OUT TO LUNCH by Richard Eber

When it comes to sea food, very little exists in the casual dining genre past pre-breaded frozen sandwiches offered by the likes of Mc Donald’s and Burger King. Except for a special or two at mainstream restaurants, one must save up their money to enjoy the high-end spectrum of destinations such as Scott’s, EMC, or the Walnut Creek Yacht Club.
Luckily, a relatively new eatery, The California Fish Grill, has emerged providing patrons an inexpensive alternative to enjoy seafood cuisine at very affordable prices. Located at the Orchards Shopping Center at the corner of Oak Grove and Ygnacio in Walnut Creek, the San Diego based franchise has enjoyed extensive patronage since opening up nine months ago.

The secret to the California Fish Grill’s success according to Manager Luis Zuniga is the restaurant’s ingredients. ”We receive shipments from our supplier, Global Seafood Marketing, every other day to insure freshness in everything we serve. This helps us compete in quality against white table cloth establishments that charge much more.”
California Fish Grill offers an extensive selection of seafood entrees at an average of about $10-$12.50 per plate. Choose among salmon, trout, Swai, Hawaiian Swordfish, Louisiana catfish, and Ahi Tuna, and a school of others. The most expensive items are the large (U-13) shrimp and the seared scallops at only $13.99.

Their most popular entre is the Barramundi Sea Bass imported from Vietnam. It consists of a tender large portion that is simply grilled to firm yet tender white flakes with extra virgin olive oil and lemon. It has a subtle flesh that reminds one of hard to find Chilean Sea Bass.
California Fish Grill serves their seafood without toppings, which allows patrons to select sauces of their liking. They include a choice of garlic butter, seasoned olive oil, chimichurri, cajun, and a blazing hot dynamite concoction. All of these are made fresh each day. The intensity of these sauces provides a complexity that compares favorably to more pricey competitors.
All dishes are served with two house sides ranging from brown rice to grilled zucchini. Especially noteworthy is the housemade Kaleslaw with a tangy dressing. For $1.75 more, one can order fried brussels sprouts. This dish is jazzed up with Balsamic vinegar, tomatoes, parmesan cheese, and Daikon sprouts. In addition, a fire roasted street corn and dynamite fries with very hot sauce, are offered.
The California Fish Grill menu also lists a similar variety of fried offerings such as the popular fish and chips. Using Swai white fish, each order delivers a generous portion of three three- ounce crispy battered pieces. Their fried shrimp, served regular or cajun, reminds one of what might be found at small cafes on the Gulf Coast.
Everything I tasted was fresh with no greasy after taste. Zuniga said the kitchen staff frequently tests and changes the canola oil they use to maintain quality.
Outside of providing entre Bowls which combine many ingredients off the menu, they also offer a selection of California Coast tacos, fried shrimp and fish options served in a thick and durable corn tortilla layered on top of a mix of cabbage, tomato, pickled red onion, and cilantro,
The shrimp taco ($3.45) came with four large pieces (of which I had to eat a couple of those fried beauties before the taco could be easily picked up). Combination plates can be ordered for less than $10.00 which includes 2 tacos, rice, beans, and a soft drink. This is an excellent value not easily matched elsewhere.
In addition to their sea food menu, The California Fish Grill offers some intriguing drinks to accompany their food including microbrew sodas that come in a variety of boutique flavors. I tried a tropical pineapple Macha green tea and a salted mango with lemon juice that were made with frozen puree.
The owners of California Fish Grill chain are members of The Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch. This group monitors consumption of product harvested from the oceans to insure that whatever is consumed is sustainable for generations to come. Such awareness for the environment is one of the many things this chain does to distinguish itself.
In all, one cannot help but be impressed by the culinary experience they offer. Because of the straightforwardness of the menu, the restaurant does not need to hire high priced Chefs to prepare their food. Their “Keep it Simple Stupid” (KISS) philosophy works well in providing a quality family dining experience at reasonable prices.