Fine fresh fish comes with side of good karma

Thursday, December 28th, 2006

A combination fish shop and bistro sells delicious seafood caught by methods designed to sustain stocks

Mia Stainsby

Jordan McLean shows off the fish and chips available at Finest at Sea. Photograph by : Ward Perrin, Vancouver Sun

December is a sneak thief, rifling our wallets and leaving us change. Well, you know what? Go nuts. Spend that change. A good place is at Finest At Sea, a seafood shop/bistro/deli for a casual but quality feed.

First of all, the seafood comes under Ocean Wise, the do-good program to serve sustainable seafood. And secondly, the shop has its own fishing fleet, with 11 boats that use traps and hooks (no dragging, no nets). In fact, the company sells seafood to 40 other restaurants in town, including ones which are fanatic about freshness, like Tojo’s and West.

One of the proponents behind this west-side venture (just over a month old) is Bruno Born, a Vancouver restaurant veteran who’s operated restaurants since the early 1980s. Under his belt: The Chef And The Carpenter, Bruno’s, Coq d’Or, Zeppos, Indigo (at Wall Centre), and most recently, Sausi’s, which closed over a year ago.

He and his brother-in-law Ian Angus run the storefront while another partner, Bob Fraumeni, oversees the fishing end of things.

Finest At Sea isn’t exactly a looker; it’s a fish shop with a few tables and off to one side, an open kitchen and a menu board. There’s a kink in ordering that seemed to confuse many of us. You go to the back of the store, put in your order, go back to the front and wait for the order to come up. A group of four guests sat at a table waiting for service before finally realizing what that line-up at the back was about, then grumbled about having to wait yet again.

But I was very happy with the food. The bistro menu reflects what’s in season. The clam chowder is a gridlock of Queen Charlotte razor clams and should not be missed; the seafood bisque starts with stock made from roasted halibut bones and pureed vegetables thicken the soup.

I don’t do fish and chips unless there’s a delicious pay-off for the gazillion calories. Here, there is. The sablefish, bundled inside the crisp, bronzed batter was lovely. The chips aren’t fabulous, but they are tasty. You can get salmon, halibut and ling cod fish and chips. Single fish portions are $6 to $10 and doubles are $9 to $15.

Soups are $4, small plates (crabcakes, mussels) are $10 and grilled fish dishes are about $13.

I sampled the crab cakes (generously crabby), a spice-rubbed sockeye salmon with Caesar salad and polenta crusted halibut (great quality but slightly overcooked). There’s no dessert menu and as yet, no wine to enhance the lovely fish. Dug-in carnivores won’t find any red meat here.

If you’re on the run, look to the deli case which has a lineup of take-home dishes — salads, cooked veggies, swiss chard terrine, and some seafood dishes.

At the back of the room, reality TV takes you aboard some their fishing vessels as they bring in tuna, halibut, sablefish and black cod — a little girl sat mesmerized watching, immune to her dad’s call to come join him for fish and chips.

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Overall: Rating 3 1/2

Food: Rating 3 1/2

Ambience: Rating 3

Service: Rating 3

Price $

4675 Arbutus St., 604-266-1904.

Open 7 days a week, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.; to 6 p.m. Sunday.

Restaurant visits are conducted anonymously and interviews are done by phone. Restaurants are rated out of five stars.

© The Vancouver Sun 2006


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