Temperature matters

Fish and chips joint comes to Lafayette

Susan France

Temperature matters. It says so on the wall of Reelfish, a new seafood joint in Lafayette that specializes in fish and chips. I agree.

The best fish and chips I ever had were at some wharf-side shack on Granville Island in Vancouver. Hands numb and cramped under a space heater, wet from it being Vancouver in November, and tired from a long, lost walk… temperature mattered. A crispy, thick shell held in steaming halibut, and all was in balance.

So it was a little disappointing when there were temperature issues with the fried fish at Reelfish.

You can choose any number of sustainably caught options to grill or fry at Reelfish — halibut, tuna, cod, sole, mahi mahi, haddock and more. I sidled up and ordered a platter of cod, sole, haddock and shrimp ($13.95). Pieces come atop hand-cut fries, in more of a nugget shape than a traditional strip — if we use a basketball-sized globe for reference, one piece of fish was Australia, one Greenland, one Chad.

And that’s not without consequence either. The fish were thinner than the meaty strips you’ll find elsewhere, and so when dredged in batter and fried, they are, of course, going to react differently and be more challenging to cook than the fish strip.

What resulted then was obviously fresh and delicious fish, cooked 30 seconds too long with too thin of a batter, creating a slightly soggy and tough piece of fish.

Boy, it hurts to write that. Preparing fresh seafood in Colorado is a challenge, and it’s important to support restaurateurs who take that challenge head on. But when you put “temperature matters” on the board, and other chefs in the county are able to plate fish and chips at a high level for a similar price, it attracts scrutiny.

There’s a couple easy areas for improvement, though. Reelfish boasts a thin shell for their fish, but thin crust and thin fish doesn’t work. It’d be great to either cut the fish thicker in house, or develop a thicker shell (they might be doing that by this point in the review). By dredging fish in cornmeal and using a beer-batter, you’ll get a crunchy, thick, airy shell that allows the fish inside to cook properly. You’ll also create pockets for steam to inhabit that will help keep the bite piping hot.

And that is really critical of fried fish. It needs to be steaming hot. You need to bite in and then do that “hottt-hot-hot” face where your mouth opens and your head turns up and retracts into your body like a turtle. And that’s not a preference thing either — the hotter the fish and the quicker it gets from fryer to mouth, the less soggy it’ll be, the silkier it’ll be, and the more balanced bite you’ll have.

The New England clam chowder and Brussels sprouts available were strong companions, however. The sprouts were grilled and served in a bowl with mushrooms, dressing and spices. The chowder was tasty, but the large chunks of potato kept a lot of the clams and creamy broth off the spoon. Too, I’d go back and try the grilled fish options because Reelfish does bring in quality sea meat.

Reelfish is also a fun place to eat. It is smartly designed. Bright and airy with nautical wood and a big marine mural, it passes as an inland recreation and reminds you of those real dockside shacks in Boston and Vancouver. Kid’s paintings are up on the wall, and there were a lot of smiling families dining when I dined.

But temperature matters. And I’m cool, for the moment, on Reelfish.

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