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The Gossiping Gourmet:

Duke’s puts ’em up with fantastic fish

February 25, 2010|By Elle Harrow and Terry Markowitz

Duke’s restaurant is an institution in Huntington Beach, named in honor of Duke Kahanamoku, the father of international surfing. The décor of this beachfront dining establishment is tasteful Hawaiian with high ceilings, lots of wood, indoor plants everywhere and surfboards instead of artwork on the walls. An outrigger canoe hangs from the rafters. However, the single most dramatic element is the wall of windows facing the ocean. Besides the three dining areas, there is a straw-roofed tiki bar with indoor and outdoor seating adjacent to the pier. This is the place to take out-of-towners for a taste of life in Surf City, but locals have also been coming here for years to enjoy the tasty Hawaiian fusion cuisine, currently prepared by chef Matt Perez.

Crispy, warm sourdough rolls ward off hunger while you make your selections from the predominantly fish and seafood menu. Chunks of very good flash-seared tuna appear in the poke rolls, wrapped in wonton skins and served on a mustardy, lemon beurre blanc sauce, a felicitous combination.

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Deep-fried spring rolls are filled with a delicious clay-pot-cooked chicken combined with cabbage, carrot shreds and scallions. The filling was unusually good and in a goodly amount for a spring roll; however, the crunchy wrapper had been fried in overused oil, which left an unpleasant aftertaste. A sweet and sour, slightly spicy dipping sauce accompanied the rolls.

Duke’s specializes in fish selections from Hawaii, which change daily, chosen according to seasonal availability and sustainability. There are six preparations available, and each is available with any fish. Duke’s style is baked in garlic with lemon sweet basil glaze, while Lilikoi is seared with lemongrass and served with a passion fruit sweet and sour sauce. Seven-spice, which is recommended for ahi, consists of a spice rub and comes with papaya hot mustard sauce. For salmon, they suggest hoisin barbecue sauce with sesame glaze, hibachi grilled and served over udon noodles.

The opah, a classic medium-dense Hawaiian fish, has a strong deep-sea flavor. Sautéed with a panko-macadamia nut crust with lemon and capers, this is Duke’s most popular style for any fish. We found it to be too heavily breaded and not crispy enough. However, good marks go to the excellent rice pilaf that came with it, a well-seasoned mixture of white and wild rice with an intriguing flavor.

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