A Whale of a meal
Tale of the Whale
By JR Grant 12/13/2012
3950 Bluefin Circle
Several months ago I invited a friend to join me for dinner at the Channel Islands Harbor. When I told him we were going to the Whale’s Tail, he chuckled and said, “I haven’t been there since my senior prom!” As my friend is a long-established local professional, that statement reflects how long this restaurant has been serving diners in Ventura County (since 1969, in fact). There is no question that the harbor view is glorious. At sunset the lines of boats, random kayakers and the reflected colors on the distant hillsides all combine to provide a memorable experience.
It is specifically for that reason that many locals opt to go to the Whale’s Tail for happy hour. Drink specials abound (most at $10 a pop), and of the small plates offered, the crab-stuffed portabella mushrooms are probably the most interesting option: juicy shredded crab in a white sauce with celery and lightly herbed. It is a bit pricey at $12 but the view and the varied cocktail options seem to justify the expense.
One sidenote here — the restaurant had a recent extensive renovation, which I’m sure updated and streamlined many aspects of the business. Sadly, for me, the interior still seems locked in the 1960s (without being retro) and, except for the fish-boat salad bar (more later about that), does not win any exciting style awards. The space can certainly accommodate large office parties or rocking-out bar evenings (if a draw band is booked) with its two floors of seating options, but it is not the interior design that will beckon the diner.
At a recent dinner, I was in the mood for a cioppino-style fish stew. The Whale’s Tail version has shrimp (not many, though), plump and juicy langostino lobster, scallops, green mussels, clams (again, not many) and bits of various whitefishes in a brothy red tomato sauce. For my palate, the sauce could have been a tad spicier, but overall the flavor combinations were pleasing and simple, although not particularly original in execution. I started this meal at the fish-boat salad bar. Constructed like a small trawler, this interesting decoration is really the salad trolley, and on several occasions it has only been filled on one side, with basic salad ingredients and little fruit cubes. As an entrée accompaniment, the salad boat is only $6, but had I just opted for the salad bar only (at $10), I would have been a little disappointed.
On another occasion, I ordered the sand dabs. One rarely sees them on menus because preparation (all those little bones!) can be time consuming for a restaurant. Their flavor, to me, is unique, kind of a cross between sole and halibut, but creamier and sweeter; and I was pleased with their preparation. Lightly breaded and pan sautéed, the accompanying aioli was just right, and I couldn’t have been happier with my selection. When I asked the waitress where they were fished, her response was “the Pacific.” I assume, then, it could be considered local. In any case, it is good to see such an unappreciated catch on a local menu.
The menu at the restaurant is fairly large, and there are a number of small-plate options in the $8-$12 range. Mostly, the restaurant seems to bank on its uniquely gorgeous location and its long harbor history. The food is certainly appealing and prepared attentively, and the sunset views are unmatched. One is not going to walk out of the restaurant (or bar) without having spent a fair amount of change. If service is attentive and timely, and a welcoming feel is provided by the host (if present), it can be hoped that all elements combined will entice the diner for return visits.