RESTAURANT REVIEW : Eatery Adds Greek Specialties to Its Mix of Fresh Fish Dishes : Grilled or fried, the well-priced servings come with tarama salad, orzu, pita bread or spinach spanakopita.


At one edge of the Oakbrook Mall, this small fish diner has given itself a name that almost succeeds in telling it like it is. Pacific Fresh Grill features mostly fresh fish, mostly from the waters of the Pacific and mostly grilled--unless you order it fried. There are also goodly Greek undercurrents to the restaurant, and these are some of the best reasons to eat here.

Pacific Fresh Grill doesn't attempt to camouflage its shopping center location. The restaurant is brightly lit, utilitarian and pleasantly spotless. The color scheme echoes the dazzling whites and lapis lazuli of the Aegean Island travel posters that decorate the walls. It also evokes blue skies and fresh air, though the actual air inside provides some sensory overload from heavy duty frying. Not unpleasant by any means, but it did make me want to open up a window.

They do know how to fry food properly here. And for less than $5, you can get a decent plate of fried fish on a bed of "chips" (thick French fries), with a side of coleslaw. The coleslaw is concocted from a mixture of lettuces and cabbages, sloppy and sweet and not at all boring. A fish and shrimp combination was moist where it was supposed to be and crisp in the right places too.

I recommend the tarama salad (taramasalata), a Greek specialty made from tarama (pale orange carp roe) whipped together with soaked bread, olive oil and lemon juice to a creamy smooth consistency and tantalizing flavor. Though quite salty, it was delicious. As an appetizer it comes laced with sliced onions, green peppers and Greek olives, served with toasted triangles of buttered pita bread. Save some to use as a condiment on the fish; it's even better than tartar sauce.

There's a good selection of nearly a dozen kinds of fish, seared on the grill and served with your choices of green salad, coleslaw, French fries, rice pilaf, vegetables (quite good) and orzu, those tiny pasta shaped like grains of rice. Prices range quite reasonably between $5 and $7 for a satisfying meal. We tried both an excellent sea bass and a tasty fileted trout, as fresh as promised.

Crab and shrimp salad was a disappointment, though there was no skimping on the lettuce. The shrimp were tiny, too pink and soft, and the crab seemed dry. The Greek salad was much better. Also Gargantuan, it arrived under a sea of crumbled feta cheese.

Unless you are partial to Spam, which it most resembled, the chicken gyro is to be avoided. But fish quesadillas ($4.75), one of the specialties, were appealing, made from small chunks of grilled fish ("this and that," I was told), with just enough cheese to hold it all together within a hot flour tortilla.

The Mediterranean plate ($6.10) is worth ordering. It comes with the delicious taramasalata, tender grilled chicken on a skewer, delectable orzu, a portion of crispy, flaky, spinach spanakopita and hot, tasty pita bread. Yummy.

The restaurant serves breakfast on the weekends, offering standards like omelets and French toast and bacon and eggs. On weekday afternoons the kids from the school down the block suddenly appear on skateboards outside the windows, like mushrooms after a damp night. They are attracted perhaps by the smooth asphalt and lack of traffic, but there may also be something irresistible to their young hormones in the smell of good fried food.

Besides yogurt and ice cream, one other dessert polishes up the meal: a fine baklava ($1.50), made almost entirely with chewy chopped nuts and quasi-crystallized honey. Another Greek-inspired victory.


* WHAT: Pacific Fresh Grill.

* WHERE: 2060-E Avenida de los Arboles, Thousand Oaks.

* WHEN: Open for lunch and dinner, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday. Breakfast, lunch and dinner, 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

* COST: A meal for two, food only, $5 to $14. Visa and MasterCard.

* ETC.: Wine and beer license pending. Call 493-0104.

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