House of Big Fish and Ice Cold Beer
540 South Coast Highway
Laguna Beach, CA 92651
I have been trying to find ways to get out of the oppressive heat that we have been experiencing the last month or so. After such a nice cool start to the summer, now that the calender has turned to September, summer does not want to release it's grip, and let fall take over. So we have been making the trek down towards the beach and cooler conditions, every chance we get. This time we are headed down to Laguna, which is a lot easier to get around in now that the Sawdust Festival, Pageant of the Masters, and school is back in session. After finding some real good parking, we proceeded to the House of Big Fish and Ice Cold Beer.
Just off the top of my head, I think this is probably the restaurant with the longest name that we have reviewed. Anyways, House of Big Fish and Ice Cold Beer, or as it will be called for the rest of this review, HBFICB, (wow that has a great ring to it), is on the opposite side of PCH from the ocean. They still have ocean views, since this is on the second story of a shopping plaza, just south of Main Beach Laguna. HBFICB is owned by Casa Resorts, which also operate several other restaurants, K'Ya Bistro, The Rooftop Lounge, and American Tavern, among others.
We arrived at HBFICB at 7PM on a Friday night. We arrived about 15 minutes before our reservation time, but were seated almost immediately. The crowd on this night was pretty lively, lending to a real loud restaurant. If you are looking for a quiet, romantic place, this is not the restaurant to head to. Lots of big groups, families, and just a few parties of two dominated the dining space. They did have about 5 TVs throughout the restaurant, all turned to soccer games on this evening. The restaurant does convey an openness to it, kind of reminiscent of a beach house. After our order was taken, the food found its way to our table surprisingly quickly.
We both selected an appetizer to start with, and much to my surprise, Katie got the Chips and Salsa ($4). I thought this was a little odd, since this is a seafood restaurant, and she did not lean towards a seafood appetizer. I guess even after four years, she can still manage to surprise me. The chips and salsa here were okay. The chips were not very greasy, and the salsa was on the very mild side. I would have liked a little more chunk in the salsa, along with more spice.
It seems that Chowder Fries ($6.50) have been showing up on more and more menus lately, and I could not be happier about this trend. This version at HBFICB had plenty of bacon placed on top of their clam chowder. The chowder here was pretty thick, which I like. I did not detect a lot of clams in this chowder, unless they were chopped up so fine, that I did not detect them. The fries did get a little limp by the end of the meal, but that is understandable. The serving size of this was pretty generous, as this is a very filling appetizer.
Even though I had ordered the chowder fries, I still wanted to try their Classic Caesar Salad ($6.50). This was a very bland tasting Caesar. The only real flavor came from the anchovy that was placed on top of it. This salad needed more cheese, better croutons, and a thicker dressing. The garlic-anchovy dressing did not really provide much in the way of garlic or anchovy flavor. On the plus side, the salad was good sized and the romaine lettuce was fresh.
Entree time, and Katie went with Blackened Barramundi ($13.50 market price). This dish was off their Just Hooked portion of the menu, where you choose the kind of fish you want, preparation style, sauce, and side items. She felt that the fish was cooked well, with no raw pieces. She thought there was going to be more flavor coming from the blackened piece of fish, but the pop of flavor never materialized for her. The size of fish was a little on the small size, but that is to be expected when paying under fifteen dollar for a fish dinner. Her choice of sauce was the interesting tapenade tarter sauce. She seemed to like this olive based tarter sauce, but wished it was a little thicker. For her side items she selected the garlic herb potatoes and the dirty rice, both of which were kind of just average.
For my meal, I went a little out of my norm. I usually stay away from tilapia, but when I saw the Macadamia Nut Crusted Tilapia ($12.50), I had to give it a try. The fish itself was good, but a little mushy in parts. The real winner of this plate was the spicy coconut risotto that came with. It elevated this average plate a little higher. The coconut was very prevalent, and then I got an unexpected slight hit of spice. This also came with spinach, mushrooms, onion, and lemon butter, but the star of the show was still the coconut risotto. When this was placed in front of me, I thought it was a little on the small side, but this was a rich dish and filled me up, especially after the chowder fries and the salad.
As if I needed more food on this night, we got a dessert as well. The Brownie Sundae ($4.50) was just the right size for us to finish up our meal with a small treat. Katie thought this dessert was good, but I thought the brownie needed to be cooked a little more, and this sundae needed hot fudge in place of the chocolate sauce. They did put just the right amount of ice cream on here, so Katie and I did not have to duel with our spoons over who would get the most ice cream.
I really like that there are more casual fish restaurants opening up. It used to be that seafood was only for the elite, but now there are more places like HBFICB opening up all around us, bringing seafood to the masses. I really liked what I had here, but I think that was more from the coconut risotto, than the seafood. Sure I liked the chowder fries, but pretty much everything other than that was just a little bit above average, nothing remarkable. Even though it was difficult hearing our waitress Tiffany over the loudness of the restaurant, she was very attentive and offered us some great suggestions. Just because this restaurant did not knock our socks off, it's still a great night when you can escape the weather inland, and enjoy the ocean breezes on a Friday night with the one you love. Sorry, did not mean to get all mushy there at the end.
Out of five blue marlin, (because when I looked up biggest fish caught in California, the largest one I could find was a blue marlin weighing in at an impressive 692 pounds, reeled in by A. Hamann way back in 1931), five being best to zero being worst, House of Big Fish and Ice Cold Beer gets 3 blue marlin.
For more information about House of Big Fish and Ice Cold Beer, go to their website here: http://www.houseofbigfish.com/index2.php