Folks in Laguna Beach and Newport Coast won't have to journey to the Balboa Peninsula anymore to get their sensational, fresh fish tacos from Bear Flag Fish Co.
This casual restaurant and seafood market has opened a location in the Crystal Cove Promenade. Just like the original, it's been packed since the day it opened.
Owners Thomas and Erika Carson created the company based on "the love of the ocean and, most of all, the love and knowledge of fresh seafood."
Thomas, a Newport native, grew up working on his dad's fishing boat called Bear Flag.
"We are a fish market for the new generation, providing a modern ambience and focusing on healthy seafood cuisine."
The new location exemplifies this concept. The high, vaulted, bright white ceiling has several giant fish sculptures and a whale suspended in mid-air.
Very tasteful ocean-themed art adorns the walls along with a large TV screen showing surfer movies. There is a deli case filled with smoked fish, seafood salads and other appetizers sold by the pound, as well as a display case featuring the daily fresh fish and seafood selections to take home.
Bear Flag does a busy takeout business, but they also have indoor seating at four long communal tables and four stools at the bar. Outside, under the portico, are more tables that have an ocean view beyond the parking lot.
To begin our seafood feast, we chose several cold salads from the deli case, where everything is priced by the pound. We chose a quarter-pound of four different items to get a nice sampling.
Our favorite by far was the delicious calamari salad. Thin slices of the seafood were marinated and mixed with sesame seeds, a touch of sugar, some crunchy slivers of house pickled zucchini, a smidgen of seaweed and a subtle hint of spice at the finish.
The good-sized cubes of tuna in the ahi poke were mostly very tender, with an occasional tough piece. It was tossed in an oil and soy dressing with sesame seeds and, again, a bit of perk from the zucchini pickle, though it needed a bit more zip.
The bright green seaweed salad in the Japanese style was sweet and sour and a bit spicy, with a nice crunch and just a lingering taste of the sea.
Even though the ceviche included little bits of red chili, yellow and red bells, onions and even some of those pickles, they were in such short supply that the dish was just one note — lime juice. The very mild fish, basa, couldn't stand on its own.
It's really nice to find a cioppino that has veggies and fish added at the end of the cooking so that the vegetables remain crunchy and the fish is not overcooked, especially when they come in a very pleasant, fresh-tasting tomato broth.
Tacos are the big draw here — and rightly so.
The lightly panko-crusted fish is grilled. There are no fryers on site. It is served with basa, but, for an extra charge, you can substitute several other fish if you choose.
However, we found the generous portion of moist basa to be just fine, especially when the very good and soft tortillas are crammed full of pico de gallo, shredded cabbage and Tommy sauce, a flavorful combination of mayonnaise, lemon and hot sauce that adds a creamy kick.
Not spicy enough for you? Take your choice of the array of hot sauces at the end of the table.
There are four types of fish to choose from for the grilled fish entrée. We opted for the recommended ono, a very firm, fleshed, flaky whitefish. It was flavorful though a bit overcooked. It comes with brown or white rice and an amazing medley of perfectly cooked fresh vegetables and Tommy sauce. It was flavorful and healthy too.
We'll definitely be back for those tacos and to try the smoked fish, burritos and fish sandwiches.