Big Fat Fish Company appears to be satisfying Bellingham’s long yearning for great seafood.
This city, despite its storied history as a major West Coast fishing port, has never been much of a focal point for seafood restaurants. The brisk trade at this Fairhaven eatery shows the extent of the pent-up demand. During a recent weekday-night visit, the place was as bustling and noisy as most restaurants would love to be on a weekend.
The place is nicely-appointed, with high ceilings, a warm red brick wall, and stylish wood furniture. A red rose graced each table. The best feature of the space is t he glass front, letting in lots of natural light on long summer evenings along with a view of the street scene outside.
My dinner companion for my visit to Big Fat Fish was John Doerper, whom some of you may remember. During the 1980s, Doerper had a brief reign of terror as The Bellingham Herald’s restaurant critic, before moving on to become a food and travel writer for a number of other publications. Most recently, he has traveled up and down the West Coast as a principal writer for Fodor’s travel guides.
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This was my first trip to the place, but Doerper said he has been there a half-dozen times since it opened in December 2005. Luring Doerper’s finicky palate back for repeat visits is a bit of an accomplishment in itself.The menu here is extensive, with a wide array of sushi selections, seven shellfish entrees, four fish choices, nine “house classics,” nine salads, and 13 appetizers. They also toss in a burger, chicken picatta, prime rib and a steak.
In my experience, you get the best meals at restaurants that focus their offerings a lot more narrowly. But a big menu has the virtue of offering something to please most everyone.
Our meal began well, with a basket of distinctive bread with a thick crust and earthy, whole-grain flavor.
My sesame calamari appetizer, $11, was a big hit, too. It came artfully presented on a triangular black plate, with dots and swirls of three intriguing sauces: a creamy, lemony white one as well as pink and red varieties with different tones of hot chile.
After that, my dinner entrée was a bit of a letdown. I chose a special — mahi mahi with a maple sauce, $24. I thought maple sauce sounded a little odd, but thought I should be adventurous. I plan to be adventurous again some day, but in this case it was a mistake. The fish itself was wonderfully flavorful and fresh, but the maple didn’t do much for it. The portion also seemed quite small — more of an appetizer than a meal.
Doerper started with a cup of clam chowder. He gave it points for high clam content, but marked it down for being starchy when he wanted creamy. He did admit that starchy is probably healthier than creamy.He also ordered scampi style prawns, $27. For this dish, Big Fat Fish uses wild-caught crustaceans that are far more delectable than the common farm-raised shrimp and prawns, which look like the real thing but don’t taste like much of anything. Farm-raised shrimp are to shrimp what Wonderbread is to bread.
Doerper found his prawns passable, slightly overcooked and a tad short of impeccably fresh. He did eat them all, except for the one he shared with me.
We did enjoy our meals, and the overall dining experience in a cheery space with excellent service. But for a restaurant in this price range, Big Fat Fish sometimes falls a bit short of the high standard it is trying to set for itself.