My sea bass tacone, leaning on my pollock tacone
1166 Orange Avenue, Coronado
I’ve never been Number One at anything. Not till now. But so happened I was loping down Orange Avenue, past where another eatery, Rhinoceros, had always been, — just at the moment the new “Islander” was opening its doors for the first time, around seven on this particular Thursday evening.
I just stick my nose in and get talking to Lisa, who’s working with her two waiters, Fem and Josh, on how to work the cash register.
I ask if they’re open, Lisa thinks about it and says “Well...why not. Scott, can we do it?”
A guy looks up from among the stove tops and ventilator hoods. Turns out he and Lisa are co-owners.
Lisa takes a deep breath and hands me the menu, which is printed on two pages.
Wow. It’s not often you get to be Number One.
You can see they have rushed to transform this. We’re less than three weeks since Rhinoceros closed. They still have no sign up outside. “Rent starts from Day One,” says Scott. “And we want to catch the last of the summer crowds.”
They have painted the inside white, light blue, and darker blue. “It’s like the surf, the ocean, and the sky,” says Lisa.
And the menu? Just simple typed sheets.
I sit, I read, and, ulp! I panic.
Grilled fish plates, tempura fish and chips, and seafood salads all run around $20. It depends on the fish you opt for, of course. Halibut, swordfish, sea bass, 20 bucks. Yellowtail’s cheaper at $16. Pollock’s $12. But shrimp’s $25.
Luckily, they have this column listing “tacones,” going from $4.50 for fried pollock to $7 for shrimp. All the other fish are $6.
“It’s fish and salad in a crispy flour tortilla cone,” says Lisa.
Huh. Original. So, I’m about to hit one of these when I flip the page and see “Soup.” They only do one: Chipotle Coconut Milk Seafood Chowder with fried Alaskan pollock. Bowl’s $10, cup’s $8.
Can’t resist a chowder. I order the cup and since they’re specializing in local beers, seems only right that the first beer they serve should be Coronado Brewing’s Islander IPA, this being the Islander restaurant and all.
But the big news here is the chowder. Oh, man. For starters, what you see is this long chunk of battered fish lying like a log in a golden steaming lava lake.
Fish tastes fine and crunchy, but the main marvel is the soup. It’s a combination of chipotle peppers and coconut milk loaded with corn, carrots, and celery.
I rip off bits of fish, dunk them in the chowder and have at them. Then slurp away from the soup. You can tell there’s lime as well as cilantro in there. In fact, it tastes positively Thai.
“Oh, yes,” says Scott, when he comes over to check on his very first order. “We’re going for Thai. Chipotle for heat, coconut for richness, lime to cut the spice, and actual Thai fish sauce — nam pla — plus Worcestershire sauce.”
I call Carla. She loves all things Thai. “Darls? Customer Number One here. You’ve gotta try this chowder.”
Problem? I don’t know when to stop right now.
Because I’m curious about those “tacones.” Maybe I can take a couple back for us for a late supper.
“Which do you recommend?” I ask Lisa.
“Well, They say sea bass is the poor man’s lobster,” she says.
Huh. Good enough for me. I ask for that ($6) and also a pollock tacone, because it’s cheap ($4.50) and it’s fried, not grilled.
First thing to like: the flour tortillas, tossed on the grill to crisp for a moment. So they’re kinda crunchy. And the fish is fine, but it’s the salad squished in with the white meat that really makes these interesting. It tastes Asian-Mexican. Lisa says they have a smoked chipotle avocado purée, plus roasted pumpkin-seed slaw, lime-pickled sticks of jicama, pickles and spicy carrot slices, plus red onion, and you can see the scads of cilantro pushing out the top. I splot some hot sauce into the cone, and we have ourselves a smoky, tingly forest of flavor surrounding the fish. And with the pollock, you get the extra crunch of the batter... $4.50 worth of awesomeness.
“This whole idea started up in Vancouver, Canada,” says Scott, who’s actually an attorney when he’s not working here. “My dad’s a fisherman, and he took us to this crazy, like, ship’s container. And there was a line, maybe 45 people, waiting to buy fish tacos from a hole cut in the side.”
Turns out this was the idea of a First Nations — native Canadian — fisherman named Kunal Ghose who was taking fish straight from the boats, then giving it the First Nations-Asian treatment.
“They were loving it. We got to know him, and, long story short, I spent time up there with him, and he came down here and stayed with us for a couple of weeks and taught me. So, this is why our dishes are a bit different, and have that fusion thing going on.”
Carla and I come back the next day. We sit outside (so, no beer, dammit). I have a shrimp tacone ($7) and she — go figure — has their “landlocked” half-pound burger and double-cooked Kennebec fries, with a curry ketchup ($12). It comes in a toasted baguette. Meat tastes smoky and rich (she lets me have a bite). But I’m happier with that lime-pickled chipotle flavor of my shrimp.
“Speaking as Customer Number One,” I tell Lisa, “I pronounce you ready for a hard opening.”
“Appreciate it,” she says, “but we’ve decided to hold off till November. Time to get kinks ironed out.”
Kinks? What kinks?
- Prices: Grilled fish plates, tempura fish and chips, and seafood salads all run around $20 (halibut, swordfish, sea bass); yellowtail, $16; pollock, $12; shrimp, $25; pollock tacone, $4.50; sea bass tacone, $6; shrimp tacone, $7; half-pound burger and fries, $12; chipotle coconut milk seafood chowder with fried Alaskan pollock, $8 (cup), $10 (bowl)
- Hours: 11:00 a.m. – 9:00 p.m., daily
- Buses: 901, 904
- Nearest bus stop: 10th and Orange