Clemente Seafood - Santa Ana
On the border of South Coast Metro (a made-up name for an area developers thought was too genteel to be called Santa Ana), sits a Mexican restaurant that serves nothing but seafood.
Better known by locals as Mariscos Clemente, this is the kind of joint that peppers the streets of Santa Ana proper, where you can't go a mile without seeing one. But the closer you get to South Coast Plaza, the frequency of these sightings diminishes to nil. Step inside Mariscos Clemente and you quickly see why. This is a decidedly non-corporate place -- a no-frills mom-and-pop with specials xeroxed on plain paper and taped up haphazardly behind the register.
But that's not to say that it isn't a pretty space. A big, fake marlin dominates one wall, and a gorgeous mural graces the other. Airbrushed on bare brick, it's artwork as pretty as anything Wyland has ever produced, featuring sea creatures frolicking in an idyllic, underwater seascape complete with a cresting wave and a waterfall.
And if you haven't already guessed, there's absolutely no chance of encountering a Meximelt® or a Crunchwrap Supreme® here. In fact, you'd be hard pressed to find anything with the usual Mexican trappings of grated cheese and refried beans. The name of the game here is seafood. Lots of it. Served in cocktails, fried in tacos, and boiled in soup.
My first sampling of the food (and so far, the only one after three separate visits) is their Tostada de Ceviche de Pescado ($3.25) and it's as refreshing a dish as I've ever had. Chilled, flaked fish -- with the feel of damp cotton and the look of snow -- is mixed with cilantro, onions and tomato, then heaped onto a corn tortilla disk.
A squeeze of lime perks up the cooling concoction further, making for the most briskly invigorating, and also, the most guiltless plate of food to come out of any kitchen, Mexican or otherwise. The only thing that seems like it has any calories is the syrupy sweet-and-sour sauce it is served with. And that's only because it tastes a lot like Hawaiian Punch.
Although it's close to perfect, my only wish is that they used freshly fried tortilla rounds instead of the factory-produced variety seen at American grocery stores. In fact, I took advantage of the basket of the house tortilla chips (which comes gratis when you dine in) to scoop up most of my ceviche.
Better by miles, these are my kind of chips: thick and sturdy like a ceramic tile, with a crunch noisier than a thousand pork rinds. Accompanying them was a thick, fiery salsa culled from milled tomato and shotgunned with diced onion. It'll remind you that despite the new high-rise, high-priced condos going up across the street, you're in Santa Ana -- and it's delicious.
Clemente Seafood Restaurant
124 W Macarthur Blvd
Santa Ana, CA 92707