Is it the calamari or the dip?

20120611-202613.jpg Uncle Julio’s

Some time in the 90s we were in California visiting family and friends and were dining at an upscale Mexican restaurant called Tortilla Flats.

Several orders of crispy calamari with a chipotle tarter sauce came to the table and our young son was invited to eat it by his elderly great aunt. Anthony would do anything his beloved Aunt Kate asked of him so he dove into the deliciousness.

He asked her what “calamari” meant and she quickly said it meant “tastes great” in Italian. He agreed and coming from a kid who rejected macaroni and cheese because it was not his “color” that was high praise, indeed.

Since then (even when he learned calamari was squid) it became a favorite and much like my husband judges any Italian restaurant by their sausage and peppers, we judge restaurants by the quality of their calamari.

Our theory is that you really cannot ruin calamari. Many places buy it already cleaned and breaded and good oil in a hot deep fried is all you need to make the tasty morsels.

This is not exactly true as we learned at Shooters Restaurant in Fort Lauderdale.

I know I am not a restaurant reviewer and usually do not say anything negative (like mom says, if you don’t have anything nice to say do not say anything at all) but I do not think I have ever had worse calamari than I had a few weeks back.

If they deep fried elastic bands I would have enjoyed it more. Yuck. Bad.

Remember the line from “The Lion King” when Pumbaa slurps a worm and says “slimy yet satisfying?” Yeah, that, only not satisfying! Other than the exception above we believe what distinguishes calamari are the add ins and the dips.

At JB’s on the Beach ( in Deerfield Beach, Fla., they include strips of sweet and hot peppers mixed in with the calamari. They give two sauces, a sweet red sauce and a tarter sauce, both delicious.

Next door is Oceans 234, where they actually bread and deep fry lemon wedges and hot peppers with the calamari. If you have never had a deep fried lemon wedge try it before you curl your nose. They serve the bits with a roasted red pepper relish and a honey balsamic glaze. This is a particular favorite.

At Uncle Julio’s (where we met our new best friend bartender Alicia) we had crispy calamari with a creamy tomato sauce which reminded me of vodka sauce. We also dipped into the fresh grilled vegetable salsa and enjoyed the combo very much.

Here at home, most restaurants serve calamari with their own tomato sauce. It is a good sneak peek into your entree at many Italian restaurants.

I personally prefer a mayo-based sauce with capers and pickles (at Pop’s seafood store in Deerfield they make their sauce with fresh cucumbers and a touch of mustard mixed into mayo … dreamy).

However you make it (rubber bands excluded) enjoy the dipping sauce and remember,in some circles, calamari means “tastes good!”

Have a yummy week!

Next week: Catholic Schools Week Cupcake Wars at St. Peter’s