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A focus on fresh fish

Try Valencia’s Fish Tail Seafood Market & Grill

Posted: March 11, 2010 5:17 p.m.
Updated: March 12, 2010 6:04 a.m.

Ruby red chunks of ahi tuna in the poke bowl ($12.95).

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Santa Clarita Valley seafood lovers, take note. There's a new fish-focused restaurant in town and it's good. No, make that great.
Opened in November, 2009, Fish Tail Seafood Market & Grill has already gathered a loyal following with a combination of reasonable prices, relaxed yet classy décor, and above all, the freshest fish prepared in simple, delicious ways that really let it shine.

Take the ahi poke bowl ($12.95). It's almost too pretty to eat, with a generous mound of glistening, ruby-red jewels of tuna nestled amidst colorful, finely shredded carrots, ginger slices, and a tangle of mild Hawaiian wakame seaweed on a bed of rice, then topped with edamame. The texture of the ahi is silky and smooth, the hint of smoky sesame oil pairing perfect with an acidic hit from the flavorful citrus vinaigrette. It's like the best spicy tuna hand roll ever, turned inside out in a bowl.

Fish Tail's kitchen has a deft hand with the fryer, too, as evident by their unique fish and chips ($6.95). The tubular fish pieces have a golden, crunchy exterior that gives way to the incredibly moist and mild whitefish within, the tempura batter a delicate touch that's miles away from clunky pub versions of this English staple.

"Seafood has always been my passion. I call this Pacific Rim cuisine. I take cuisines from countries around the Pacific Ocean and combine them together," said owner Min Han. "I felt that the Santa Clarita Valley needed a place like this, that the only seafood places we could go to out here were sushi joints and we're just oversaturated with them. I wanted to do something different."

Han, a Valencia resident who previously owned restaurants in downtown Los Angeles and La Jolla, personally made a 5 a.m. pilgrimage to L.A. fish markets for two months before opening Fish Tail. He settled on two purveyors who offered the best quality and deliver the fish fresh to the restaurant daily. "Since I spent so much time with them, they automatically give me the best fish. I use both companies to keep them honest and to make sure we always have a backup," Han said.

Listed on a board above a live tank and gleaming glass case featuring various delicacies of the sea, Fish Tail's offerings are basic beach shack staples prepared with a Japanese flair. Customers can order their favorite fish, such as salmon or Chilean sea bass, as a sandwich, salad, or plate, with prices ranging from $7.95 to $15.95.

The bass is a revelation, basic but fantastic with its slight char from the grill, atop a bed of red pepper and zucchini ribbons, served with a mountain of sticky sushi rice and a green salad. The flesh is tender, a drizzle of rich white sauce adding to the taste party, but dip it into the citrus vinaigrette and the dish becomes an over-the-top "wow" at just $15.95, as good or better than most fish house efforts at twice the price.

"Everything's going through tough times right now. They shouldn't have to pay arm and leg for good quality seafood. I feel like I could give back a little bit to the community by pricing our dishes as low as I can while still being able to operate a business," Han said. "Since it's a family business, it's fairly low overhead."

Alex Rush, Han's half-brother, helps manage Fish Tail and the family presence doesn't end there. Most of the restaurant's marinades and dressings were created by their mother, a revered home cook, who also provided the recipe for the New England-style clam chowder ($3.95 cup/$5.95 bowl) that's the new SCV standard-bearer - rich and creamy from milk, not flour, with just the right ratio of bacon, and tender clams and potatoes.

Han and Rush grew up in San Diego and their childhood experiences camping around Rosarito Beach and Puerto Neuvo in Mexico shaped their culinary tastes, according to Han.

"That's where I learned to really enjoy seafood. It definitely influenced me in my style of cooking and the relaxed feel I wanted to recreate," Han said. "My family and I put in every single nail in this place, which we're very proud of."

Fish Tail has a cozy ambience, with warm wood floors and tables and chairs, a seven-person counter where customers can watch the cooking action, and bright red and warm gold walls. Contemporary rock plays overhead, while ESPN plays in one corner and the Food Network in the other.

Several stuffed fish watch over the proceedings, one atop a list of Chef's Specials that can range from shrimp and chips ($11.95) to steamed mussels and fries ($14.95). It's a fun, accommodating place, whether you're on a date, having a business lunch, or taking out the family. And this is part of the reason for the restaurant's increasing popularity.

"This community, I am just dumbfounded over how supportive they are. Since we opened, it's all been word of mouth, and we're already up to our neck with customers. My mission statement was to put out quality, fresh, tasteful seafood, and the customers have really embraced it," Han said.

Fish Tail Seafood Market & Grill is located at 28104 Newhall Ranch Road, Valencia; (661) 295-3474. It is open daily from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Beer and wine are available.


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