Brochette Spears Flavor of Swordfish

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Mike Spencer is a member of The Times Orange County Edition staff.

With his background, you might expect John Hicks to be involved is some pursuit more macho than serving fine cuisine. But that’s what the ex-cop and ex-Marine does for a living and does very well at it, thank you.

Hicks and his wife, Wanda, operate the popular Harbor Grill at the Dana Point Marina, and although other eating spots come and go with the regularity of the tides, their restaurant is in its ninth year and showing no evidence of slowing down.

Hicks, who spent almost 20 years in restaurant management after leaving the Corps and the Los Angeles Police Department, credits their success to a menu full of what he calls “comfort food.” By that, he means food that is “simply prepared, flavorful and reasonably priced” and served in a casual, neighborhood atmosphere.


He spent 10 years with the Rusty Scupper chain in New England and says he fell in love with the neighborhood cafes he found in places such as Boston and Cape Cod--”places where people just drop in for a cup of soup or a drink and where everybody knows everybody else.”

And the couple have succeeded in matching much of the same atmosphere at the cozy dockside Harbor Grill. Although many of their customers live nearby or come in directly from their boats, many others are visitors from the posh Ritz-Carlton up the road or the Dana Point Resort just down the street.

Everything, including the marinated swordfish below, is cooked on a blazing mesquite grill easily viewed from the main dining room through the picture windows that frame the kitchen.

On the menu, it’s called the Marine Institute Special (a portion of the profits go to the Marine Institute) and is served with special bread, fresh fruit and your choice of fries of rice pilaf for $9.95.

It’s a simple dish, Hicks says, and easy to prepare. “The marinade brings out the favor of the fish.”

Just one note of caution: Don’t marinate the fish for more than 30 minutes or it will start getting a little mushy.



3 pounds fresh swordfish fillet

Juice of 4 large lemons

1 cup olive oil

1 teaspoon black pepper

1 teaspoon salt

1 yellow onion, grated

12 bay leaves

Cut fish into one-ounce cubes (about two-inch squares) and put aside. Cover bay leaves with water and soak until soft. Make marinade by combining lemon juice, olive oil, salt, pepper and grated onion. Place fish in shallow pan and cover with marinade. Let sit for 30 minutes, then place on skewers, using bay leaf between every other chunk of fish. Grill over hot mesquite coals for about 30 minutes, turning frequently. (Serves 6.)