Oddfish, Vancouver.

January 2019

This new place seems inadvertently well-named. We’re told it’s under the same ownersip as Nook, which we haven’t been to for years and weren’t all that thrilled with the last time although it had almost become a regular for us previously.

Here it’s a modern and well-capitalized-looking spot on the Cypress and 1st corner where Smoking Dog used to sit. A nice culinary neighbourhood (actually two doors from the original location of Olivier Lebeau) but which for some reason now attracts slightly eccentric and for us slightly off-target operations, like Cacao across the street.

The welcome was cheery and humorous, a tall handsome guy (possibly the manager or an owner?) commenting “It’s a quiet night” as we were at 6 PM on a snowy winter Tuesday the only diners. We were four, seated at a nice table in view of the open kitchen, and a very pleasant black young lady asked us about drinks and then oriented us to the system: tapas, also referred to as shared plates (which we seem to see more and more often and which does allow a mid-price-range place to charge separately for “protein” and vegetables).

There were two menus, sort of, a printed one in front of us, quite abbreviated, and then a wee-bit hard-to-see blackboard frieze above the kitchen. Don’t count on the on-line menu we are warned, because things are so creative and fresh that the food choices change daily. But the printed menu unambiguously starts (“Let’s Begin”) with bread and butter for $4 and olives for $8, and includes buratta with “daily veg” for $22. Then “Let’s Continue” offers shellfish dishes (squid, mussels, scallops, clams) and a couple of vegetable dishes including hand-cut fries served and priced separately. Finally fish: two trout, and a “Whole Seabass” for $45, and “Seafood Hot Mess” for $85, the latter coyly touted by our server as some sort of well-kept secret. Numerous other things were on the blackboard, always separating the fish and the vegetables.

It wasn’t a drinking night for us and we only consumed one glass of wine (for one of us) off a fairly abbreviated and I thought a bit-pricey list which however included a Chablis from a producer I didn’t know for $80 which seemed not a bad deal.

The food started arriving pretty quickly. One of my favourite server dynamics was on display: loud-voiced announcement of the dishes straight across existing table conversation as if the staff was under pressure due to the restaurant’s huge popularity (not in evidence on this particular night: Hey! Who is the person reasonably entitled to deference here? Hint: it isn’t you, busboy). The buratta with a carrot purée and some watercress was tasty but less than a good serving-spoonful, with its lengthwise-cut unbuttered toasted baguette. I liked the spicy squid’s mellow flavour and thought as I crunched the mantle and tentacles maybe this restaurant is just into slightly weird but tasty stuff. The fries were perfectly okay, a bit large (hand) cut for me and flavour-wise straight canola instead of gorgeous animal fat, with a “home-made” granular mayo. Brussel sprouts were cut across and caramelized with some melted parmesan on top flavoured I think with nutmeg. Cauliflower with chermoula (a Moroccan sauce) on a separate plate was undercooked.

We all expected the $45 Whole Seabass to be a good-sized fish but it was two thin 0.5 cm x six-inch fillets, a bit overcooked if anything, with South Asian spice tasting for some reason like something out of a Patak product jar on one side, and more chermoula on the other: two or three skinny bites each for the four of us. Pretty well everything needed salt which of course you had to ask for.  My espresso was bitter the way they do it at affected pseudo-Italian places like Artigiano so I had to heap on the (brown) sugar.

$181 with only one glass of local wine among four of us. The place filled up to about a third by the time we left at 8:30, never enough for it to be frankly noisy.

Disappointing! We left hungry and feeling a bit swindled and twee-patronized which would never have entered our minds if the food had been really fabulous instead of “Odd”. Off-schmecht flavours vitiated by technical rookie blunders. To say nothing of not enough, presumably in some sort of “minceur” help at keeping us on our low-cal diet. I think at over 70 I’m able to look after my own caloric intake thanks and I completely prefer what has come to be known as comfort food.

I can’t resist. What is comfort food? I’m saying it’s food that tastes good. I suspect there are people who believe comfort food may cause illness and shorten life because it contains fat, salt, and sugar. Anyone of that opinion should have a look at my book Forbidden Food. Or maybe the opposite of comfort food is politically appropriate food: grown locally, organic, or declining to take advantage of unfortunate seasonal workers. I guess I don’t have any quarrel with that but when I try to balance seeking out great flavour against trying to further a political cause through not-necessarily-effective means I think the latter end comes up short. Or maybe comfort food is just unsophisticated and we should be eating exotic unusual and aesthetically exciting things even when they don’t taste good.

Whether any of these views are driving the cuisine at Oddfish I don’t know and care less, but we won’t be back. Food 6.2, service 6.0, ambience 8.2, value 5.6, peace and quiet 7.0 (but for sure the place would be deafening if it was ever full).

About John Sloan

John Sloan is a senior academic physician in the Department of Family Practice at the University of British Columbia, and has spent most of his 40 years' practice caring for the frail elderly in Vancouver. He is the author of "A Bitter Pill: How the Medical System is Failing the Elderly", published in 2009 by Greystone Books. His innovative primary care practice for the frail elderly has been adopted by Vancouver Coastal Health and is expanding. Dr. Sloan lectures throughout North America on care of the elderly.
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