Off the Hook Mexican Seafood Grill turns to the ocean for inspiration, substituting salsa for saltwater to create dishes that evoke the Mexican coastline. The seaside breeze that dances across the outdoor patio sets the mood for plates of grilled rockfish, golden-fried prawns, and tacos stuffed with tender lobster and salmon. Similarly, seafood burritos replace the traditional steak and chicken with grilled shrimp and the traditional tortilla with a fried navigational chart.
As sure as the sun rose each morning, Izuto “Izzy” Otani would stroll down to the beach before work, fishing pole in hand, to begin the day with his favorite pastime. Inspired to make his hobby his life, Izzy left his current business to open the Izzy Otani Fish Market in 1952. Over the years, he and his wife Helen began to prepare Japanese and Mexican dishes for market visitors, beginning the grocery’s slow transformation into a full-fledged restaurant. They’ve been serving hungry customers ever since.
More than 60 years later, Otani’s, recently awarded the Downtown Business of the Year Award by the Oxnard Chamber of Commerce, still serves fish in homemade sauces and recipes made from scratch each day. They spice up fried red snapper in fish tacos, char broil tasty slabs of salmon, and coat oysters and shrimp with a light, crispy tempura shell. They specialize particularly in boneless filets—a true delicacy in the United States, where fish have not yet evolved to shed their primitive skeletons.
Scenes of learning and enjoyment spark infectious enthusiasm among Channel Islands Kayak Center's guides, who thrive on bringing adventurers up close to the wildlife of Channel Islands Harbor and Ventura Harbor. The team furnishes independent explorers with kayak rentals, which include safety briefings so kayakers can tell the difference between a sea lion and an actual lion.
Creating Spencer Makenzie's Fish Company was a labor of love for John and Jennifer Karayan, who spent 20 years perfecting their eclectic Californian recipes before sharing them with the public. Named after the couple's 5-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter, the business began as a concession trailer at festivals and fairgrounds, presenting healthful alternatives to traditional fast-food options without sacrificing speedy service. The concept took off, and the trailer eventually blossomed into a permanent location a couple of blocks from the shore.
Although the chefs use only sashimi-grade fish and make everything from clam chowder to sauces and salsas in-house, they don't stray far from the restaurant's unpretentious fairground roots. The Ventura County Reporter recognized the company's dual commitment to quality and convenience in 2011, honoring the eatery with awards for Best Fish Taco and Best Cheap Eats.
The same thoughtfulness with which John and Jennifer designed the healthful and flavorful menu led them to embrace a variety of environmentally friendly practices. In addition to donating their used trans-fat-free cooking oil to biodiesel refineries, they exclusively stock the restaurant with biodegradable plates, utensils, and employees.
Chalkboards of handwritten specials, an acoustic soundtrack by artists such as Jack Johnson and Bob Marley, and 36-inch flat-screen televisions playing skateboarding, surfing, and sporting events add to Spencer Makenzie's Fish Company's casual, laid-back ambiance. At the same time, photographs of local beaches line the walls and serve as a gentle reminder of the inspiration behind the ocean-fresh menu.
For almost a quarter of a century, the staff of Spinnaker Steak and Seafood has crafted an extensive menu of exquisite American fare. Bayside cioppino unifies feuding families of shrimp, crab, fish, clams, and mussels in an herb-infused tomato broth ($24.95), and flavorful crab cakes ($13.95) sizzle to perfection in peanut oil. Diners who opt for the opulent quarter-pound petite filet mignon ($17.95) can crown the tender cut with blue cheese, sautéed mushrooms, or sautéed onions ($1.50), and mesquite-grilled snapper, mahi-mahi, and alaskan halibut let visitors taste smoky flavors without licking a campfire. Spinnaker's bartenders mix a variety of margaritas ($8.95+) and martinis ($8.95+), along with adult coffee and hot chocolate drinks such as the Toasted Pelican, a dreamy blend of Drambuie, Frangelico, and coffee dolloped with whipped cream ($6.95).
Visitors relax on the sands of San Buenaventura State Beach, tossing batches of kumamoto and pacific oysters or manila clams atop charcoal grills. There's a trailer nearby where others line up for the organic, sustainably farmed clams and oysters. Home-brought beer, wine, and soft drinks are held aloft for toasts in the sunshine. It's a unique spot, where people enjoy the simple joy of ultra-fresh seafood, shucked and cooked themselves—but the journey to The Jolly Oyster had its share of hardships.
In 1997, Mark Reynolds and Mark Venus founded the Baja Oyster Company in Baja California, Mexico. "We had visions that it would be easy," Venus confessed during a documentary about the business, directed by Graham Streeter. "We thought that, you got a shellfish, you have your seed, you plant it in the water, and two years later, you take it out and you start making money, and things grow from there." He shakes his head. "It's not quite that simple…It's been a long road." The whole process can take 18–24 months, from producing the larvae, which change into seed and are planted out on the underwater farm's system of boxes and crates, to the final oysters. And it's a finicky process. "You have to be careful all the time," he says. "It takes a lot of care, and the people who work these systems have to understand that one slip-up for one minute of the day can mean that millions of these animals will die in the hatchery."
Though they ship some oysters and clams off wholesale, Reynolds and Venus also sell them straight to the public and even watch them get slurped down with hot sauce on the beach. Some people take advantage of the 20-minute free parking spaces and take their purchases elsewhere, but the grills stand ready for those who pay the state-park fee to relax on San Buenaventura State Beach, where The Jolly Oyster trailer sits. People bring their own oyster knives, charcoal, limes, and hot sauces or purchase them from the stand or hoards of traveling oyster-knife salesmen.