Editor’s note: Restaurant critic Merrill Shindler returns with his annual recap of the area’s best eats. He’s highlighting the best local restaurants for Italian food, French-American food, Lebanese food, seafood and brunch. Look for all of his reviews and stories here: www.dailynews.com/author/merrill-shindler
King’s Fish House
The Commons at Calabasas, 4798 Common Way, Calabasas; 818-225-1979, www.kingsfishhouse.com
The involvement of the King family in the restaurant industry goes back eight decades, to their first eatery in 1945. And though King’s Fish House in The Commons at Calabasas is several decades newer, you can feel those eons of experience; this is a family that knows how to serve, and they know their way around our fishy friends.
Indeed, the motto of King’s Fish House is, “Welcome to the house that seafood built.” For a restaurant in a mall, King’s is notably non-mallish, with a fine (and very expansive) outdoor patio that surrounds the restaurant on several sides, placed so that you’ll barely notice the presence of the parking lots.
I guess you could pretend that King’s is ocean-adjacent, though that will take a tad of imagination with the hills of West Valley around you. But within, the place is downright old school fish house, with a terrific Cajun oyster bar on one side, part of the cocktail lounge. And a fine lounge it is too, with a wall of hot sauces to choose from as you wish, bottles of tasty Cajun Power Garlic Sauce on every table, allowing you to turn up the heat on the selection of nine carefully curated oysters (three Pacific , six Eastern) as much as you want.
There are Peruvian bay scallops, wild Littleneck clams, wild Mexican jumbo brown shrimp, wild San Diego rock crab, and wild Maine lobster—there’s an admirable commitment here to stay away from farmed fish, except where necessary.
And to wash it all down in the lounge, along with classic shellfish platters, there are classic cocktails. Not a lot of frou-frou among the Old Fashioned, the Bardstown Buck, the Gordon’s Cup, the Pimm’s Cup, the “Perfect” Manhattan and more. The beers are many, but not too many. Ditto the wines, though a little Sancerre and Viognier would be appreciated; they go so well with shellfish.
What there’s a lot of, pages of, is seafood. This is a fish house that lives up to its name. I often find it hard to get past the first page of raw bar dishes, and small plates, both cold and hot. The wild lump crab meat cocktail is a pleasure, something that’s not a shrimp cocktail for a change. There’s a good ahi poke, made with yellowfin tuna because, these days, you’ve got to have a poke on the menu.
The baked PEI blue mussels are about as good as mussels get. The crispy calamari crackles. The crab cakes are double sized. And as a counterpoint, it’s hard to resist the grilled Castroville artichoke; I have a thing for artichokes, which is strange, feeling passion for a thistle.
And if it’s old school grilled fish that is needed to satisfy, well, there’s plenty, with 16 options on the menu, including just-in-season wild Puget Sound king salmon. And if you add on the prepared dishes, there’s plenty more.
I like my seafood qua seafood – which is to say, served as what it is. But I may be a minority report. Looking around, there are folks digging into the macadamia nut crusted wild Alaskan halibut with an orange-ginger butter sauce, the parmesan crusted wild Alaskan sand dabs with lemon butter and capers and more.
There are pasta dishes too, and a bunch of steaks. Which brings us to the bottom line of King’s – it’s a fish house first and foremost, and a very fine one. But the Kings understand that someone is going to come in, and order an herbed chicken breast with mashed potatoes. Or a perfectly decent cheeseburger with Swiss or cheddar. This is Fish, Oysters & Beyond.
Merrill Shindler is a Los Angeles-based freelance dining critic. Email [email protected].