3650 Fifth Avenue #103, Hillcrest
Casual fish counters have become San Diego’s signature seafood concept. With the longtime success and rising Food Network profiles of shops such as Blue Water Seafood Market and Point Loma Seafoods, similar restaurants have sprung up all over the county the past few years to capitalize on the welling interest for local fish. The latest opened last month in Hillcrest.
Fresh Catch Fish Market & Grill has a small counter and a large, brightly lit dining room banked by a good people-watching patio. As with most such establishments, the menu is rooted in the idea that you can select your cut of fish for a sandwich, salad, or grilled plate, plus a few SD-friendly options including tacos, burritos, a sashimi plate, and crab mac and cheese.
I dropped by following a weekend trip to Seattle and was still buzzing after a visit to ballyhooed oyster destination The Walrus and the Carpenter, so the first thing I noticed walking into Fresh Catch were Blue Points going for $1.50 a pop. I ordered a couple of those for a warm up, then proceeded to inspect the fish. Nothing looked especially tantalizing, and I was about to settle for the now de rigueur Cajun blackened yellowtail sandwich when I noticed a few salmon burger patties at the end of the glass case. At $11.50, it looked just promising enough to go for it.
I placed my order and hit the patio just before my oysters did. I’m sure it’s unfair to compare these East Coast oysters to the array of Puget Sound beauties I’d gorged on just a couple nights prior, but in terms of freshness, texture, and flavor the Fresh Catch offering was disappointing. The cocktail sauce and horseradish helped, but with high quality oysters served with a champagne vinaigrette so fresh in my memory, these barely tasted like the same food.
The grilled fish was more successful. My salmon burger had a hint of char, just enough to remind me of an actual burger without making me want an actual burger — keeping naming it after a burger from becoming a huge mistake. Served with a simple side salad, the simply adorned fish patty on a grilled telera roll with lettuce and tomatoes proved heavy enough that I didn’t want for French fries.
I don’t see any Food Network celebrities rushing to call attention to Fresh Catch, but given the good-natured service, smart décor, central Hillcrest location, and comprehensive menu, it should draw enough curious local pescetarians long enough to figure out what it does best and hopefully source some better oysters in the process.