted fish decorate the space, and panes of corrugated glass separate each dining booth.
After the euphoric highs of the appetizer, we opted for the simple and the cheap for our main course.
Farm Raised Channel Catfish ($14.95) was one of the less expensive items on the entree side of the menu. For the dish, a generous cut of fish is charbroiled and served with two "sidekicks." Since the portions are ample, we opted to share one order. The kitchen graciously split the meal on two separate plates for us at no extra charge. To augment our starchy choices of Homemade Macaroni and Cheese and Garlic Mashed Potato for the sides, we also asked for an extra order of Green Beans Amandine ($2.25).
The catfish, although a bit gristly and chewy in parts, was grilled properly with nice charring and came with a ramekin of their zippy, house-made tartar sauce . The side of potatoes was creamy and the mac 'n cheese came dusted with crispy breadcrumbs. But the green beans were unevenly cooked. Some of the pods were limp and blanched while others were green and crisp-tender.
For dessert and a taste of sweet decadence, we had the Rustic Apple Tart ($5.50). Sour green apple slices are stacked on a philo dough raft, crowned with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and smothered with gooey caramel sauce.
The pairing of caramel and apple is a no-brainer, here presented in a sort of deconstruction of the county fair staple. But compiling them with the phyllo crust and ice cream is pure genius. The phyllo flakes and crumbles adding a contrasting textural component to the melting ice cream. In the meantime, the crisp sour apple and the sticky caramel dance in a waltz of sour and sweet.
In the end, after that meal, we felt as happy as, well...you know.