Anthony's Fishette

1360 N. Harbor Drive, Downtown San Diego

(Has gone out of business since this article was published.)

'You're kidding," I say. "This tourist trap?" "Look, we're here, and we've got a parking spot," says Carla.

True. We found a spot for this car that we're using while our neighbor Linda's back in Virginia. This is down on the Embarcadero with -- is that three? -- cruise ships in, and bay-tour boats crowding out the place, and turistas ashore roller-skating among more passengers arriving in cars to board their floating palaces.

So, yeah, we're lucky, but the place Carla wants to eat at, man. I can see this lunch is gonna be nothing but flapping paper plates and freezing fries.

Whatever, Carla heads for the yellow umbrellas and orange tables of Anthony's Fishette, the, like, poor relation of Anthony's Grotto and Star of the Sea, right next door. The funny thing is, with its bright outside tables and classy wooden shingle-covered arches and coffee cart and streetside action, the Fishette's the place you're most drawn to. Who wants to go get locked indoors with all these sparkling waters and ships bobbing about?

I follow Carla under the sea-green canopy to the narrow deck that juts out into the harbor. She sits down at a little table beside a smoked-glass arch. There are folks on the other side, paying Grotto prices for the same view. Heh heh.

I get us a couple of menus.

"Hmm," says Carla. "I'm confused."

Turns out she has a Grotto menu, and I have the Fishette. "Okay," I say. "How much for fish and chips inside?"

"Says $11.95."

"Here we can get it for four bucks less, $7.95. Yes!"

"But you get two sides in the Grotto," Carla says. "Coleslaw, veggies, fries, rice, baked potato."

"We get fries with ours."

"You know what you want?"

"Fish and chips. What else? You should, too."

"Bedford! Don't start telling me what to have...oh good. They have clam chowder, $2.95. Let's have chowder for starters. You get the Fisherman style, I'll have the New England. Okay?"

The irony doesn't hit till later. Meantime, Carla riffles through lists of appetizers -- the smoked fish cocktail ($3.95) sounds good -- salads like the Pacific shrimp and crab ($7.50) -- also pretty tempting -- sandwiches (I'd go for the Baja squid steak sandwich, $6.95, or, for price, the albacore tuna salad sandwich, $4.75), fish tacos ($2.95), and "hand-battered treasures" such as catfish strips ($7.50), swordfish nuggets ($7.50), oysters ($8.50), or even crab claws ($14.50). All come with fries.

While Carla riffles, I check out "A Little History" at the bottom of the menu. "The year was 1946. Three of our boys coming back from the war, Roy Weber and the Ghio brothers, Anthony and Tod, couldn't wait to get home and help Catherine 'Mama' Ghio fulfill her lifelong dream: to open a seafood restaurant...Over fifty-nine years later, Anthony's serves more than one million customers and five million pounds of seafood each year."

If that's not a success story, what is?

"I'll have the clams," Carla says, finally. I take off to put in the order.

The good news. The happy ladies in the open kitchen get the food out lickety-split.

The bad news: Outside, you've got to eat it lickety-split if you don't want the breeze to seize it and freeze it.

My "Fisherman's" chowder is great, except it's tomato-based, Manhattan-style. Carla wants to swap, a lucky break for me. "More tang," she says. But I think the New England--style is to die for, a $2.95 meal in itself, with potato, clams, and rich flavor. The fish -- Alaskan cod -- is fresh-tasting and totally scrumbo, once you splot sachets of malt vinegar over it and dunk it in the tartar or cocktail sauce. A good sprinkling of salt helps, too.

Carla's clams are fine, like little squid. Soon I'm helping clear out her polystyrene plate.

Whew. Finished, we sit back, take in the view.

"Just think," Carla says. "Once all this was mud flats. Imagine smugglers landing their goods in the black of night. They did, you know, a hundred years ago. And they say whales used to come and give birth to their calves. Right here."

"Guess that was before the cruise ships," I say.

I notice a yellow ramp going down to a dock. Oh, cool. You can sail over in your yacht, come up, eat, sail off. Sigh. Across the water, on the decks of the cruise ship at the B Street pier, new passengers are starting to appear. "Wonder what they'll be eating tonight?" Carla says wistfully. Seagulls swirl in the air. A young one comes and stands on the brown railing, looking straight at Carla.

"Oh, give him something," she says. I throw him half a fry. He misses. Two dozen other gulls swoop. The young bird caws at Carla. "Try again, darling," she says. "Or let me..."

She leans forward and starts to grab the last of my fish. I trap her hand. "Carla," I say, "I love you, babe, but no gull's gonna have that Alaska cod. That's my catch."

She looks triumphant. "So this 'tourist trap' food ain't so bad after all, huh?"

A guy comes past, heading out to the seaward deck with a big pitcher of beer. God, it looks dee-lish. I ask him how much he paid. "Eleven bucks," he says. "Deal."

Guess Carla sees my tongue hanging out.

"Next time, darling, we'll come by bus."

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