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Flip-Flop Fare, Great Views at the Galley : Restaurant: Visit nets mixed a bag, with a delectable appetizer, one fresh-fish failure and one success.

May 26, 1994|LEONARD REED | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NEWPORT BEACH — The two-story Fisherman's Galley here is situated at the very end of this city's pier, affording it unobstructed 360-degree water views. Perhaps 25% of the total dining space is devoted to outdoor, patio-style dining with overhead heaters to repel cool ocean breezes.

It is expected that a Fisherman's Galley situated on Ventura's pier would have at least as much, and probably much more, outdoor dining to maximize views.

The Fisherman's interior design and ambience are calculated in every detail to evoke the Pacific Northwest maritime life: brass ship's fixtures set off by dark-stained wainscoted walls, framed black-and-white prints of old salts in myriad seafaring poses, dining tables into which thick docking rope has been embedded by clear acrylic, a young heave-ho! staff dressed uniformly in blue polo shirts bearing the restaurant's embroidered insignia. If you've never been to Seattle, then it may as well be quaint Bar Harbor, Maine--in any event, the place is not dressed in California pastels.

The crowd is strictly local and casual, shorts and sneakers and sport shirts the prevailing dress, with nary a necktie or dress in sight.

The menu is focused yet extensive, with mesquite-grilled fish and shellfish entrees--salmon, halibut, prawns, scallops, shark, sea bass--starting at $14.95, though during the month of May a special was featured in which grilled salmon or baked cod was available at $8.95 between 4 and 6 p.m. The high end tops out with fresh Alaskan king crab for $19.95 and Dungeness crab for $17.95. Pastas, such as smoked salmon tossed with fettuccine and garlic cream, start at $13.95. All meals include salad or chowder; rice pilaf, steak fries or baked potato, and a sourdough roll.

Results in a recent visit were mixed.

Before dinner, upstairs at the bar, a special appetizer of smoked albacore was perfect: moist, deeply and richly flavored, generous in the portion and an uncommon bargain (under $2) during happy hour.

Downstairs, for dinner, appetizers weren't quite as successful. Seafood chowder (included), a tomatoey broth with miniature shrimp of the canned or frozen variety and overcooked chunks of chewy swordfish, flopped. Zucchini sticks ($4.95) were fresh, properly fried, though a tad wan from standard ranch dressing for dipping sauce. House salad (included) was plain old iceberg lettuce with some Romaine tossed in everyday, viscous, commercial-grade Italian dressing.

The fish of the day was fresh sea bass ($14.95), which arrived in troublesome shape. The filet was a thin, small (under 5 inches) tailpiece, less than sparklingly fresh, and cooked on an overheated grill that toughened its exterior and left interior portions undercooked. Flavorless and old, it went largely uneaten. The accompanying baked potato was fine. But an accompanying glass of Beringer Chardonnay was also old, somewhat oxidized and resupplied with a just-opened and tightly knit Callaway Calla-Lees Chardonnay.

The waiter was summoned on the subject of the sea bass. Feigning double hunger, I asked him to choose for me a fish filet that would be the best in the house: that-day fresh, nicely cut, handled properly on the grill. He cheerfully brought forth a large center-cut filet of mahi mahi ($15.95) that was perfect: nicely grilled outside, cooked just enough within to preserve juices and natural delicate flavors. This was served with an excellent, deeply flavorful rice pilaf.

Everyday diners don't dine twice, of course, and so my real regret about dinner was that the waiter, a cheerful fellow in every way, hadn't offered useful counsel in getting the most basic of dishes right the first time: fresh fish. But perhaps batting averages are higher in other foods here.

Much ado is made on the menu about steamed clams by the bucket and specialties called Fisherman's Feasts, which start at $15.95 per person for two or more diners and feature such combinations as bread, salad, chowder, steamed clams and fillet of Alaskan cod in lemon butter sauce.

As a result, this article cannot be considered a full review of the Fisherman's Galley, as it represents one anonymous visit.

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