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Hungry for More 

Resolutions are easy to keep at the Mission District's delightful Weird Fish

Wednesday, Jan 10 2007
As sure as the new year brings resolutions, it brings the observation that resolutions are made to be broken. For instance, Anthony Bourdain's musing on a recent television promo for No Reservations: "You know, I've traveled all over this world, and I've encountered a lot of customs that some might call strange. But you know what's strange to me? New Year's resolutions. I mean, what's up with that? Who sticks with those things, anyway?"

I tend to feel more as Pascal Bruckner does. His Jan. 1 op-ed piece in the New York Times pointed out that resolutions might be lies, but they serve a purpose: "Making resolutions demonstrates optimism," he wrote, and resolutions are "lies of good faith, necessary illusions."

Along with the inevitable optimistic vows (eat less, move more), I like to sprinkle in a few ringers that I know will be pleasurable, even easy, to keep. This year I'm vowing to eat more — at least, to eat more fish. And vegetables. And fruit.

I started early, at the end of 2006, when looking for a likely spot to have dinner after seeing a movie with Nicole, who was visiting San Francisco from Los Angeles. I phoned a new spot in the Mission District called Weird Fish. Its location had made me think it might specialize in fish tacos, which might feel old-hat to an Angeleno. But the terse reply to my question "What do you serve?" sounded interesting: "Vegetables," the staffer said, "and sustainable fish."

We had turned a weekday matinee (during the lovely hammock of time suspended between Christmas and New Year's) into a Cate Blanchett double bill, strolling from The Good German at the Century in the Westfield Shopping Centre to Notes on a Scandal at the Metreon. Both were exclusive engagements, which guaranteed full and appreciative audiences. There was a full and appreciative audience at the tiny sliver of a storefront that houses Weird Fish, too. Its whimsical hanging sign of a voluptuous mermaid had beckoned to us from the chilly, rather cheerless block, and the interior was even more welcoming. (The owners are veterans of the popular Mission hangouts Boogaloo's and the St. Francis Fountain.) The small space, containing only nine tables, alluded to the seafood theme with its cool blue paint and scattering of chic objets — bottles that might have been found on a beach, nautical-looking stars, framed fish prints. I admired the assortment of mirrors hung over the banquette running down one side of the room. In fact, the general effect was so charming that I considered asking who'd decorated the place, with an eye to getting him or her to help me out at home.

In the meantime, we cast an eye over the menu, which states: "We serve locally grown vegetables, & prepare fish that is primarily farmed and sustainable. We are making conscious efforts to embody a green business practice at the Weird Fish. Thank you for supporting us. Together we can make a difference."

Together Nicole and I were making a good dent in the menu. We started by sharing the mysteriously named Little b. Stack, a tasty and pretty layering of grilled sweet potato with spinach leaves, crumbles of goat cheese, and firm slices of tofu marinated in a sharp vinaigrette, and the equally mysteriously named New School Louie (available with crab, shrimp, or a combination). It seemed pretty much like a classic Louis salad to us, the ingredients (avocado, tomato, scallions, hard-boiled egg) laid out like a mosaic atop mostly chopped iceberg lettuce. Perhaps the "new school" was the garlicky remoulade dressing, considerably more garlicky than the classic Louis dressing. But I was a trifle disappointed by the advertised Dungeness crab; I asked our server if the restaurant picked the crab from its shell, knowing full well the answer would be no. Fishmongers turn out pre-picked crab that is pinkish, watery, and stringy, nothing like the fat, white, snowy flakes you get when you crack a Dungeness yourself. Still, it was a tasty enough and generous serving.

We admired our neighbor's starter — three plump rolls of cucumber stuffed with crab, avocado, red onion, and cilantro — as we dug into our main courses. I love love loved my fish and chips, three big chunks of tilapia dipped in beer batter (Weird Fish also offers a wheat-free soy batter) and served with rather limp fries (a mixture of potato and yam), crunchy house-made coleslaw, and tartar sauce. The restaurant had thoughtfully provided bottles of Pickapeppa sauce and malt vinegar. (I was surprised that the fish was fried to a golden crispness — covering steamy, moist flesh — that the potatoes didn't achieve.) Nicole was equally taken with her trout, a thin boneless filet encrusted with Dijon mustard and almonds; for its accompaniment, she chose lemon aioli (from a list of sauces that includes tartar, sesame-ginger, and chipotle), which seemed to be missing any garlic (maybe it was all in the remoulade). Other fish choices include grilled tilapia or catfish, which can also be served blackened, with mango salsa. We shared a generous plate of fried plantains atop long-cooked red beans, the whole plate squiggled with sour cream. When we heard our neighbors order fried dill pickles, we remembered that we'd forgotten to do so, too, especially because they're made with Guss' dills from the Lower East Side in New York.

We lingered over a slice of tangy lemon tart, a nightly special of caramelized fingerling bananas with ice cream, and excellent coffee. We'd assembled quite an array of leftovers, each in its own tin container topped with cardboard, so we asked our server for a bag (knowing Weird Fish offers takeout). "Plastic bags are not ecological," he said humorlessly. "Paper?" we asked. "It doesn't come in the right size," he said — bizarrely, since we thought paper bags came in a variety of sizes. So we carried them bagless.

I returned on my own for one of my favorite treats, a late-morning breakfast, with the papers. I thought it might be too early to start with clam chowder, but on the menu entitled "Weird Breakfast" I saw the restaurant had anticipated me: It listed the I'm Your Captain, two eggs any style served with a bowl of clam chowder and sourdough toast. I was hungrier than that, so I ordered my soup a la carte, along with a more complicated egg dish. The soup came topped with slivered green onions, the hot thin cream freighted with chopped clams, tiny potato dice, and other minced vegetables, tasting strongly of bay; other flavors emerged once I fished the 2 1/2 bay leaves from the brew. It was excellent, a very early contender for one of the best soups of 2007.

I followed it with the Oh! Brother, choosing the scramble option over the omelet; substituting green onions for tomato in the list of ingredients that otherwise included avocado, cilantro, Monterey jack, and chipotle sauce; and choosing shrimp over crab. The dish came prettily adorned with what the menu calls "homefries" but which was in practice a tangle of threadlike strands of potatoes and yams cooked to a crunch, entirely delightful, and a lightly toasted and buttered English muffin.

The scramble was, however, devoid of shrimp (perhaps the server had mistaken me for a vegetarian, a likely error when the breakfast menu offers vegan nut sausage, vegan bacon, and jack "cheese" made with almonds, all of which I admire in theory more than in practice). He quickly corrected the slip with an overlay of bay shrimp sautéed with a bit of cayenne.

Two cheerful ladies at the table next to me were enjoying their fish and chips, fried oyster po' boy, and especially a side of beer-battered green beans, which they recommended to me heartily. They'd been so friendly that I almost asked them for a sample. But it suddenly occurred to me that I was only seven short blocks from my favorite bakery, Dianda. OK, seven long blocks, but it was the nearest I'd been during business hours in months. The siren call of rum custard and almond paste was strong. I was resolute in my stride.

About The Author

Meredith Brody

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