2234 First Ave.
Seattle WA 98121
A Flight of Fancy that Involves Some Fish
By: Bryan R
A couple things sprang to mind when I heard, “Hey, we’re going to check out Flying Fish, wanna come?” First, I imagined those small, sliver fish that are able to jump out of the water and glide over the surface. But those guys are only found in the tropics so that didn’t make much sense. Thinking about it in a more Seattle-centered context, the words “flying fish” provoked a memory of being a little kid on my first trip to Pike Place Market. I didn’t exactly know what I was getting into when I stepped too close to one of the fish sellers and almost got a face full of flying fish as a salmon was being tossed from one guy to another. But it turns out there’s a third flying fish to keep track of and that’s our local green-centric/eco-sensitive seafood restaurant, the Flying Fish Cafe.
Plopped down on the corner of 1st Avenue and Bell Street, the Flying Fish Cafe occupies a sunny little intersection in the heart of Belltown. Painted in simple shades of maroon and mustard yellow, the interior is fairly simple and understated. Although the Flying Fish Cafe can't make any impressive claims to fame regarding its styling, views or service, it’s certainly one of the reigning Seattle champs when it comes to dishing out tasty, sustainably caught seafood, organic produce, and naturally raised beef and chicken. Variety is also on the menu and the Flying Fish Cafe proudly proclaims that they were among the first in our area to offer mong chong, opaka paka, monkfish liver. And without a doubt, they continue to look for new and tasty items to add to their diverse menu.
Being a downtown eatery with a good lunch menu, the Flying Fish Cafe is popular with the business crowd. We arrived around noon and found that barely a table remained open. After our friendly host guided us to our seats, a waiter epitomizing surly took over. When we asked for a recommendation, Mr. (un)Friendly irritably suggested we consider the special for that day because it was cheap. Now I’m as happy as the next guy to save a buck or two, but we were at the Flying Fish Cafe to sample what’s good on the tongue, not what has the smallest markup. Suffice it to say, Mr. Friendly’s suggestion was less than enlightening. Despite this rough start, the service got a little better though it continued to feel somewhat impersonal.
Aside from a noticeable chill in the air and the gentle drizzle of falling leaves, mussels appearing on seasonal menus are another sign of autumn’s arrival. The Penn Cove Mussels starter dish (approx. $11 " note: prices are from the lunch menu), a bowl full of meaty and plump steamed mussels, came with a powerful chili-lime dipping sauce that easily overwhelmed the shellfish if we went a little too dip happy. Another mollusk centered appetizer was the Fried Oysters Caesar Salad ($8.95) drizzled with an anchovy dressing that may seem a little intimidating (a fish based dressing? anchovies?!), but turned out to be pretty benign. Pairing up salad and oysters was a little odd, but it seemed to work well enough- if you have the stomach for oysters. Wanting to avoid any more shellfish related fair, we sampled the Thai Crab Cakes ($10.95) served with a citrus salad and pleasant lemon grass infused mayonnaise. These meaty, moist little cakes were excellently spiced with paprika and onions and left us looking forward to the main entrees.
A friend of mine used to pontificate that black pepper is the “king of spices” while he coated his mashed potatoes in a fine layer of darkness. If he ever ordered the Wok Blackened Blue Marlin ($12.95), he’d have to conclude that it was the most kingly dish ever created (and I don’t exactly mean that as a compliment). This marlin was just loaded with pepper, too much pepper. It completely overwhelmed the natural flavors of the fish. Just look at the picture! There are giant pepper grinds stacked on top of already humongous pepper grinds! On the other hand, the risotto cake on the side (something of a risotto based mashed potato cake) was savory and donned a crispy outside with a moist, fluffy inside.
A tastier alternative was the Seared Albacore Tuna ($13.95) served with a side of satusma sweet potatoes, a light eggplant relish, and creamy soy ginger butter. Normally, ahi tuna is used for seared tuna dishes so the chef’s decision to go with albacore tuna was too interesting to pass up. Compared to seared ahi, the seared albacore was a bit more fibrous, subtle in flavor, and somehow tasted less “raw” in the center. When dipped in the soy ginger butter, the tuna's flavors really came alive. The dish certainly demonstrates the Flying Fish's characteristic ingenuity and creativity when it comes to food; It's definitely worth considering.
Black Cod lovers rejoice! Flying Fish’s take on this classic dish is amongst the best in the area. With its buttery taste, soft texture, and almost creamy complexion, the Black Cod ($12.95) at the Flying Fish Cafe was a most scrumptious dish. The salty flavored lentils served on the side contrasted wonderfully with the slightly sweet flavors of the black cod. On the taste bud scale, the black cod dish hit every note and made for an exceptionally satisfying experience.
We only sampled one dessert at the Flying Fish Cafe, the Pumpkin Brown Butter Cake ($8.95). Something between a traditional pumpkin cake and a dense cheesecake, the butter cake was topped with crème fiache and tasted delightful.
Probably no place in Seattle can out do the Flying Fish Cafe when it comes to good seafood caught sustainably. Although its interior, with its simple color scheme and handful of paintings, isn’t anything to write home about, it is comfortable and the open kitchen and street level views provides entertainment. And while our service was a little spotty, there’s a good chance we were just a little unlucky. So take the leap, and glide over to the Flying Fish Cafe when your seafood fancy takes flight.
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