The Cuisine Scene

Brenda Hill

Fisherman's Market Grill
Banning, CA

My good friend Sheila, who is also my son’s mother in law, is moving to northern California, so I wanted to take her to dinner before she left.

I’m sure she’ll return to visit the area, as not only her daughter and grandson live in the Beaumont/Banning area, but her son lives near Huntington Beach.

But it won’t be the same. No matter how friends say they’ll keep in touch, we sometimes drift apart. I, for one, am just as guilty as everyone else of letting daily life get in the way.

So I wanted Sheila’s dinner to be special.

I’d heard from a couple of sources about the new Fisherman’s Market Grill that recently opened in Banning, on Ramsey just off 22nd Street. The old Taco Bell location, I heard. Fresh fish brought in daily, they said, and quite a selection.

I went online, and while the new location in Banning wasn’t listed, the one in Palm Springs was, and they’d been voted Number One Seafood Restaurant in the Valley. While I’m aware that ‘good’ is according to individual taste, I browsed the online menu and discovered such treats as calamari strips, swordfish, and Sheila’s favorite, crab cakes, as well as fish tacos, made from charbroiled swordfish, and even langostino lobster tacos. Then, everything else on the page faded as I zeroed in on my absolute favorite—oysters.

That did it. For me, it was like the scramble at the fire house when the alarm bell clangs. I called Sheila, grabbed my keys, and barely giving her enough time to close the car door, off headed for Banning.

Now Sheila and I love seafood, and together we’ve hit almost every place around that serves it. Some, like Red Lobster, we return to time and again, while others we pass right on by. Sheila is wonderful to take, because not only does she enjoy the food, but she loves the companionship, whether it’s with me or another of her friends. If something’s not quite to her liking, that’s okay. She enjoys the outing.

I wish I could say that, but I while I may enjoy the outing, which I usually do, I notice the food. I notice and feel disappointed if the baked potato is old and grainy, or if the bacon on the BLT  is too scimpy or fatty. I love it when the salad dressing is freshly made instead of bottled, and so on. If everything isn’t to my liking, I can still return to the restaurant if I’ve found something I like.

On the way to Fisherman’s, I was eagerly anticipating fresh seafood and had no thought I wouldn’t like what I found. And that day I went as a customer and didn’t take my camera and notebook. The day was for Sheila.

I’d heard that the small restaurant was busy, even had a line running out the door around 6:00pm several days in a row, so we went about 4:00pm.

There was no line, but most every table in the small restaurant was full. I spotted someone leaving one of the two booths, so I waited while the staff cleaned the table and placed my sunglasses on top and stepped back in line to order.

Trying not to be disappointed that a place that had such high praise took orders at the front just like a fast-food place, I scanned the chalkboard specials and saw good things, such as charbroiled halibut, swordfish, charbroiled and/or stuffed salmon, clams and mussels over linguini, seabass, a crabcake dinner and so on. Wow. I was impressed, and I was glad as I certainly wasn’t with the actual restaurant.

About the size of a Taco Bell, the dining area was small and the several little tables and chairs looked very uncomfortable, but there were two booths next to the order line. They do have a patio outside, so in nice weather, that could help.

So, still with an open mind, I waited in line for my turn to order. Sheila ordered the charbroiled salmon and I ordered the fried oysters as an appetizer for $8.95, and the fisherman’s boat for dinner. At $13.95, the dinner includes cod, Baja shrimp, clams & scallops, Cole slaw and choice of chips or rice pilaf. A decent price, I thought. We were given a number and plastic cups for the drink dispenser on the side.

The oysters arrived first, and by that time, the line had grown longer and the restaurant noisier. I began to feel that little tightening, as if I were in a crowded fast-food restaurant and shouldn’t linger so other people would have a chance at seating.

The oysters were a little bigger than I expected, so that was a nice surprise, and they tasted absolutely wonderful. The breading seemed a little thick, not as light as I felt it should be for the delicate oysters. Papaya Bay in Yucaipa and Thai Chili in Calimesa has such a light and crunchy batter for their appetizers that in comparison, I was disappointed. However, that didn’t stop me from eating all of the order, except for the one that Sheila pried out of my hand to try.

Then our dinners arrived. My plate was full so it looked like I got a lot for my money. However, it was a normal-sized plate and with all four types of seafood plus the slaw, I’d expected a platter. Sheila’s plate of fries, Cole slaw and salmon looked okay. I thought her serving of cut salmon pieces was a little skimpy, but she seemed happy. She took a bite and pronounced it very good. The garlic bread was extra.

The breading on my seafood combo and fries was dark and heavy, and I’ve always liked the lighter colors. For some reason, the lighter colors, whether it’s fried chicken, fish, or fries, always tastes better. Then I learned from John Lefakis at John’s Philly Steak here in Yucaipa, that fried foods come out darker when restaurants fail to change their oils often enough.

The clams looked like squiggly toothpicks, so I first bit into one of them. I’ve found I like the odd shapes of some foods. A homemade cake will often be a little lumpy, but to me it tastes better than a perfect bakery cake. My cupcakes, no matter what I do, will sometimes be flat or split on top, but I just pile frosting on top and they taste darn good. So odd shapes signal something was given personal treatment instead of coming off an assembly line. I found the clams okay, but they had been fried too long and were too tough. The shrimp and fish, ‘Deep water Icelandic cod’ the menu stated, was again, okay. The slaw wasn’t too vinegary or too sweet, so I liked that. Then I looked for the scallops, a dish I love almost as much as oysters, and I didn’t see them. When one of the servers passed our booth, I called him over and told him they’d forgotten the scallops. He apologized and went for help. Then the owner/manager, a very nice young man, came over and I moved the pieces of seafood aside to show him there were no scallops.

“There they are,” he said in a polite tone.

“Where?” I asked, still looking. I saw a couple of little round things, which I’d assumed were drippings from the batter. I pointed to one as a joke, as it looked about the size of a pencil eraser. “This?” I asked.

He nodded. “They’re bay scallops,” he told me. “There are ten of them.” 

I was so astonished that for once, I was speechless. I couldn’t believe any restaurant would pass those dots off as scallops. Looking again, I didn’t find ten of those tiny things, but I mumbled an okay and he left.

I finished most of the seafood and left the fries, something I usually love, but by now they were tough. Still full from the oysters, I didn’t feel deprived. Sheila left her fries as well. I love crispy, crunchy fries, but they're hard to find.

Since that day, I’ve heard from other friends that the Fisherman’s crab salad is very good, and the charbroiled scallops from the chalkboard specials, or the jumbo scallops from the lighter, healthier menu are entirely different from my experience, so I thought I’d go back and give the place another try. Something must really be wrong for me to have such a negative reaction when everyone else seems to love it. But I honestly have no desire to return. I may be missing out on some good seafood, but I’d much rather wait and add a few more dollars and go to Yamazato of Japan on Hospitality Lane in San Bernardino for their huge scallops prepared with a show of knives by the chef at their grill table, or take a drive to the Agua Caliente Casino in Rancho Mirage for their fabulous seafood buffet on Friday evenings. Either one is well-worth the trip.

Fisherman’s Market Grill
2271 W. Ramsey Street
Banning, CA
11am-9pm Monday-Saturday
Sunday 12pm-9pm