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VALLEY WEEKEND | RESTAURANT REVIEW

Plenty of Fish in the Sea, but Cast Net Carefully

Sid's heaps on the portions. Some of the fare has too little flavor and too much bulk, but there are standouts.

May 09, 1996|MAX JACOBSON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Practically every one of us has eaten at a restaurant like Sid's Seafood, maybe often.

Allow me to refresh your memory. Sid's Seafood, in Canoga Park, is one of those ultra-crowded, mega-menu seafood restaurants decorated with weather-beaten wood, frayed rope and plastic sharks. The prices are calculated so that Dad, Mom or whoever else is holding the purse strings can cut themselves a little slack at the end of the month.

One look should be enough to convince you that you have stepped into a local institution, and an exchange with one of the highly efficient waitresses will further the impression. These women look you straight in the eye, call all the kids "honey" and suffer fools badly; they simply do not have time when the dining room is full. The good news is that you won't have to worry about having them stumble while carrying your platter of food. (They won't spill a drop from your margarita glass--the size of an Oktoberfest stein--either, much less make any mistakes in the order.)

Nope, Sid's Seafood runs like a Swiss watch, from the hostess at the front podium to the busboy who pours more water in the glass. Don't imagine for a minute that these facts are not appreciated by the thronging diners. Whether the crowd is lining up for the Monday night fish fry, the Wednesday night crab feast or just the regular nightly menu extravaganza, Sid's is rarely what you'd call low energy. From 4 p.m., when the restaurant opens for the day, the joint is rocking. (And understandably. The three-course early-bird dinners are under $10.)

If you're like most people here, you won't mind that much of this food has little flavor, too much oil, too much salt and too much bulk. Oh, some things are quite fine, including a delicious Caesar salad with a pungent anchovy dressing, fluffy baked potatoes, a tasty shrimp and scallop burrito big enough for two and nicely broiled swordfish, black around the edges the way it should be.

But if you're like me, you'll find the house fish chowder excessively thickened--unlike the true creamy New England chowder, it leaves a pasty residue on the spoon. The soup is filled with what appear to be bits of clam, flaked whitefish, cubed potato and a fair amount of celery.

One appetizer sure to please is the fried Ipswich clams, those being the clams with squishy bellies that are sold at clam stands from Eastport, Maine, to Newport, R.I. Sid's clams are fresh and only a tad greasy, but I'd like them even more if they were rolled in crunchy cornmeal, New England style. These clams have a thin, crisp breading better suited to something like chicken tenders.

Both the scallop kebab and the fried shrimp are disappointing. The shrimp come with a mild, palate-pleasing cocktail sauce, but the shrimp themselves are bland and neutral tasting. Sid's scallop kebab is broiled and served with drawn butter, but the scallops I got could have been fresher. Better, though pricier, are Alaskan king crab legs, which haven't lost their crab flavor by the time they come to you. At $27.95 a pound, they are an indulgence, but that price is more than competitive.

An early-bird special, trout in salsa picedo, is a steal at $9.95. This is a whole fried fish topped with tomatoes, garlic, capers and chopped tomatoes. It's rare to get lake fish in California, but Sid's has sauteed walleyed pike at $17.95. Pike is a wonderful fish, but all you taste here is breading and oil.

Those who are not in a fishy mood can fall back on Cuban chicken, a crisp-skinned bird roasted with an intelligent amount of garlic, or tender, tangy baby back ribs.

I might mention that the kitchen sometimes goes overboard on the garlic. Linguine clams has way too much for the clams, and Sid's famous garlic cheese toast--oily, salty and crusted with Parmesan--is so garlicky it leaves a bitter aftertaste.

Desserts again strike the family chords. The two best are the ones available with the early-bird dinners: strawberry shortcake and banana cream pie. The shortcake turns out to be a rich pound cake, but why quibble? The pie is sky high with bananas and whipped cream, as you'd expect. If quantity is your criterion, Sid's Seafood is a foghorn in the mists of trendiness.

DETAILS

* WHAT: Sid's Seafood.

* WHERE: 21911 Roscoe Blvd., Canoga Park.

* WHEN: Dinner 4-10 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 4-11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 4-9 p.m. Sunday and Monday.

* HOW MUCH: Dinner for two, $26-$65. Suggested dishes: Ipswich fried clams, $7.95; early-bird dinners, $9.95 (4-6:30 p.m.); swordfish, $15.95; banana cream pie, $3.50.

* FYI: Full bar. Self-parking in rear lot.

* CALL: (818) 887-1692.

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