I’ve been on a fish kick lately, eating it much more regularly than I usually do because truth be told, fish can throw me off my game. Every time I eat a flaky, moist fork-full of perfectly cooked salmon, tilapia or black cod I dive in with true adoration, savouring every mouthful, but the food issues inherent to our finned friends often throw me a curve ball. I get to thinking about their dwindling numbers and feel guilty if there isn’t an Ocean Wise logo nearby. It gets worse when I start to ponder mercury or the high price tag of fresh caught fish.
Enter the fish sandwich.
Of late, it’s been canned wild sockeye salmon for my noontime repast. Not only is the provenance of this fish considered as politically correct as you can go, but even the Food Police agree that the bones are edible and calcium rich. Give the can a drain, spritz the lot with fresh lemon juice and lay on the Asian ingredients: finely chopped fresh coriander, green onions and mayo whipped up with a healthy dose of sriracha sauce. Roll it up in a tortilla with some baby greens and few wraps satisfy better.
Is it a store or a resto? The answer is both and the space is a lot less than you’d think when considering this tandem offering. In fact, summer is the best time to visit as the front patio affords more seating than the closet-sized interior with its two small tables for two. Pull open the door and not two feet away is the cash register with a huge display of fresh fish on ice and another foot away, there’s Chef Mama toiling away.
Take your pick: Tuna, shrimp, calamari, wild sockeye salmon, grouper, snapper, tilapia, scallops, halibut and black cod all ready for purchase or cooked à la minute.
Despite the lack of space, there’s no lack of signage, advertising a slew of dining options at unbeatable prices, be it sandwich, burrito, salad, tacos or the ”brown rice meal”. No deep fryer to be found here plus a gentle emphasis on good health, from the whole wheat option in the sandwich bun to the brown rice.
On a recent visit on a cold rainy day, I was warmed by a luscious bowl of butternut squash soup ($3.99) that was perfectly calibrated in both sweet and salty departments and duly rich in deep, squash flavour. I asked Mama for the recipe but she laughed sweetly and declined. Beside her work section is a shelf piled high with their signature paposecos bun (from nearby Golden Wheat bakery) all pre-loaded with sliced tomatoes, red onions and lettuce.
I ordered the day’s special – grouper – and was rewarded with three flash-fried and very fat morsels of silken, juicy fish pillowed in a soft bun draped in a garlicky, tangy vinaigrette. What’s not to love about this combo of hot, insanely fresh fish, mixed up with the soft yeasty bun and the crunch of lettuce? I could imagine ordering several and getting lost in consumption… staring out the sea-blue paned windows of this ultra adorable eatery for hours.
But all good things come to an end and The Fish Store does it aptly. When it’s time to pay at the cash register, Papa Hwang nods down at the tattered edges of a cardboard box full of complimentary pieces of personal-sized gum that he has painstakingly and individually hand cut from a sleeve of Dentyne. I like to oblige him and “ooh and aah” a little between chomps of the gum, saying goodbye to my garlic after-glow but not to the memory of the finest fish sandie in town.