The difference between fishing and catching, however, is that fishing is never a sure thing. On three separate visits to Fisherman's Market, meals have ranged from close to trophy quality to those that need to be tossed back.
On an earlier occasion, for example, the Poseidon Adventure salad ($9.50) had an abundance of flavor with fried cod, prawns, calamari, spinach, sun-dried tomatoes, capers and a zesty lemon-pesto dressing. The Thai This salad ($9), however, had a painfully sharp citrus taste in the prawns, which overwhelmed the peanut flavor on the shredded vegetables and angel hair pasta.
One consistently bright spot is the sushi menu, under the capable hands of veteran sushi chef Travis Whiteside. The menu boasts a large selection of traditional and specialty rolls, as well as nigiri sushi and sashimi appetizers. Whiteside -- formerly of Takara -- holds forth from the prow of a bow-shaped sushi bar that flanks the order/pickup counter of this casual dining establishment. (Only the sushi bar offers sit-down service; otherwise, you place your order and pick it up at an adjacent counter.)
We tried the seared tuna roll: tempura vegetables topped with albacore tuna, then lightly seared and finished with a garlic citrus sauce ($14). Yellowfin tuna fans will delight in this subtle dish. The snack roll was equally delightful, with tempura shrimp and vegetables, cream cheese, cucumber, eel, a coating of "crunchies" and a drizzle of sweet eel sauce ($10). Though I'm not normally a fan of eel, this dish made me a new devotee.
In addition to the sushi, we ordered the fish and chips, which is served with French fries -- they were even good reheated an hour later -- along with coleslaw and your choice of tartar sauce. Fish choices include shrimp, oysters and clams (which makes me nostalgic for East Coast-based Friendly's restaurant or Howard Johnson's clam strip sandwiches), along with farmed catfish, halibut, salmon, mahi mahi and New Zealand red cod. Cod is also served in the "kid's portion" -- two pieces of fish, fries and slaw ($5). The honey-poppyseed slaw was crunchy, sweet and a bit nutty. Tartar options ranged from the unusual Rasta (jerk spice, coconut, peppers, lime, rum) or Bombay (yellow curry and roasted peppers) to the conventional with pickles, olives, capers and dill. Cap'n Dick's "tartar" was actually cocktail sauce with horseradish, and it gave this well-priced little fried-fish dish lots of flavor and appeal.
The Enchilada del Mar didn't inspire the same superlatives, although the sauces were good and it was a plentiful dish ($9). Two corn tortillas stuffed with bay shrimp, fish, shredded vegetables, cilantro and cotija cheese were topped with salsa verde and more cotija. Served with soft, fluffy Spanish rice, hearty black beans, salsa and jalape & ntilde;o cream, this dish had good flavor.
The cioppino soup ($3, cup; $5, bowl), on the other hand, was unrecognizable as a seafood dish. (We wondered if the order was goofed and the kitchen had served us some kind of bland minestrone.) We would have sent it back -- but, like many of the diners, we had placed the order to go.
This feature -- being able to place orders for pickup -- is popular, and several diners zipped in and out doing just that. Fisherman's Market spans two dining experiences: fine food with an emphasis on taste, and fast food with an emphasis on price and quick service. They offer some of the finer things, like a partial bar selection of Asian beverages including sake, Sapporo beer and plum wine. A handful of domestic and imported beers and both red and white wine are available by the bottle or glass. And meals are served on china plates, beautifully presented.
This kind of restaurant approach can work both ways. On one hand, it may keep prices down, including for diners who do not have to tip. And diners do have the option of phone-in service.
On the other hand, I don't want to have to get up and down -- more water, more napkins, forgot the sauce, clear your own plate -- when dining out. I don't mind tipping when the service is good and, as the chief planner/cook/server/busser/dishwasher in my little domestic domain, I enjoy being waited on once in awhile. Further, the austere furnishings might have more appeal on a warm summer afternoon, but on a cold winter evening, more comfort is called for.
If the food is good enough, though, people may not care about such tangential issues as ambience. So, back to the menu: Were I to venture to Fisherman's Market again, I'd sample the crab cakes ($8), the ceviche -- cold, lime-pickled fish -- with black bean-jalapeno salsa, avocado and corn tortillas ($8), or the pound of Cajun clams steamed in beer ($9). There's also the oyster/catfish po' boy sandwich ($9) or the Hoisin Shrimp sandwich ($9), which is grilled with molasses and served with coconut slaw on a sesame-seed bun. And, of course, the sushi bar remains a beacon in a sea of uncertainty, combining fresh seafood and a bounty of both traditional and signature dishes at reasonable prices.