California Fish Grill
23704 El Toro Road
Lake Forest, CA 92630
When we go out with our friends, it is almost always my choice to pick a place to eat. Usually this is no problem. My list of restaurants has all of a sudden ballooned to over four pages. I can almost always find a place that will satisfy my friends. My good friends Heather and Trevor threw me a curve ball when they wanted to meet up for dinner recently. They were on this health kick for the month of September. They requested something good for you, without breaking the bank. I immediately thought of seafood, but where to go? We all live in South OC, but did not want to drive too far. I had remembered seeing this place when we visited The Habit recently. So I told Heather and Trevor to meet us at California Fish Grill.
California Fish Grill has been in business since 1998. In those fifteen years, they have opened an additional seven stores, with six of those being in OC. Their concept all came about because the Surgeon General recommended that everyone get two to three servings of seafood a week. This can be a little tricky with larger families and dining patrons with a limited income. There was a time when seafood was only served in fancier restaurants, places where white tablecloths, restroom attendants, and fifty dollar plates are the norm. California Fish Grill strives to bring seafood to the masses, at a reasonable cost. Let's see if they accomplish this goal.
We got to California Fish Grill at about 6 PM on a Saturday night. There were plenty of people eating here, but we walked right up to the counter to place our order. Good timing for us, as the line got pretty long ten minutes after we placed our order. The menu here is just what you would expect. Fired fish plates, fish tacos, and a pretty large selection of charbroiled fish plates. They have a "Fixin's" bar, where they offer two types of tarter sauce, a cocktail sauce, and three kinds of salsa. We tried a few, and grabbed a table. It was not more than five minutes, and our food started to make its way to our table, which was good because I was hungry.
Heather and Trevor seem to really like ahi poke, and both Katie and I are getting more and more into it as well. We were pretty happy when they ordered this Hawaiian Style Ahi Poke ($6.99). I thought the serving size of this was pretty good for the price. The poke was fresher than I had imagined it would be from here, but I needed a little more pop of something out of this. The chips were an okay vessel for eating this poke, but the ahi could not stand on its own. It needed something else.
Katie and I had ordered poke as well, but we went with the interesting sounding, Ahi Poke Sliders ($5.99). I had envisioned that these would have been on buns, but of course I was wrong about that. Here they take the ahi and place it on top of a hard shell mini tortilla, and then add a cilantro dressing to it. This is just what the poke needed. I liked the crunch of the tortilla, and the richness of the poke was showcased well with the dressing used here. This would definitely be my choice of the two poke dishes we tried.
Sorry for the poor picture quality on this night, the lighting was playing tricks with my camera all night long. Anyways, we also tried another starter, the Crab Cakes ($7.99). These came two to a plate. I thought these were pretty mediocre. The breading was much too thick, and overpowered the crab inside the cake. The crab was fine, but was kind of boring. This plate only came to life when the sauce was used. Not sure what it was, but it helped breath some life into these crab cakes.
Here are two quick shots of Heather and Trevor's dinner selections. Heather got the Skewered Shrimp ($10.99). This dinner came with two skewers of shrimp, Cole slaw, rice, and bread. Heather had no gripes about her dinner on this night. She liked the way the shrimp was cooked, the rice was okay, and the Cole slaw was prepared well. Just like Heather, Trevor was also pretty happy with his food on this night. He went with the Swordfish ($11.99). I really liked the grill marks on the fish, it appeared to be seasoned well, and it tasted pretty good. This dinner came with fries, Cole slaw and bread. Both Heather and Trevor claim that they would come back here if they were in the area.
Katie's up next, and she had the Mahi Cajun Combo ($8.49). This combo came with two mahi Cajun tacos, rice and beans. She would place these tacos in the upper echelon of fish tacos that she has had. She really liked the flakiness of the fish, the Cajun seasoning added a decent pop of spice, and the tortilla did its job of keeping everything together. On the negative side, Katie felt the beans and rice were very average. Just looking at the beans, I felt they were too watery. Katie still likes Baja Fish Tacos better, but she would not hesitate to get this plate again.
I did not want to get left out of trying one of their tacos, so I got their Fish Taco ($2.69) to start off with. At California Fish Grill they use a battered Pollock in their tacos. This was a big hunk of fish used here. I have been ruined for fish tacos by our many trips to Baja Fish Tacos, which I consider to be the gold standard up until this point as far as fish tacos go. This one was good, but not Baja Fish Tacos good. I really liked the fish used here, but there was too much cabbage, the tortilla was a little on the rubbery side, and the cream sauce was not as good as it could have been, it was too thin. Not a bad fish taco though, and I can see why this is one of their most popular items.
I have been on the hunt for a real good fish and chips dish around OC, but have had no luck so far. This Fish and Shrimp Plate ($8.99) is not going to make the top of my list either. It was okay. The breading on this was not very good, as it was too heavy. The shrimp reminded me of the frozen shrimp my Mom used to make us for dinner. I'm not saying this was frozen shrimp, but it just reminded me of it. The breaded Pollock was okay. It did not really knock my socks off. The one thing this did have going for it was that it was not a very greasy plate. In fact it was pretty much grease free, which probably means it is better for you. Boo! The french fries were okay, but I really liked the Cole slaw here. It was not mayonnaise based, but it still had a good amount of flavor, with the added texture from almonds.
Okay California Fish Grill, I think you achieved your goal of making seafood affordable, so people can get their two to three servings of fish a week. Mission accomplished. If you go into California Fish Grill and just expect average seafood at an affordable price, you will leave happy. Besides the ahi sliders, nothing we had on this night was very memorable for me. For a quick service restaurant, they got the food out real fast. The service was pretty solid on the night we were here. There seemed to be a lot of employees at this location, behind the counter, out in the dining room, and in the back. I'm glad it's a new month, so the next time we go out with Heather and Trevor, they will not be eating healthy again. Bring on the bacon!
Out of five golden trout, (because it's the state of California's official freshwater fish), five being best to zero being worst, California Fish Grill gets 2.5 golden trout.
For more information about California Fish Grill, go to their website here: http://cafishgrill.com/