GONE FISHING

Compiled by David Pecchia

Americans are eating more fish than they ever have before. But as these restaurants prove, we are now eating it in all sorts of different styles. When you want to go fish, here are a few fine places to sample. CAPT. PEPPER'S SHRIMP BOAT CAFE (400 S. San Vicente Blvd., Los Angeles, (213) 659-2233). Nestled upstairs above a shopping center, this is the kind of place where friends can meet for a casual, inexpensive dinner. Shrimp dominates the menu here, but plenty of squid can be found as well. Monday night features an all-you-can-eat squid and gumbo special for $7.95. And the waitress is right there to replenish everything, even the French fries. Salads are plain but substantial. The Shrimp California is a bowl of lettuce and red cabbage topped with avocado, tomato, cucumber and a sizable handful of small shrimp, all for only $5.45. Mon.-Sat. 11 a.m.-11 p.m., Sun. to 10 p.m. No reservations. Much free parking. MC, V, AE. Dinner for two, food only, about $20. Also at 11057 Santa Monica Blvd., (213) 473-8488.

LA PAZ (20461 Sherman Way, Canoga Park, (818) 883-4761). Don't let exteriors fool you--this modest shopping-center storefront has been transformed into an intimate, sophisticated space. Though the dishes are primarily southeast Mexican, the patrons consistently line up for the $25-a-person (minimum four) all-you-can-eat seafood special. Heaped platters of seafood appetizers, including shrimp, abalone and octopus, satisfy the most ravenous. Next up is a choice of soup or salad followed by a bottomless dish of lobster tails topped with melted cheese and garnished with vegetables, rice and wonderful garlic potatoes. For the less voracious, there is an array of seafood tacos and enchiladas. Sun.-Thur. 11 a.m.-9 p.m., Fri.-Sat. 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Reservations suggested. Major credit cards. Beer and Wine. Dinner for two, food only, $20-$40.

MALIBU SEA LION, U.S.A. (21150 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu, (213) 456-2810). When you stroll into this oceanfront building, you'll immediately see a rather large slab of chocolate cake on display, museum style, under a bell atop a pedestal. "This is a piece of cake," says a plaque on the pedestal. When you've finished chuckling, make your way to the massive salad bar with, as the menu claims, more than 100 items. The fun continues with such succulent dishes as shrimp scampi, grilled and buried under deliciously garlicky drawn butter. The nice, fresh, plain grilled salmon is also a treat. When you're finished with your entree, don't forget to order up a slice of that cake you eyed so hungrily on your way in. Mon.-Fri. 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Sat.-Sun. 10 a.m.-11 p.m. Valet parking. Full bar. Major credit cards. Dinner for two, food only, $20-$50.

NBC SEAFOOD RESTAURANT (404-A S. Atlantic Blvd., Monterey Park, (818) 282-2323). This spacious Hong Kong-style establishment prides itself on fresh seafood, most of which is pulled straight from the tank. You might see a waiter zip by with a net of live fish, or witness a manager holding a pair of live crabs at a table as he discusses the best manner to prepare them. The perch, steamed Cantonese style with ginger and garlic, is like sweet butter. Also recommended is the catfish with garlic, which consists of pan-fried chunks of catfish potted with sliced barbecued pork, black mushrooms and braised tofu. Open daily 8 a.m.-10 p.m. Dim sum breakfast and lunch. Parking in lot. MC, V. Beer and wine. Dinner for two, food only, $25-$50.

PATOUT'S (2260 Westwood Blvd., Los Angeles, (213) 475-7100). A Cajun cafe filled with the spirit of the bayou. The chef, waiters, busboys and the fish are all shipped from Louisiana. The shrimp remoulade is a delightful shrimp cocktail in a complex sauce that starts with homemade mayonnaise and Creole mustard. The fried frog legs from the Atchafalaya swamp are large, meaty and absolutely spectacular. Also consider oysters Gigi, which are wrapped in bacon and then deep-fried. The soft-shell crabs (when they have them) also take a dip in the deep fryer. You'll be scolded if you skip dessert, so try the bread pudding, fine pecan pie or a blackberry one that tastes as if Grandma just took it out of the oven. Lunch Sun.-Fri., dinner nightly. Full bar. Valet parking. Major credit cards. Dinner for two, food only, $30-$60.

SIMON AND SEAFORT'S (340 Golden Shore, at Catalina Landing, Long Beach, (213) 435-2333). All-American seafood, served in style. The dining area is large, deeply carpeted and comfortable. "Fish, Chop and Oyster House" is what they subtitle this place--and for good reason. The oysters are spankingly fresh: from the baby kumamotos to the larger Hood Canal yearlings and the big-daddy shoalwaters, they are pure fragrant silk. The beers here are legendary and the meals are even better. Especially recommended is the changing selection of fresh mesquite-grilled fish. The accompaniments are top-notch, and the clam chowder is better only in Maine. Lunch Mon.-Sat., Sunday brunch. Validated parking. Full bar. V, MC, AE. Dinner for two, food only, $25-$50.

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