417 Carlsbad Village Drive, Carlsbad
(Has gone out of business since this article was published.)
Sometimes it feels like I photograph fish tacos for a living. I review a lot of fish tacos because I eat a lot of them — because San Diego produces a lot of them. But that wasn't my intent when I walked into Carlsbad's Fish House Vera Cruz for lunch.
I assumed it'd be the sort of place I could walk in, scope the fish available that day through a glass counter, and order a plate of something grilled fresh. Actually, I wasn't too far off.
One difference between this and similar places like Blue Water or the PB Fish Shop is that it offers table service rather than having you order at the counter. A pretty comfy dining room actually, with tasteful, seafaring decorative touches. That I like.
The other big difference is the price. I scanned the menu — a beautiful thing bound in an etched wood cover — and noticed that most of the grilled plates ranged in price from 17 to 22 dollars. "Excuse me," I said to my waitress, "I'd actually like to order from the lunch menu."
"That is the lunch menu."
Well, I didn't have a twenty to spend on lunch and tip, so I scanned for cheaper items. There were no sandwiches, but there were fish tacos; a pair for about 9 bucks, your choice of fish. Now we're talking.
A couple of cuts had caught my eye on the way in. The Alaskan halibut looked good, but had been frozen for shipping. The smoked albacore really got my mouth watering, but how would that handle the preparation, which the menu described as lightly breaded and fried?
I settled on the tombo, because it looked fresh, pink and firm, and it's rarely on the menu at taco shops. Once my order went in, the waitress returned with bread, a fresh-from-the-oven sourdough with whipped butter. Pretty fantastic, and it made me excited for seafood.
My tacos arrived looking OB style — topped by grated cheese, pico, cabbage and white sauce (here, it's a blend of sour cream and yogurt). A wedge of avocado added a splash of green to each. The corn tortillas were pretty flat, but doubled up, which is an acceptable way to ensure they stay together while eating.
The fish was pretty good, though it may have been better with a few seconds less cooking time. The toppings were somewhat bland, so I doused everything in the provided Cholula hot sauce (which I'd probably have done anyway, to be fair).
Looking around, it occurred to me that I was the youngest diner in the place by a good 20 years at least. Hate to say it, but erring on the side of bland might be the best cooking strategy for this clientele, who is apparently willing to spend a little more on lunch than I am, and probably expects a little something different than I do from a fish taco. After all, I was the only one there taking a picture of his food.