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RESTAURANT REVIEW ERIC ERICSSON'S FISH CO. : Beyond Seafood : Although the shrimp is excellent, this place really shines at brunch and dessert time.

January 31, 1991|HILARY DOLE KLEIN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

A carved wooden statue of Eric Ericsson, the Viking for whom this restaurant is named, stands in the little patio out front. The quaint fellow looks utterly pained. Perhaps he dislikes his landlocked status; yet the restaurant is just a few hundred yards from the beach, and it offers enough fish to satisfy the saltiest soul.

I enjoyed some of the best shrimp I've ever tasted here. Fat, firm and succulent, they were lightly dusted with hot Cajun spices and served with a red pepper cream sauce. I also liked angel hair pasta with shellfish, served in a light pesto cream sauce with just a hint of sweet tarragon. And one day I had a faultless mixed grill of halibut and shrimp on a thin layer of tomatillo sauce, flavored with sweet yellow peppers.

At lunch you can sit in this cheerful room and look out through the big many-paned windows toward the beach. A low ceiling gives the room a cozy feeling, the high-backed wooden chairs are comfortable and the vibrant fish on the tablecloths practically dance off the tables.

I found I liked Eric Ericsson's less at dinner, when the lights are very dim, the service leisurely and the prices high ($16 to $19 per entree for dinner specials). You can get some of the same wonderful specials at lunch for half the price; lunch is very reasonable.

As much as I liked my lunch, the best meal I've had here was the Mexican Sunday brunch. It may not owe much to the Viking heritage, but it's an excellent meal. Forget the ceviche --it tasted as if it were made from cooked fish and it needed more seasoning. In fact, forget all the appetizers. Why fill up before a wonderful meal?

All the entrees start with a base of homemade, chewy tortillas that are filled with the flavor of corn. Chorizo and eggs was a fragrant mixture of moist scrambled eggs, spices and sausages the color of burnt orange. Eggs California was tortillas topped with poached eggs and covered with a green hollandaise made with cilantro, avocado and herbs and topped with grilled shrimp and fresh salsa.

Huevos rancheros --tortillas and eggs topped with salsa and melted cheese--was cooked to order. It was accompanied by creamy guacamole and three more kinds of salsa. There were also soft Mexican potatoes fried with tomatoes and spices and cumin-flavored red beans.

The waitresses at Eric Ericsson's are exceedingly nice and especially accommodating to children--they let mine order simple egg dishes that weren't on the menu. And when they tell you how good the desserts are, you can believe them. The creme brulee --more pudding than flan --was a great hit with the kids. Raspberry cake was layered with custard and jam, laced with sherry and coated with a fine fruit sauce. The chewy hot mocha brownie--camouflaged by coffee-flavored whipped cream and a big handful of unchopped walnuts--elicited rapturous expressions.

I no longer think of Eric Ericsson's as merely a fish restaurant. It's the dessert haven of Ventura. One taste of that brownie surely would take that pained expression off old Eric's face.

WHERE AND WHEN

Eric Ericsson's Fish Co., 1140 S. Seaward Ave., Ventura, (805) 643-4783. Lunch, 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Dinner, 5:30 to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. Brunch, 10 a.m.--3 p.m. Sunday. Full bar, parking lot, American Express, MasterCard and Visa. Dinner for 2, food only, $35 to $62.

Recommended dishes: Chorizo and eggs $4; Eggs California $6.95; hot mocha brownie, $4.

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