Tide after tide
Cameron’s Seafood remains Pasadena’s freshest catch
By Dan O'Heron 07/28/2011
Tasting an opah fish filet that smacked of a cut of meat at Cameron’s Seafood, I nearly exclaimed, “shiver me timbers” — sailor lingo for “holy cow.” What should that mean to you? To me, it means that after 27 years in business, Cameron’s slogan, “Our Fish Come from the Best Schools,” continues to be more than a simple device for getting attention. My meal was a good case in point. Hooking opah in the warm waters around Hawaii in summer brings the fine textured flesh of a distinctly rich-flavored fish to customers at just the right time.
“School” cheerleaders tell me that it’s this seasonal freshness and regional selectivity that put Cameron’s in the ruling class of seafood restaurants in the San Gabriel Valley. Its many wins over the years in “Best of Pasadena” surveys among our readers certainly support this claim.
According to Pete Gallanis, owner and partner with his sister Bessie, it’s not only SONAR that locates the right schools, but more “the keen eyes of my seven brokers and distributors, and the cross-checking that we do.” From bid sheets emailed daily from each supplier, Gallanis says he compares “regions and seasons and, of course, prices.”
On a typical early morning on the docks, brokers with big rubber boots on their feet are seen tromping around looking for whole fish with bright, clear eyes, tight, shiny scales and moist, pink gills. In freshly cut steaks and filets, they look for shimmering surfaces on tightly connected flesh that springs back when pressed.
“When the fish arrive, we double-check everything,” said Gallanis. The “we” often includes Bessie, a former inspector for the Los Angeles County Department of Health who now serves a quality assurance director for Starbucks.
“From our solid relationship with suppliers,” said Gallanis, “we are able to get fish, like these days, fresh halibut.” A prized fish must be cooked in a fine kettle. Or — in the case of a wild Alaskan halibut or a halibut and salmon kebab — grilled over mesquite coals. Yet, these days in the kitchen of Chef Luis A. Diaz, the most prized halibut is baked and crusted with macadamia nuts.
Before joining Cameron’s, Diaz spent several years with McCormick & Schmick’s, often opening new locations. His resume also includes a stint at Ruth’s Chris Steak House, which may help account for the popularity of three beef steaks now served here.
I got started on a Diaz halibut run with an appetizer of raw halibut cubes marinated in the shallows of a zesty, cold vinaigrette salsa. Cold appetizers, with international flavors, range from $9 to $13 and include littleneck clams from Florida’s Snake River, Virginia’s Blue Point Oysters, a Mexican jumbo shrimp cocktail, a Hawaiian ahi (yellow fin) poke, and a mixed seafood platter featuring New Zealand mussels.
More than a dozen hot appetizers, from $7 for steamed asparagus to $15 for pan-sautéed halibut fish tacos, include famous clam chowder and one of my all-time favorites, au gratin potatoes.
It would take Jules Verne to fathom the depths of the complete Gallanis/Diaz menu. There are at least two-dozen mesquite grilled items from $11 to $23, including Chilean white sea bass and wild Costa Rican mahi mahi. There are 10 items from the fryer, including several that are panko breadcrumbed, plus a bevy of seafood salads and pan-crusted baked dishes ($5 to $15). And, of course, there are fresh daily specials like almond-crusted trout.
Any day now, the hot, seasonal item — Alaska’s wild troll Chinook salmon — will appear on the menu. To keep up with the currents of the seasons, said Gallanis, “We print up a new menu every day from recycled paper.”
Tide-after-tide freshness and variety like this is very tempting. In meals following the delicious opah, I became live bait for several specialties, including Oysters Rockefeller. Fit for John D. himself, the freshly shucked bi-valve mollusks are returned to the shell with spinach and intense Romano then breaded and baked atop a gritty bed of rock salt.
As delectable as the opah is, there’s also a $16 baked sole, pan-crusted with rich, sharp Parmesan and panko-style breadcrumbs.
Separate from the main dining room, a large cocktail bar pro-vides a merry milieu while pouring from a seafood-marriageable wine list that features a dozen Chardonnay glasses ranging in price from $5 to $12 and fruit descriptors that include apple, lemon, melon and pineapple. However, to partner applewood bacon-wrapped, skewered scallops, I’d choose the more elegant Sauvignon Blanc.