Monday, April 10, 2006

King's Fish House - Laguna Hills

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 phyllo 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, know.

King's Fish House
(949) 586-1515
24001 Avenida De La Carlota
Laguna Hills, CA 92653


At 10:04 AM, Blogger Anne said...

Hilarious post! Poor little things...but they were meant to be eaten, by god, with lots of crusty bread and washed down with some vino. I couldn't agree more.

That dessert is a nice, proper way to help the little suckers in their final resting place (your tummy).

At 11:20 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Elmo - I too enjoy King's here in San Diego, mostly for Happy Hour - since I love oysters! I almost thought you were going to go "Seuss" on us again.....

You know:

I am clam
Clam I am......

LOL! And there ain't never enough bread for all that juice!

At 3:26 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...


You're right about that! My belly was quite appreciative of the sacrifice made by the little mollusks.


I was tempted to haiku about it, but I held off. And that juice I can chug like beer.

At 4:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It all sounds so obscene! What with the, 'naked bodies are splayed out' and you getting giddy and all. Your reviews are not for the Evelyn Wood types (I was going to say Evelyn Woodies...but...)
No. Elmo, your reviews are meant to be savored, slowly...

I'm going to go have a cigarette...and you... well, hey! great photos.

At 4:47 PM, Blogger Ron Oda said...



i usually go to the Kings in orange.. like it

At 6:46 PM, Blogger Seth Chadwick said...


How could you, elmo? How could you?

Now, excuse me, but I must get back to my T-bone steak.

You beast!

At 8:18 PM, Blogger Passionate Eater said...

I agree with Hbgrrl, you've evolved into quite the food pornographer with those descriptive words o' yours! But your words still made me dream about seafood--which I notice that you've been eating a lot lately! If anyone gives you trouble for being a carnivorous seafood-eater, just quote them what Emeril said when an audience member whined as he put a live lobster in a stock pot full of boiling water, "Aww, shut up!"

At 8:49 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...


HAHA! Upon re-reading it, you're right! It does sound R-rated doesn't it? I think I should stop watching CSI on DVD. Seeing hour after hour of those autopsies is affecting my brain! My brain!!! :P


Mollusk...such a grotesque word for a grotesque (but delicious) creature!


LOL! You cracked me up man! I was seriously laughing out load when I read your comment! Touche! HAHAHA!


Hey, I *have* been eating a lot of seafood lately! Must be this Seattle weather. For lunch that same day I went to King's I had California Fish Grill. It seems that lately, whenever I get hungry, a waterborne creature dies.

At 3:49 PM, Blogger Eddie Lin said...

that was food porn at its juiciest. it almost should've began with "dear penthouse, i would've never believed this if it didn't happen to me..."

forget the buffet at spearmint rhino, i'm going to king's fish house!

At 7:40 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...


Haha! And I'm sure King's management wouldn't have ever thought they'd be compared to Spearmint Rhino in a million years. Leave it up to us!

At 11:53 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have found Kings to be an honest fish house with fresh fish in all categories and not served with over-fussy sauces or sides. I rediscovered sand dabs, for example, and have eaten their oysters raw on the half shell with assurance that all was fresh and tasty. The bread of course is worthy of San Francisco's Tadish Grill; the drinks have been fine; the prices though sometimes high aren't out of line for such an excellent variety of fish. For a meal I would head for King's with its variety any time.

At 9:46 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you really love seafood, I would suggest Taps in Brea. My recs: drunken mahi mahi, chilean sea bass, oyters Rockefeller, ceviche, blood orange sorbet, and bananas Foster. On Sundays, they have the best Sunday Champagne bruch where they serve all you can eat fresh oysters.


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