This fall, I idiotically pledged to become a fish eater for 31 days. No good reason. I like seafood, I thought, so how hard could it be?
But once you've told anyone about a resolution—which you will—you're set up for a fall. What I didn't factor in was my deep and abiding love of red meat, which explains an Oct. 4 stumble involving a 3-pound, double-cut pork chop at a Denver animal house called Old Major.
But the vast majority of my pescatarian October meals remained true to the pledge. And it was a worthwhile adventure; I tried a lot of places and dishes I would otherwise have ignored. Here's what I learned.
Best seafood restaurant (local)
Roe/Block & Tackle, 3113 SE Division St., 232-1566/236-0205, roepdx.rest/blockandtacklepdx.com.
This one is easy, in part because in Portland there isn't much serious competition. The front of the house, Block & Tackle, is a simple but solid fish house. Favorites included a deconstructed Dungeness crab Louie, fried calamari with Thai touches of fish sauce and chilies, and a powerfully delicious grilled mackerel sandwich. But Roe—the tiny, hidden restaurant in the back room—is home to chef Trent Pierce's dazzling prix fixe, seafood-only processional characterized by clean, delightful flavors and jewel-like presentations. Truly, the closest culinary comparison is New York's Le Bernardin—which is distinguished by trappings of luxury Portlanders tend to hate. And Roe, at $75 for four courses, is about half the price of Le Bernardin.
Best seafood restaurant (out of town)
Son of a Gun, 8370 W 3rd St., Los Angeles, 323-782-9033, sonofagunrestaurant.com.
In town to see the Ducks clobber UCLA on the gridiron, I dragged a group of tailgate buddies here postgame, where we dove into a seafood-dominant menu offered in a setting as casual as any in Portland. The favorites were plump peel-and-eat shrimp with mustard sauce, and a seared octopus salad. The same people who run this restaurant also operate another popular L.A. spot, Animal, that's all about red meat.
Best New Orleans seafood menu
Acadia, 1303 NE Fremont St., 249-5001, creolapdx.com.
How did this Fremont Street long-timer escape my attention for so long? Let me issue bounteous praise for chef Adam Higgs' head-on barbecue shrimp in a sauce redolent of Worcestershire: It's a seafood version of Chex party mix and crazy good, especially when you suck the heads. The cornmeal-coated soft-shell crab with chili relish and chopped pecans wasn't bad either.
Best Russian seafood menu
Kachka, 720 SE Grand Ave., 235-0059, kachkapdx.com.
The highlight is the seafood board, with special praise for the sliced capitan, which is like sable (cold-smoked black cod) but smokier and melt-on-your-tongue rich, and the cod-liver dip, a potent piscine pleasure potion. While other seafood dishes here have received high praise, the board is best.
Best three-bite delight
Trifecta, 726 SE 6th Ave., 841-6675, trifectapdx.com.
The oyster bun, a cornmeal-coated bivalve resting on brioche, is served with a mess of tangy coleslaw. Munch, munch, munch—gone.
Best chippy (cart)
The Frying Scotsman, Southwest 9th Avenue and Alder Street, 706-3841, thefryingscotsmanpdx.com.
James King's downtown cart may not get as much fawning adoration as some others, but he does fried fish and chips better than anyone in town. He is, after all, an authentic frying Scotsman. Go auld school and try the haddock.
Best chippy (sit-down)
The Tardis Room at the Fish & Chip Shop, 1218 N Killingsworth St., thefishandchipshop.com.
The shock of the month came at a North Killingsworth venue (just west of I-5) serving superb, value-priced cod and chips amid a comical clutter of Doctor Who kitsch. For full effect, go on a Saturday around 9 pm, when the wackos—er, fans—come out of the woodwork to watch the beloved Doctor in new episodes on BBC America.
Best seafood-only Cambodian noodle soup
Mekong Bistro, 8200 NE Siskiyou St., 265-8972, mekongbistro.com.
On a tip, I trotted out to Northeast 82nd Avenue to one of Portland's few Cambodian eateries. They had exactly one seafood dish (pretty lame tip), but the subtly curried ground-fish vermicelli noodle soup called nom-bunh-jok was a warming, cold-weather winner.
Best lobster roll
Maine Street Lobster Co., 8145 SE 82nd Ave. (Cartlandia pod), 770-480-3437, mainestreetlobstercompany.com.
When New England isn't in reach and the lobster jones strikes, head to Cartlandia. Lobsters are flown in frequently (no truth to the rumor they fly first-class), and the smallish rolls are specially made for this bustling cart. You get 3 ounces of sweet meat stuffed into a toasty bun with melted butter. It's about half the size of the archetype at Neptune Oyster in Boston—but at $10, this goes for about one-third the price.
Best seafood in non-seafood restaurants
Pok Pok, Ox and Aviary (tie)
Pok Pok (3226 SE Division St., 232-1387, pokpokpdx.com) always has several seafood items. Tops on my list are the cha ca "La Vong," a dilled catfish hot-pot dish Andy Ricker imported from Hanoi, and hoi thawt, fat little mussels enveloped in a cross between a crepe and scrambled eggs. The beef and marrow-muddled clam chowder at Ox (2225 NE Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., 284-3366, oxpdx.com) might make you overlook the pescatarian options, but don't: The seafood sampler includes 2 ounces each of mussels, shrimp, crab and fish, and you should always order halibut (especially the collar), if available. Meanwhile, at Aviary (1733 NE Alberta St., 287-2400, aviarypdx.com), the kitchen is always trotting out innovative ideas. In October, the seafood dishes included outstanding charred octopus served with hot ricotta pudding and red curry jus, and a delicate tea-smoked black cod amid feather-light fennel, trumpet mushrooms, water spinach, day lilies and yuzu.