1166 Orange Avenue, Coronado
(No longer in business.)
"Can I be your first customer?"
This is me, at "Islander," Coronado's newest eatery, on the actual evening it opens.
Well, soft, soft opening. Only thing that's open is the doors, really. So far no sign, and a lot of setting up, clanging of pans, explaining of cash registers going on. I just stuck my nose in and got talking to Lisa, who's working with her two waiters, Fem and Josh, on how to program the danged thang.
So when I asked if they were open, Lisa thought about it and said "Well... why not. Scott, can we do it?"
"Good a time as any," calls this guy 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, printed on two pages.
Wow. It's not often you get to be Number One.
'Twas not a month ago I was in here when it was the Rhinoceros, that mid-range comfort Italian food eatery. What a turnaround. Transformed! Into a fish joint, in three weeks.
"We start paying rent right away," says Scott. "So we need to be up and running as soon as we can."
The menu? At first I panic. Grilled fish plates, tempura fish and chips, and seafood salads, using, like, halibut, swordfish, sea bass, all run around $20. 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.
So I'm about to hit one of these as Order #1 for Islander, when I jes' flip the page and see "Soup." They only do one: Chipotle Coconut Milk Seafood Chowder with fried Alaskan pollock.
Eight buckeroos for a cup, $10 for a bowl.
So $8? Can handle that. I order the cup and since they're specializing in local beers, seems only right that the very first beer they serve should be Coronado Brewing's "Islander" IPA, this being the "Islander" restaurant and all.
It takes quite a few tries to get the beer going, but when it comes, it's a nice IPA without too much bite. But the Big News here is the chowder. Oh man. For starters, what you see is this giant log of battered fish lying like a felled tree in a golden lava lake.
Fish tastes fine and crunchy, but the main marvel is the soup. It's this rico suave combination of chipotle peppers and coconut milk loaded with corn and carrots and celery.
So what you do is 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."
Honestly? Filling — for a cup, it's a big bowl — and thrilling. Just a beautiful taste combo.
I call Carla. She loves all things Thai. Hey, this could save the marriage!
"Darls? Customer Number One here. You've gotta try this..."
More on tacones, plus Mysterious Canadian First Nation Connection, in upcoming Tin Fork.