Since this is my first restaurant highlight I thought I might start with one of my favorites, Current Fish and Oyster! While there are many wonderful restaurants in the Salty City that serve seafood dishes, there are only a handful that specialize in them.
Until Current was opened by the LaSalle Restaurant Group, Market Street was the reigning pesca haven for nearly forty years. Housed in a brilliantly refurbished furniture warehouse on 300 South 300 East, the restaurant has two levels and a patio out front. One of my favorite touches to the modern industrial space is the preservation of paint remnants from the building’s original sign, over which the Current logo was placed.
The restaurant streamlines its culinary focus to regional American seafood with classic preparations that highlight sustainability and quality of ingredients. Due to my heavy evening work schedule I have only ever visited Current for lunch – I’m lucky its only a block from my apartment – on a handful of occasions, often drawn there with a craving for oysters. Each experience has brought prompt, friendly service, with an array of the ocean’s offerings.
On my first visit I had the clam chowder, as I find it to be a great litmus test for any seafood restaurant. It was hearty, with a solid balance of clam, bacon, and potato. One of my biggest chowder peeves is when there appears to be more potato base than actual clam, this was definitely not the case here.
My favorite dining buddy had the grilled calamari, featuring lemon aioli, fried jalapeno, fingerling potatoes, and scallion. This was definitely a favorite. Stunningly plated, the squid was grilled to a perfect soft snap, and jalapenos released pleasant heated oil tempered by the lemon aioli. The only potential notes: there could have been more texture play and an herbaceous aromatic note. Cilantro perhaps to hit the nose before your first bite, sliced nectarine or raw red onion for crunch and further scent profile.
My second visit was with the same foodie bud for a bivalve brunch date. The first time I tried mussels my palate was still quite picky. I was fourteen in Washington, DC with my parents for spring break. In hindsight those were some of the best mussels I’ve ever had, but I didn’t know it at the time. Five years later while living in Vancouver, mussels and frites became a regular happy hour occurrence.
This Current excursion was a bounty, half a dozen oysters (West Coast, East Coast, and Kumamoto), Green lipped mussels with saffron egg yolk, pickled fennel and sherry vinegar, and their two-minute ceviche.
The oysters came with a classic cucumber mignonette and cocktail sauce. As per usual the “Kumies” were my favorite. Strangely, they have been shipped to, cultivated, and popular in the U.S. since the 1940s, but are little known in Japan where they originated. Called the “Chardonnay of oysters,” these babies have a deep cup, fruity flavor, and light brine. They are grown via a tumbling method, which promotes the smooth shell and full meat. I could honestly eat them plain; it's the ocean's ultimate treat.
The mussels were a textural delight, between the chopped meat and fennel; I just wish the aforementioned saffron had been a bit more prominent. My biggest critique would be the ceviche, of which I have been a staunch connoisseur since a visit to its homeland of Peru five years ago. The fish was clearly of quality, but needed more depth of flavor and heat. This can be difficult to acquire, considering the marinating time is literally 2-5 minutes.
I would have loved a mix of fish, as the variety of flesh reacts to the citrus bath differently, producing a pleasant play on the tongue. And while I am not the biggest fan of “spicy,” (my palate still has a lot of growing to do) there are moments where I long for more, and this was one of them. In Peru I learned that a good ceviche hits you first with the ocean’s innate essence, followed with a bite of heat, and cooled with a wash of citrus.
Regardless, Current Fish and Oyster delivers what an Inland Pescatarian craves, every damn time. This is an oasis in a desert state, with a brilliant team, classic turned contemporary menu, and an atmosphere that would rival those of any top restaurant. This place makes me proud to be from the Salty City.
*Sidenote: While I had not been to Current until this March, my favorite human took me to their sister bar Undercurrent for my 25th birthday back in November. She ordered the seafood platter that comes with three lobster tails, and I lost count of how many oysters, mussels, and shrimp. It was a pesca-dream.