by Michael Sullivan
Sabra Fish Grill
663 Town Center Drive
$2.95-market price

There is something rather alluring about Sabra’s setup at The Collection at RiverPark in Oxnard. One breezy afternoon, my family and I strolled by the cozy patio with oh-so-inviting comfy furniture and accents of a glowing blue on rustic wood inside; I had to take a look at the menu. Similar to other new restaurants in the county, where the patron decides the flavor, entrée and side combination, Sabra’s menu offers patrons a variety of familiar and a few-not-so familiar fish choices, several seasoning options and over a dozen interesting sides. Also, the fact that it is family-operated and one-of-a-kind — there isn’t another Sabra Fish Grill to mention — it was a perfect fit for foodies looking to try the next new thing locally.

On a Friday night, my companion and I decided that we were in the mood for something notably healthier than the standard fried foods that too often appear on dinner menus around the county — grilled fish sounded just right. Sabra Fish Grill offers all things fish, from octopus salad to grilled catfish to mahi mahi tacos, salads, poke and grilled wraps. Ordering before sitting down, we opted for the seared ahi tuna salad to start, grilled barramundi with Peri Peri rub, couscous with spiced vegetables and sweet potato fries, and the popular special, stuffed blackened halibut with grilled vegetables and mashed potatoes. One thing to note, though, when I asked the clerk about my particular choices — barramundi and Peri Peri — the response was vague, including not knowing what exactly barramundi is (Asian sea bass, I later found out) and only that Peri Peri is spicy. Also, the beer selection was less than to be desired, leaving my companion to choose a Dos Equis. There were no craft beer options on site.

As soon as we sat down in our booth, we were greeted by a server who gave us a sampling of fresh and tangy ceviche with small tostada chips. I was, however, distracted by the salsa bar with several kinds of unusual salsas, including spicy chipotle, basil garlic and Santa Maria, plus, my favorite, pickled onions. When I asked the clerk about chips, she only said that they come with the sample of ceviche, which was a little distressing for a salsa addict like myself.

As I was working through sampling the salsas, the ahi arrived, followed quickly by our entrees. The ahi was bright pink, seared just enough to give it a textured crust but warmed the buttery ahi thoroughly, drizzled with a wasabi cream sauce. The bed of spicy arugula and field greens with a sweet vinaigrette was a flavorful complement.

As for our main course, my grilled Asian sea bass choice was soft and flaky, as white fish should be. My cut of barramundi was a thin filet, which I found it difficult to distinguish from other grilled thin cut white fish I have tried before. The Peri Peri rub satisfied my need for heat, though I couldn’t honestly distinguish the spices — perhaps cayenne? The couscous with steamed squash was fine, but I had a particular affinity for the thin, crispy sweet potatoes. Now, my friend’s stuffed halibut left him wishing he had chosen the regular grilled halibut instead. While I can see why people would love the indulgent crab cake-stuffed halibut, doused in a hollandaise-style sauce and topped with sautéed spinach, he had a hard time trying to find the halibut. There was some flaky white fish, but given that halibut has such a lovely, hearty texture when cooked right, it just got lost with all the extras. Also, the slabs of grilled zucchini overwhelmed the plate, though I was happy to give them a fair shake.

Overall, Sabra is a welcome addition to The Collection and the county’s selection of dining options. I would venture to make repeat visits to try and perfect my white -fish palate and give the Fijian opah, mahi mahi, catfish and tilapia a try.