Table Talk: Joanne Kates reviews Red Fish
College Street’s new sustainable seafood spot, Red Fish, charms with chef’s seafood ‘bored’
One fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish. Where is Dr. Seuss when we need him? I have a feeling he would have been happy with Red Fish on College Street because Seuss clearly had such a strong sense of justice and fairness. He was always on the side of the underdog, and right now many species of fish are the underdog. Overfishing is killing the Atlantic cod and the Chilean sea bass and the butterfish. Fish farming is playing havoc with the wild B.C. salmon. And yet we continue to consume them.
A choice to eat sustainable seafood is a choice for a future. I don’t think about it much, but I would like my (as yet) unborn grandchildren to be able to eat fish, so to sustainable seafood I say: bring it on.
Red Fish is committed to serving sustainable seafood, and local, too, as much as possible. I, being a foodie snob of the worst order, admit to scant enthusiasm when faced with Lake Erie silver bass on a menu. Am I, the princess of the Mediterranean bass flown in for my pleasure, to fall this far? But wonder of wonders, they char it up nicely, and the Lake Erie bass tastes lovely. Adding caramelized Jerusalem artichokes and buttery black kale doesn’t hurt the cause.
And perch! This too is from Lake Erie. It is firmer than I prefer (dare I say tough?) but very cleverly partnered with tender poached leeks and a smear of silken parsley root puree.
But chef David Friedman shines brightest when he does raw. His seafood charcuterie platter, named Chef’s Bored by a gastro-punster, recalls the crudo board at Hoof Raw Bar. Thin slices of raw scallop fan out round a centre of intense rhubarb marmalade. Mackerel sushi is ungreasy and impeccably fresh, and attains grandeur dipped in seedy mustard or wasabi. We adore the char-grilled house-made Red Fife bread and house pickled green beans and mushrooms.
Chef’s take on Thai prawn soup is like the original in Thailand, only better. The usual splendour of lemongrass, tomato, kaffir lime and galangal is here executed with a lighter hand than usual.
Next time we’d prefer the tuna stuffed into vinegary cherry bomb peppers to be raw rather than cooked. And octopus ssam, usually a Korean delight, is inedible. It’s the usual Bibb lettuce to roll up around nicely pickled daikon slices, but the octopus is appalling, drowned in so much thick fiery Korean sauce that who knows what’s under there.
But we remain charmed by Red Fish. Cherry-pick the menu and so shall you be. One hopes that the restrained hand that decorated the place in un-kitsch sea things (fish prints, one ship’s objet turned chandelier) will see to it that the octopus is expunged and also that chef does more raw.
Red Fish, 890 College St., $90 Dinner for two
Joanne Kates trained at the Ecole Cordon Bleu de Cuisine in Paris. She has written articles for numerous publications, including the New York Times, Maclean’s and Chatelaine, and she was the Globe and Mail’s restaurant critic for 38 years.