Tuesday, October 8, 2013

“Left Turn Ahead”

…said The Lady Who Lives in the Dashboard. “Huh?” we looked at each other and asked. We are in Ridgefield, WA, about ten miles south of Woodland and are headed to Pacific Northwest Best Fish Co. for lunch. Where else would a fish shop be than near the water? And the Columbia River is to the right or west.

So we went right and The Lady kept telling us to go east. We kept driving in circles around Ridgefield and finally in desperation did what we should have done ten minutes earlier. We called and asked, “Where are you?”

A very nice young man gave us clear and specific directions…and eastward we went. Sometimes the GPS is right.

Had I read Mike S.’s comments at yelp.com before we departed, it would have been no problem. Mike says: “We were traveling up the I-5 and looking very carefully at the ‘Food’ signs, looking for someplace to eat that wasn't Burger King. Somehow I spotted the language, in teeny tiny type, ‘PNWB - Pacific Northwest Best Fish.’…Follow the signage…don't give up.

“Situated in the Middle of Fishin' Nowhere (the MFN), PNWB is a retail fish store with an outdoor cafe, you order your fish through the window.

And what a variety of fish…. This Place Is A Find. It's about 15 miles north of Portland, OR. While the prices are reasonable, you'll spend and eat more than you intended.”

“…(T)he business, which opened in 2001, is along a sparsely populated stretch of Northeast 10th Avenue…. The fish market and cafe are surrounded by farmland and expensive ranch-style homes.
Plenty of people have driven past the business while trying to get to Interstate 5. The business looks ‘like it should be on a wharf somewhere,’ said Roger McLeskey, who lives near the business…. ‘The building is unique; it makes for a nice fish store,’ he said.
“…(I)nside the store, red snapper, salmon, Chilean sea bass and sashimi grade ahi tuna are surrounded by fresh clams and mussels.
Spicy crab dip and Cajun crawfish pasta salad also sit in the store's display case. Busy shoppers who don't have time to prepare the fish can pick up something, such as freshly made crab cakes.
Customers can even pick up a live crab. All the seafood is brought in daily. The fish, and other food items, are all prepared on site…” (Jose Paul Corona for The Columbian).

All seating is at picnic benches either in the retail store or

outside on an open-air patio.
Do you notice that no one is eating on the patio? Have I mentioned recently that it has been very rainy?

You order at a window and then find a seat and wait until your prepared food is brought to you.

While waiting for our entrees we shared a cup of clam chowder.
Now I have to say upfront that I have never been blown away by Northwest-style clam chowder.* (Well, there was one exception at Ye Old Driftwood Inn in Cannon Beach, OR. What made it so good? The recipe came from a cook from the Northeast [see blog of 7/16/09].) PNWB’s was a decent version. Rich but not too thick. Full of clams and potatoes. But what it lacked and what makes Northeast chowder special—to us at least—is the smoky and salty presence of bacon or salt pork.

I was disappointed not to see the beautiful oysters sold in the retail market as part of the lunch menu.
So I was prepared to order the Clam Strip Basket. That was until the same nice young man who provided us with the directions told me that these were the only menu items not prepared in-house. Fortunately, I was ready with a back-up plan—the Calamari Strip Basket served with fries and coleslaw.
At first, I was taken aback by the size of these strips. While I don’t know for certain, I think that these are cut from the “steak” or tubular portion of the squid and then pounded for tenderness. Well, these were certainly tender along with being sweet and mild. PNWB makes their sauces—tarter, cocktail, and dill in-house. While I love dill, I thought it overpowered the calamari.

Chuck ordered the two-piece “House Special” halibut fish and chips that also came with French fries and coleslaw.
I thought that his fish fillets were a bit on the thin side—especially relative to price.

Both my calamari and his halibut had been coated with panko. And thus ensued a discussion about the use of panko. It seems that everyone outside of Louisiana these days is using these crumbs to bread fish and seafood. And we’re not sure we like it. Chuck thinks it’s a way to get things crisp when you don’t know how to do it the right way. Anyway, we agreed that the panko worked better on my thicker calamari strips than on his halibut.

Chuck liked the cole slaw. I didn’t. I am not sure why, maybe too sweet. But I was in French fry heaven with the thin shoestring fries. But the size of my portion of calamari prevented me from eating but a few. So the leftovers came home and joined similar packets in our freezer.

While we both enjoyed our lunch, I still continue to be amazed that restaurants that we have visited in the Northwest seem to rely on the deep-fat fryer for their food preparation. What would I give right now for a big bowl of steamed mussels or clams in a garlic and wine broth? So, with that in mind, I give PNWB 3.5 Addies.

To review the role of Adler, Kitty Humbug, and the Addie rating system, read the November 14, 2011 blog.

* We consider the clam chowder recipe of cousin Betty from Ridgecrest, CA, to be Northeast-style and still consider it the best chowder west of Philadelphia.

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