Friday, May 25, 2007

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
(714) 556-2815
124 W Macarthur Blvd
Santa Ana, CA 92707

12 Comments:

At 1:06 PM, Anonymous Marvin said...

Despite the store-bought tortilla, that ceviche still looks pretty good. Do you know what kind of fish they used? Was the fish raw in the ceviche?

 
At 12:34 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Marvin,

Good question. I'm embarrased to say, I have no clue what kind of fish it was. My guess is tilapia, but it could've been any number of white-fleshed species. The fish was fully cooked though, but from the texture, I think it was cooked by the grace of the acidity of lime.

 
At 10:12 AM, Anonymous jaia said...

Wow! Sounds terrific...did you try any other dishes there?

I have to say though...I'm not sure I could enjoy eating my fish and crustaceans with such a beautiful mural of their cousins staring down at me at the same time...

 
At 7:55 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Jaia,

Good point there. Another question is why don't steakhouses have murals of grazing cattle?

I haven't tried the other dishes at this restaurant, but a lot of them look great.

 
At 11:04 AM, Blogger Steph said...

Mmm, I love ceviche! That photo's beautiful--good job!!

 
At 7:33 PM, Blogger Deb said...

Elmo.... I'm not sure how you keep your 'girlish figure' with all the great food you eat! LOL! Once again, a new place to hit this weekend! Thanks!

 
At 11:13 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Steph,

It was the first time for fish ceviche for me. And I wonder now why it took me so long!

Deb,

Ah, well, this one's definitely light on the waist line. But I have gotten a bit girthy lately...too much good food!

 
At 12:29 PM, Blogger Passionate Eater said...

I am just catching up with all of the food blogs after a long Memorial Day vacation, and I realize how much I missed you once I read this post. Wow, I admire you so much Elmo--the imagery that you evoke with your words is sublime! (I especially like the "damp cotton" analogy!)

 
At 9:03 PM, Anonymous Seth Chadwick said...

We have the same "stone's throw" layout for Mexican seafood joints in Phoenix. There is one every 1/2 mile in East and West Phoenix where dirt cheap seafood can be had in a taco, tostada or enchilada.

You are correct that it is guilt-free and refreshing. I love going up to Santa Ana for Mexican food when I am visiting J. in O.C.

Now, about that lack of Cheese Crisp thing....

 
At 1:27 PM, Blogger Chubbypanda said...

A Mexican restaurant that specializes in seafood? I'm in heaven.

 
At 10:15 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...

P.E.,

Thanks for noticing my "damp cotton" analogy! I was especially proud of that one myself.

Seth,

I'm just getting started with this mariscos bent. We are both lucky to be near such great places to have it. Now if only I can find me some cheese crisp nearby!

CP,

It's practically walking distance from where I work. Yachtzee!

 
At 12:47 PM, Blogger Patti said...

I can verify that the Campachana is to die for. I think of it and my mouth starts to water. it is loaded with tasty, briney, crunchy shrimp and fish and octopus and some fake crab for good measure. The sauce is perfectly tart and sweet and tomaoto-y, you can just drink it down. I Love it, you gotta try it next time. Hint, get the medium size, same amount of fish, just less sauce.

 

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