And the search for the world’s best calamari continues … now in Phoenix.

Rating: 2 tentacles out of 4 squids (Scary Calamari: Cala-scari)

Ironic squid napkin

Ironic squid napkin

Posted by Kimberly Hundley, Gal-Amari

Hey, you’re welcome to disagree, but this was the worst calamari I’ve had in living memory–and I hadn’t eaten all day. I found myself in the neighborhood of the much ballyhooed new Tempe Marketplace and noticed a seafood establishment, which I fervently hoped wasn’t a chain: King’s Fish House.

Tums anyone?

Tums anyone?

Turns out it is a California-based chain with single locations in both Nevada and Arizona. The place smelled like yummy, freshly boiled seafood when I walked in, and the people were friendly.

But I wasn’t here for calculated warm ambiance, or the oysters, sushi or  salmon–just the calamari-which prompted me to revamp my 4 squid rating. I needed to go lower than 1 squid. Much lower. I needed to touch bottom. And not in a good way.

Attack of the Tentacles

At $10.95, King’s Fried Calamari rates two tentacles, assuming each of my usual four squids is in good health and sporting two tentacles apiece (and eight feet). God help me if I find the restaurant with one tentacle–and you know it’s out there.

The greasy, caked flour breading reminded me of cheap onion rings. At the lightest touch, the breading fell right off the rings–or maybe it was fleeing in disgust. This fishy calamari is fashioned from a larger, tougher squid than one usually encounters, with a leathery mouth feel. Braving the grease for the greater good, I slid two of my long yet firm fingers through a single ring to confirm its girth–a sensation akin to wedding the Krakken.

The Monkey’s Paws

The serving includes a goodly portion of feet and tentacles, resembling fried chicken’s feet or shrunken monkey paws. Perhaps you remember the many TV and radio horror shows about “The Monkey’s Paw,” spawned by W. W. Jacobs short story of the same name.

The following excerpt from Jacobs’ classic may ring some bells. I know I harbored three wishes (my money back, revenge, antacid):

“To look at,” said the Sargent-Major, fumbling in his pocket, “it’s just an ordinary little paw, dried to a mummy… It had a spell put on it by an old Fakir–a very holy man. He wanted to show that fate ruled people’s lives, and that those who interfered with it did so to their sorrow. He put a spell on it so that three separate men could each have three wishes from it.”

I would treat you to a terrifying close-up image of King’s clumpy squid claws, but my camera mysteriously died after taking only one photo of the calamari plate. It’s as though its little battery soul shriveled up like an ancient monkey’s paw and died.

Recipe for Disaster

The server told me the squiddles here are tossed with Worcester and hot sauces (I got the impression this disservice is provided prior to its arrival at the restaurant), then thrown in white flour and fried in the kitchen–and fried and fried and fried.

The greasy plate comes with an uninspired tartar sauce, and a ketchup-based cocktail sauce that is hotter but lighter than the usual suspects. I actually liked the cocktail sauce; in fact I ate it with a spoon since I was so hungry and had nothing else edible to ingest.

Fair Enough

In all fairness, my server, an ASU student, said she loves the calamari. Those of us older than 21 know that fried whatever ain’t what it used to be in college. And you watch out girl, those calories and all their relatives will declare eminent domain over your thighs the minute you turn 23.

You may think I am finished trashing this repugnant dish, but I am not. Oh no. Here’s why:

  • I was out a precious $11 and left unfed.
  • My fingers were greasy and smelled like a dead whale.
  • I had to nourish myself with cocktail sauce.
  • My fresh-faced server failed to inquire as to why my mound of squid was near untouched.
  • The fishy aftertaste polluted my overpriced chardonnay, so that drinking my sorrows became a literal reality.

Are You Squidding Me?

The final, utter insult, came in the form of a cocktail napkin. I don’t know where King’s buys these things, but all of the cocktail napkins feature happy smiling squids telling jokes. (See below). Ironic, don’t you think?

Why do you serve calamari?

Riddle me this: Why do you serve calamari?

Ya wanna know what lies at the bottom of the ocean and shakes? A poor squid worrying it will end up on a plate at King’s.

Have a place you want me to check out?!  Leave it in comments.

And for those of you who can’t figure out the answer to the actual squid riddle on the napkin, click on the image. The answer is on the bottom–like the Titanic.

King’s Fish House, Tempe Marketplace, Arizona and other locations