Squid Row

Tender calamari sheds its tough-guy image.

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Fried Calamari with Garlic and Lime Aioli

Ralph Anderson

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Surely it was a hungry soul who first thought to eat a squid, but blessed are the epicurious. Nowadays, diners readily indulge in the slightly sweet, slightly chewy opalescent gems. It's easy enough to overlook squid's, shall we say, less attractive attributes. And folks also avoid that name, preferring instead the more glamorous Italian "calamari." Cooked properly--fast and hot--the dish moves beyond its rubber band reputation.

Newcomers usually approach calamari as they would onion rings, and after one bite of the fried loops, they're hooked. Seasoned fans enjoy these distant cousins to the mollusk in rarer forms, as seviche and such; they know fresh equals fabulous.

Squid is harvested from both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, but California leads the way, sending out 50 million tons annually. So it's only natural that the main export city, Monterey, would hold Calamari Fest. "Unfortunately, 'squid' conjures up something scary-- 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea scary," says festival manager Bob Massaro. "But man, when it's on a plate and done right, it's a glorious thing." Here's how to do it right.

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