On the first episode of the last season of the Real Housewives of Orange County (yes, I watch it, shut up), one of the ladies threw a New England-style clambake to get all the women together to start fighting. The hostess—a pinched-looking creature who is married to a successful Orange County plastic surgeon—called the event a clambake, but it was really a lobster boil. I was under the impression that a clambake involved digging a hole, burying some clams with hot coals, and then unearthing the whole thing later on. The centerpiece of this Newport Beach party was instead an awe-inducing spread of beautiful, enormous lobsters. Clambake? I think, “Eh, will I get sand in my teeth?” Lobsterbake? I’m in every time. Even if it means chowing down amidst shrieking harpies with immobile faces.
I was quite amused, then, to see that the housewife procured her lobsters and clams from none other than Santa Monica Seafood, a fish market located in Costa Mesa that I also happen frequent for my own piscivore yearnings. Santa Monica Seafood was one of the first places I found in Orange County that truly blew me away – coming from a landlocked state, this kind of fresh fish market is just mind-boggling. It’s pricey, of course, but everything they sell is positively gorgeous. Moreover, Santa Monica Seafood supplies all of the high-end surf and turf restaurants in Newport Beach, so I like to rationalize that while it may be spendy, I’m getting the same damn salmon as the Housewives and their “entrepreneur” husbands get at Mastro’s. And mine is always perfectly cooked.
Seriously, though, Santa Monica Seafood is particularly great if you are looking for locally-caught, responsibly-sourced fish in Southern California. I particularly like picking up California halibut or Carlsbad mussels for easy, economical fish dinners. If we’re feeling a little more decadent, I’ll get a dozen oysters for a weekend lunch – Santa Monica usually has a great selection of Fanny Bay, Malpeque, Kumamoto, and Coromandel oysters on hand at about a buck fifty a pop (sometimes less). As you know, B is our resident shucker and an excellent one at that, but the fishmongers at Santa Monica will do your shucking for you if you are weak-willed. And none of this business of bringing home a bag of shellfish only to discover that half of them perished before you even leave the store. These fishmongers are pros, tapping each and every shell to make sure your entire purchase is alive when it comes to dinnertime. I literally once watched one guy methodically tap through nearly five pounds of mussels I bought for a party. At only five bucks a pound, it wasn’t a particularly big purchase, especially not in an area where Real Housewives have Tuesday night lobster bakes. But Santa Monica Seafood has wonderful customer service for even the unnipped, untucked population, and it’s a pleasure to shop there.
And look, as I’m sure my regular readers may remember, we are also occasionally of the homarine persuasion. As has become our tradition, B makes a show of his love for me each Valentine’s Day by brutally murdering a lobster (sometimes two). In recent years, we’ve discovered that I am a far more coldblooded executioner of crustaceans than my kind-hearted husband, so now I’m usually in charge of the grisly part. The last two Februaries we have gone to Santa Monica Seafood mid-afternoon to pick out two big fellas (I like to choose the meanest-looking ones). With our new friends clanging around in a cooler, we stop at Hi-Times to pick up a nice bottle of Sancerre. Then we head home, boil up a big pot of onions and fennel, and send those lobsters to the great hereafter. After the most decadent of meals (two lobsters, drawn butter, and a smidge of Old Bay), we get to work frying up the shells along with shallots, carrots, celery, peppercorns, and bay leaves to make an enormous pot of lobster stock. We freeze most of it for bouillabaisse and cioppino, but I always do end up getting my bisque fix a few days after Valentine’s. If you’re interested, let me know and I’ll post B’s recipe. It’s so tasty that it would make even a Housewife jealous.