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RESTAURANT REVIEW : Bodega Bay Swims With Tasty Offerings : Thousand Oaks eatery has an extensive menu of fresh fish and an impressive list of beers and ales to complement dishes.

June 29, 1995|NORM CHANDLER FOX | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

As a child growing up in the landlocked city of Denver, I always enjoyed taking family vacations with relatives on both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. After swimming, sailing and fishing in the ocean, I wanted to eat denizens from the deep in seafood restaurants, which usually overlooked the shore and resembled dry-docked ships. I can remember eating mountains of fried clams, consuming more lobster rolls than anyone in my family, spooning up gallons of fish chowder and finishing off with the most gooey of desserts.

Since my infatuation with fish and seafood continues to this day, I was naturally delighted to recently discover Bodega Bay Seafood Broiler in Thousand Oaks. The restaurant may not have waves lapping at its front door, but it serves fresh no-frills seafood--much of which is quite good.

Open in this location for eight months, the cheerful two-level dining room has painted brick walls covered with antique signs of fish companies, red leather booths, bright lighting, slowly revolving ceiling fans and, my favorite touch, fresh flowers on each table. Adjoining this room is a huge bar area where you can dine in a less pleasant environment.

The waitresses here are among the nicest in the county, and they seem to go out of their way to keep you as happy as the proverbial clam. Since the wine list is somewhat spare, I suggest choosing one of the 22 beers and ales that partner extremely well with anything from the deep.

As starters, I enjoyed pristinely fresh Bluepoint oysters ($6.95 a half-dozen or $9.95 a dozen) served with a zippy horseradish-laden cocktail sauce . . . great ceviche ($5.95) in a searing jalapeno, onion and tomato relish . . . and fried juicy ringlets of calamari ($5.95) served with a creamy homemade tartar sauce. On the deficit side of the gustatory ledger, steamed clams ($6.95 a half-dozen or $9.95 a dozen) had a nice garlicky flavor but were too tough and chewy, and the appetizer combo of fried mozzarella sticks, clams and shrimp ($5.95) was too heavily breaded, although not at all greasy.

Since most entrees come with either chowder or salad, I would opt for the Manhattan-style, tomato-based clam chowder, which has a pleasant herb flavor. The New England-style chowder is an insult to that historical section of our nation; it was so thick that my spoon could stand in the soup. A native Bostonian would weep at such a sacrilege. Instead, you might also order the seafood gumbo ($2.75 a cup, $3.25 a bowl), which is properly served with rice and contains a deliciously spicy broth filled with shrimp, hot sausage and okra.

Most of the 16 fish on the menu are fresh (and your server will tell you which is frozen), and it's quickly broiled over mesquite, which imparts a nice smoky touch while retaining the fish's natural juiciness. I enjoyed the halibut ($11.95), sweet catfish ($10.95), firm sea bass ($12.95) and tender swordfish ($12.95). For an extra dollar, they will prepare your fish Cajun style; they don't blacken it, but the zingy spicing is excellent.

All fish dinners come with a dual choice of cole slaw, rice pilaf, baked potato, steamed vegetables or Bodega Bay potatoes. Stick with the al dente vegetables and baked potato--the cole slaw is drowning in mayonnaise, the rice is dry and the house potatoes contain too much butter and cheese for my taste.

Other menu items of interest include a grilled seafood shish kebab ($11.95) with scallops, shrimp, chunks of snapper, onion and pepper on a skewer . . . garlicky sauteed shrimp served over pasta ($12.95) . . . and a great skewer of shrimp and bacon ($12.95) in a sizzling barbecue sauce reminiscent of Pascal Manale's (which features the South's best barbecued shrimp) in New Orleans.

A high-ticket item that is certainly worth the cost is a full pound of steamed jumbo Alaska King crab legs (market price--it was $25.95 when I was there) served with melted butter. These appendages are sweet and succulent, bringing back memories of shore dinners in Oregon. Also available are two six-ounce Brazilian lobster tails at market price ($25.95 when I dined there)--they are juicy and redolent of the mesquite grill.

For those members of your party who don't eat fish or seafood, there's a decent grilled marinated chicken breast ($8.95) and even a nice rib-eye steak ($12.95). (Let these unenlightened folks try some of your briny food, and maybe they'll become converts to the joys of underwater critters.)

Desserts all come from the Cheesecake Factory, which produces a pleasant rich chocolate blackout cake ($3.50) and creamy raspberry cheesecake ($3.50). If the dessert tray contains a slice of Snickers Bar cheesecake ($3.50), go for this ultra-caloric treat of cheesecake topped with chocolate, caramel and peanuts. It made me feel just like a kid again.

Details

* WHAT: Bodega Bay Seafood Broiler.

* WHEN: Lunch Monday-Friday, 11 a.m.-4 p.m.; dinner Monday-Thursday, 4-9 p.m., Friday-Saturday, 4-10 p.m., Sunday, 4-9 p.m.

* WHERE: 821 E. Thousand Oaks Blvd., Thousand Oaks.

* HOW MUCH: Meal for two, food only, $28-$60.

* FYI: All major credit cards, full bar.

* CALL: 495-FISH.

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