Sea Fresh —
3600 Harbor Blvd.
Cool breeze, calming water, relaxed atmosphere, clean, contemporary, fresh fish prepared with care — simplicity at its best. This is Sea Fresh at the Marine Emporium Landing at Channel Islands Harbor.
Since the Channel Islands Harbor is celebrating its 50 year anniversary over the next several weeks, it didn’t seem right to miss an opportunity to review one of the many local restaurants in the harbor. Fortunately, the decision was made for me, given Sea Fresh is celebrating 30 years in Ventura County, the first restaurant in Ojai, while celebrating 15 years in the harbor, though its current set-up at the Marine Emporium came after a crippling fire, a rebuild and a grand reopening in 2008. For the sake of celebrating anniversaries, Sea Fresh fits the bill.
After spending an early afternoon revisiting old haunts of the harbor — the Lobster Trap, Casa Sirena Hotel and Fisherman’s Wharf — my companion and I had worked up an appetite. Perhaps it was just covering so much ground in a day or maybe the overall emotion of seeing what was once grand looking so tired. Whatever the case, Sea Fresh was a good place for us to land.
First off, after an afternoon of running around, I wasn’t quite prepared to have to stand in line looking at a chalkboard of food offerings. Being waited on has its finer points. Also, I was getting a little frustrated that I couldn’t find any mention on the menu of the sashimi salad that I saw in the photos on Sea Fresh’s website. It’s a fine looking salad — you should check it out for yourself. We did resolve one of the more frustrating issues by grabbing a seat at the bar, where the bartender quickly attended to us, giving us menus and our drinks in a snap.
Bowl of clam chowder • Photo by: T. Christian Gapen
Were our appetites bigger than our stomachs? The answer is yes but how were we to know. As we were scoping out the menu, we opted to share a bowl of the clam chowder. Next, we chose the boat of bullets and to split the blackened cod sandwich with a side salad from the salad bar.
When the bowl of clam chowder came, I was famished and almost greedily hungry. It wasn’t because the food took too long, but being hungry in general plus a bowl of thick, creamy, heartwarming clam chowder had me hovering over it like a starving animal. It was slightly embarrassing and I knew I had to leave room for the other dishes, but I would highly recommend not sharing a bowl. The combination of hearty chunks of celery, mild herbs, chewy bits of clam, soft chunks of potato and just the overall warm comfort food feel was well executed and could really serve as a meal by itself — for one.
So, the boat of bullets. Have any guesses to what that may be? Interesting name to be certain. The boat of bullets includes two thick, monster-size jalapeños filled with cream cheese, ahi tuna and pineapple, lightly battered — similar to or the same as tempura-style — and deep fried. The result is a crunchy, spicy, rich and creamy appetizer. While I would order this dish again (given I love all things spicy and creamy), the ahi tuna and pineapple got lost in the mix. The jalapeños are just so dense and the cream cheese is just so . . . creamy . . . that the sweetness of the pineapple and the delicacy of the tuna couldn’t compete, which is unfortunate because the combination of ingredients seemed complimentary.
Boat of bullets • Photo by: T. Christian Gapen
As we waited for our sandwich, I took the small bowl to the one-trip salad bar (the glass hood over the salad bar has an actual label that reads “one trip”) and crammed whatever I could get in there. The salad bar is nothing fancy. Romaine lettuce, cherry tomatoes, sliced cucumbers and beets, sunflower seeds, etc., with the usual suspects for salad dressing options. I didn’t think it was possible to cram a whole meal into one bowl but apparently, I am a very skilled packer (I did have a part-time job in college moving houses). By the time the sandwich came, I was just about ready for a nap. About the salad bar, sufficient sums it up.
Photo by: T. Christian Gapen
Last but not least, the cod sandwich. I realize that I may not be able to give the fish a fair shake, given I was already pretty stuffed. The sandwich was simply prepared with red onion, tomato, lettuce on a sesame bun, allowing the fish to speak for itself. Mind you, cod is a white fish that doesn’t really pack a lot of flavor. It was cooked just right where it was able to hold together as we ate it, but flakey enough that we could take little bits to get the full flavor. As far as the blackened aspect — I thought it was supposed to be spicy. I really couldn’t detect much in the spicy department, but I also have 20 bottles of hot sauce in my house. Recommendation: tell the cooks to kick it up two notches if you want it to bite you back.
To end this review, I will refer you back to the beginning. It’s worth the trip and the Channel Islands Harbor has treasured spots that shouldn’t be overlooked; Sea Fresh is one of them. And the happy hour looks pretty good, too, plus the interesting people who spend their time working in the harbor are what make Sea Fresh special.