Saturday, July 19, 2008

Fisherman's Market & Grill

Poor Johnny Depp and the Delicious Baby Octopus Tentacles

Fisherman’s Market and Grill
215 W. Kathleen,
Coeur d'Alene, 664-4800

The craving hit me that afternoon about halfway through Judge Judy. I texted Stephanie: “OMG. So hungry. Need sushi now.” My phone double-beeped with her reply almost instantly. “K. Meet at new place. C u there.” I knew exactly which new place she meant since we had been discussing the topic a few days earlier. She told me how she had recently begun frequenting the Fisherman’s Market to the point where she was worried they were going to think she was some kind of psycho stalker girl. Ever since she was drawn in a few weeks ago by the banner crying “SUSHI” in big red letters, she hadn’t been able to satiate her craving. Any sushi fanatic knows the good stuff can be like an addictive substance, and Stephanie was hooked. I told her not to worry, I’d just have to go with her next time and serve as her enabler, hoping they’d look the other way if she had a good “drug” buddy like me to accompany her.

I knew we were up for an excellent sushi experience right away when I spotted Travis Whiteside behind the small rounded sushi bar, an island floating separately from the main counter. Whiteside is somewhat of a sushi celebrity in the Inland Northwest, having spent ages studying under the master chefs at Takara before moving on several years ago to become the visionary behind the raw fish menu at Bonsai Bistro. For whatever reason, that arrangement apparently didn’t work out and Whiteside is now performing his amazing sushi magic at the Fisherman’s Market and Grill, which was opened behind Super1 on West Kathleen Avenue late last summer by Eugene, Oregon transfers Bob and Jennifer Palm.

We wanted to see Travis’ creativity in full effect so we ordered the small chef’s choice Sashimi Platter. Sashimi, unlike the somewhat more common Nigiri variety of sushi, is not served anywhere near sticky rice. It’s simply a spontaneous selection of the freshest raw fish available, artfully arranged amidst gorgeous salads and garnishes. Of course, that wasn’t enough to quite sate our craving so I also ordered a Spyder roll, a signature item of Whiteside’s I’d enjoyed many times back in his Takara days. It’s a fat, hearty roll consisting of deep-fried soft shell crab, cucumber, daikon sprouts, a bit of mayonnaise, and coated with bright orange tobiko (flying fish roe). In addition to the mass of signature sushi rolls and nigiri and sashimi assortments, Fisherman’s Market also maintains glass-domed display cases full of fresh seafood on ice, ready for your take-home needs.

My attention turned to the big overhead menu and I decided I needed to choose a little something from the main kitchen as well. The daily special was an Oyster Po’Boy sandwich, wherein they deep fry the fresh little buggers and serve them hot on a hoagie roll. Yum. A salad would have been a nice, healthful choice; options include a classic Ahi Tuna Nicoise, a Salmon Caesar, and the “Thai This”, with jumbo lime prawns, pasta, and spicy peanut dressing. The “Taste of Baja” section of the menu features Mexican-inspired temptations like the giant Enchilada del Mar, as well as shrimp and fish tacos with fresh cilantro and jalapeno cream. They also serve up about ten kinds of Fish & Chips, including Mahi Mahi, Farmed Catfish and Alaskan Halibut, as well as eight creative varieties of tartar sauce. I decided to go for a kid’s size regular cod and chips, to get just a taste of what they offer by sampling something basic.

Good sushi tends to take a little time, so naturally the fish and chips were up first. As I dug in, Steph began telling me a story. One snowy day last winter, she was driving around and saw a poor little doggie shivering at the side of the road. She decided to rescue the freezing thing and it wasn’t long after she got it home and thawed it off that she realized that the dog was not only extremely ancient, but blind and deaf as well. I looked up from my food and cocked my head with interest. The fish was light and flaky, coated expertly cornmeal and deep-fried to melt-in-mouth perfection. Very good.

She continued with her story. There was no way she could actually keep this tragic creature, but fortunately one of her clients offered to adopt it. Now, the client was out of town for a week and Stephanie had offered to take care of the dog while she was gone. That was fine, but the annoying part was that the finicky dog would only eat if it’s food was prepared and mixed just so, otherwise it would turn up it’s nose and she’d have to try again with a new batch, hoping that this time it was acceptable.

I looked at her and a question formed as I was mulling over how absolutely fantastic the French fries were, made even better with the help of the rich, homemade tartar sauce. I just had to ask, “Okay, so what did she name this poor dog anyway?” I took a big slice of the newly-arrived Spyder Roll, dipped it in a thick soy sauce-wasabi mixture and popped it in my mouth. “Johnny Depp”, she said and I nearly began choking on a chunk of soft-shell crab as I tried to suppress the laughter. “I know, it’s weird, but it would make sense if you knew my client”, she giggled. We used our chopsticks to poke around at the various slices of fish colorfully displayed like a lost Joan Miro masterpiece on a huge white platter with accompanying seaweed and pickled cucumber salads.

The maguro (tuna) was succulent and buttery; a perpetual favorite of mine, and the scallop sprinkled with chili pepper was another true highlight. Sashimi is as much about presentation and texture as it is the flavor, and Whiteside gets high marks on all counts. We decided that the mackerel was a little to “fishy-fish” tasting for us, but we both agreed that the baby octopus tentacle salad was rich and magnificent, something one could easily enjoy as a meal by itself. The Spyder Roll was as good as I remember it, and I saved the end piece until last, the hearty fried crunch of the soft-shell crab almost made it taste like one of my hearty French fries had snuck into the middle of the roll creating a very happy accident.

Stuffed beyond compare, we hugged goodbye and parted ways. I shouted after her “tell Johnny Depp I said ‘Hi!’” Whoops, I forgot the darned dog was deaf and blind. Realizing my gaffe, I shouted again “pat Johnny Depp real nice on the head for me!” A woman tilted her head and glared in confusion at me as she entered the restaurant. “Don’t ask,” I sighed. “It’s a long, sad story.”


scotty42 said...

After reading this nice review by local food critic Patrick Jacobs in The Spokesman-Review I decided to take the plunge and try out the Chef's Choice Sashimi plate. Yeah, yeah...It was the best I ever had BUT, as a relative newb to the sushi experience, I must add that the Unagi sushi was even better than butter. I was hesitant to try it because I'd been burned before. But the sushi chef at the "RawDeadFish" side of the Fisherman Market & Grill left me a convert.

Anonymous said...

Josh does an awesome job as sushi chef... he really knows his sushi. Trust! He will lead you through a memorable dining experience if you just do omakase.
Basically everything they do there, sushi, regular menu, or fish market is fresh and top quality.