Fishing with Dynamite may be a jewel box of a seafood restaurant in a not-as-sleepy-as-it-used-to-be surf town, but when you wander in from the blinding Manhattan Beach, California, sun, the first thing you'll notice is that it's not a "seafood shack" by any stretch of the imagination.
Chef/owner David LeFevre's treatment of fish is deliberate and attentive, marrying East Coast classics with the West Coast's bro-don't-kill-my-vibe vibe. It's a theme that runs through the chatty service and the restaurant's cheery, almost twee design: Everything from the "Yes, We're in Love" and "Don't Give Up the Ship" signs on the walls to the cheekily illustrated paper on which the fish tacos are served was selected with a mindful—albeit playful—eye.
And about those fish tacos (see the recipe): Fish tacos are practically required on SoCal seafood restaurant menus. For one, they're delicious, and the proximity to their reputed birthplace of Baja California doesn't hurt either—but LeFevre's are something special, layering unexpected flavors, freshness and crunch into every bite. It's California innovation meets simple technique, bundled up in a guacamole-slathered package.
Lefevre recently came by our Test Kitchen to show us how they're done: His tacos start with the restaurant's house-made corn tortillas, which are warmed, buttered and salted before getting smeared with guac. But here's where things get weird: The next thing to go on is a sprinkling of mint leaves.
"We went with mint, because we wanted to add herbaceousness," LeFevre explains.
Up next is the fish: LeFevre typically uses yellowtail or cod, which is seasoned and given a quick dip in a light beer batter made with all-purpose and rice flours (essential to give the fish "a nice, crunchy texture"). He fries the fish in canola oil, constantly flipping it with a spider so it cooks evenly, and douses the finished pieces with salt.
Once the fried fish is nestled into the tortilla, LeFevre drizzles it with another surprise ingredient: harissa-spiked crema. Yes, that would be hot chile pepper paste that's typically used in Middle Eastern cooking. LeFevre explains, "The spices are similar to some Mexican salsas."
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Garnishes appear in the form of crisp red cabbage and more traditional salsa verde and cilantro leaves. The proverbial cherry on top? A smattering of house-made chicharrones, which add crunch and salt to the already flavor-packed packet.
"The fish tacos really reflect what we do: We like food with texture and pop," LeFevre says of his multidimensional take on the dish.
We were lucky enough to eat LeFevre's fish tacos at Fishing with Dynamite itself, gazing out its windows at the Pacific Ocean (yes, you can see the water from the restaurant). We squeezed on a little lime before we dove in: Each bite was an explosion of butter; soft tortilla; cool guac; crisp fish; rich crema; and ethereal, porky chicharrones.
One bite and we can almost see the waves again. Almost.
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