The Gossiping Gourmet: Big Fish, small price, and a great hangout

The guys from K'ya have done it again with another boisterously noisy bistro with a beautiful view and an incredibly inexpensive menu. It is aptly named House of Big Fish and Ice Cold Beer because the portions are more than generous and the plethora of beers come icy cold.

Taking over the space once occupied by the Aegean Café, on the third floor of the Collection on South Coast Highway, they have bought themselves an amazing ocean view. The attractive remodel has opened up the space and added a clean and simple décor with wooden booths, new wood floors, ceiling fans, a few big mirrors, the requisite faux stuffed fish and the feeling of a contemporary tavern.

Naturally that means there is a large bar area, replete with four big flat-screen TVs. For a slightly quieter experience, there is a wraparound glassed-in patio. However, it would be best to eat outside on warmer nights, because the heaters are non-functional at the moment.

The extensive menu has many categories and the reasonable prices allowed us to sample quite a few. You can start out with chilled seafood, raw fish, hot appetizers, pokes or a salad.

Our first of several beginnings was the hamachi sashimi with wasabi and ginger. The $8 portion was at least double the size of any you would get elsewhere. It was served on a decorative bed of lettuce with a small plastic cup for concocting your own sauce. On the table, besides soy, were five different hot sauces and some Old Bay Seasoning. The fish was very fresh, perhaps not the very highest grade but good and certainly good for the price.

There was an error in the kitchen so we ended up with two different pokes. They come in half or full scoop sizes and are served with fried wontons. The tako (octopus) was a bonus. Thinly sliced rounds sat atop a salad of cucumber, cabbage, seaweed and onions, all bathed in a sweet rice vinegar dressing. The chewy octopus combined with the light crunchy salad was quite good. However, the profusion of wonton skins were scrunched up so they didn't make very useful scoops; but more than that, they were greasy and tasted as if they had been cooked in overused oil.

Ahi poke was chopped with onion, seaweed and spicy soy. The fish itself was flavorful, though a little mushy, but the spicy dressing was unbalanced, with soy sauce dominating all other tastes.

We ordered the Asian chopped salad to refresh our palates. Once again the dressing, overpowered with soy, made this giant mound of mixed vegetables, lettuce and crispy wontons virtually inedible.

The entrées include Big Fish Your Way, with a choice of: fish, style of preparation, sauce and toppings. If you can't make up your mind they recommend some combinations, such as ahi blackened with garlic butter and mango chutney. There is also a selection of shellfish, fried seafood, NOT Fish, Baja style dishes, sandwiches, wallet friendly "lures" (entrées for $5) and house specialties.

We have always loved K'ya's Thai calamari. Here you can get it Thai style or plain with tartar sauce. We were expecting the same dish, which is calamari tossed in sweet-hot Thai dressing with shredded carrots, bean sprouts and cilantro.

Initially, we were surprised that the dish appeared to be just calamari with a Thai sweet/hot dipping sauce but about halfway through we discovered, beneath the plastic cup of sauce, a little mound of the salad we had missed, so we immediately tossed it all together in the sauce with the tender, crispy calamari and voila, that delicious combination of flavors and textures emerged. Whereas the sauce is too strong for dipping, it's perfect as a dressing . We hope they will change the presentation so everyone can enjoy it the way it was originally designed.

Roasted hamachi collar was a special of the evening. This is the richest part of a very fatty fish and is probably an acquired taste. Elle, the fish lover, yummed it up, but Terry found it too "fishy." But once again, there was a heavy hand with soy in the sauce.

Trying to decide on one of the house specialties, we wavered among crab-crusted tilapia, jambalaya and spicy seared white ahi.

Opting for the latter, a large piece of spicy ahi arrived, blackened on the outside and perfectly rare on the inside. It was drizzled with a very tasty coconut curry sauce and served with flavorful rice and nicely cooked mixed vegetables. The fish was quite delicious, and we longed for more of the excellent sauce, the only thing that wasn't served in abundance here. Once again, we were amazed that this complete entrée was only $12.

For Mexican food lovers, there is a Baja-style menu with fish tacos, burritos, nachos and ceviche, etc. Sandwiches can be ordered half or whole and include a sirloin or ahi burger and fish, steak, chicken or shrimp sandwiches.

And if you're fish phobic, there are three steaks, a chicken breast and two house specials, chicken katsu or chicken Florentine pasta.

If, after eating these huge portions, you still have room for dessert, most feature ice cream except the carrot cupcake, which has, instead of ice cream, a humongous mound of cavity-making sweet cream cheese frosting swirled on top.

Death by Chocolate appears as a warm brownie sundae with chocolate sauce and chocolate ice cream. Another choice is the white chocolate macadamia nut bread pudding with caramel sauce and vanilla ice cream.

Big Fish is rapidly becoming a Laguna Beach hangout with its generous portions and great prices.

If You Go

What: House of Big Fish & Ice Cold Beer (949) 715-4500

Where: 540 S. Coast Hwy. (at the Collection)

When: 4:30 to 10:30 p.m. Bar: 4 p.m. to close


Appetizers: $4 to $15

Entrées: $7 to $24

Desserts: $2 to $6


Bottles: $25 to $48

By the glass: $7 to $14

Beer: $4.50 to $50 (for 5 liters)

Corkage Fee: $15

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