Butter Fish

1 Jun

By Stephanie Dickison

Vacationing in Cape Cod when I was 8-10 changed my view of the world. It was filled with crustaceous creatures that fascinated me. Everywhere you went, there was something to do with seafood. Even if you were just stopping off at the salt water taffy stand, there was a tank of fish nearby or you had to squeeze past the fellas fishing off the bridge to get into the place.

And it is perhaps that early experience of stopping off at a hamburger stand with my folks and ordering a lobster roll, with the hot dog bun that’s sliced on top, with chunks of lobster, celery and parsley oozing out the top, that changed my life.

I became a seafood lover at a young age, not coincidentally during the years my Dad fished. He worked at a newspaper and needed some sort of relief from the pressures of working long hours and coming home to a wife and kid and the bills. So he started fishing.

It became a big part of his life and he shared it with me. We went to Canadian Tire and picked out the smallest little pole. I was thrilled! I was going to fish.

Over the years, my Dad taught me to bait the hook and how to pick out the best spots for catching bass, pike and perch. We went deep sea fishing off the coast in the States and puttered around Lake Ontario in our little battered boat. It was a significant part of my childhood, those years of sitting in the boat waiting for the hit.

I don’t remember catching all that many fish, except Sunfish, which are almost always too small to keep and have too many bones to be any good for eating. I do remember snagging the line in the weeds and Pa having to cut the line, losing an expensive lure. I remember sitting in the boat, eating a tomato and drinking pop and getting a wicked sunburn. And I remember having to paddle over to shore to pee in the bush (all that pop and tomatoes).

So it is with great excitement that Pa and I are here at The Fish Shak in Kensington Market. We so rarely have fish together anymore, opting for breakfast and coffees most Saturdays. But our usual haunts were closed or full, so it is just sheer luck that we happened upon this place.

A good friend had just told me how good the food was, though I didn’t need a recommendation. Anytime there is fish or seafood on the menu, that’s what I order, so to have a whole place dedicated to the sea, well, I was in the door like a shot before Pa even really had a chance to say anything.

Though the menu boasts a range of fish and organic fare, it is the butter fish that has me excited. I’ve never heard of it, and since I’m obsessed with making new food discoveries, I am fascinated.

We order butter fish sandwiches with pesto mayonnaise and avocado and organic Guatemalan coffee. While we wait, Pa and I look at the local art on the walls and discuss a book project that we are collaborating on while the meal is being prepared. It’s just like being back in the boat.

Our food arrives and the first thing that I notice is how small the fish it. They’re like little smelt, though they are golden thanks to the chef’s seasonings. I later read that they average only a few ounces, so I make a mental note that I will need a lot of them should I ever have the privilege to buy them.

The second is how soft and forgiving they are. Their buttery texture and softness is slightly overwhelming and is only a little relieved by watery coffee.

I start to think that this should be the fish that people who hate fish should try. This will change their minds. Pa and I finish our lunch (read: breakfast) and head out to search for other finds at the market.

On our way out, I casually ask our waitress if there is anywhere in the market that I can get butter fish (also known as dollarfish, Pacific pompano and pomfret) – after all, there is a fish market to the left of the restaurant as well as across the street (and that’s not even all of them). She says wait a minute and disappears into the back.

Two minutes later she emerges with a business card of the restaurant and says that the chef will sell it to me for $3.99/lb. Just call first. I swoon out of the restaurant like I have just been proposed to.

I later read online that it’s a high-fat fish. It doesn’t matter though. Because it’s been love at first sight and being fatty isn’t a deterrent. I have found my “sole” mate and there’s nothing you can say or do to stop me.

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