Return to RockCreek for Fantastic Fish, This Time Unfried

RockCreek branzinoWhen I first moved to Seattle, the better seafood choices were largely limited to the more expensive, tourist-oriented restaurants that lined various parts of the Elliott Bay waterfront. Ray’s Boathouse was the pleasant place to take out-of-towners for dinner (especially if they were paying!), while I opted for the more humble Little Chinook’s at Fishermen’s Terminal for chowder and fish ‘n chips if on my own dime. (For those open to “Asian” flavors, my seafood recommendations soon switched to Seven Stars Pepper for Sichuan crab or, even better, some of my favorite sushi joints: Kisaku, Sushi Kappo Tamura, and Mashiko.)

The situation’s changed in the past couple of years, with quality seafood restaurants opening away from Elliott Bay. I’ve been a fan of Tanglewood Supreme in Magnolia, and though I lament the loss of lunch service there, happy hour’s a great deal, and the dinner menu always has a handful of seafood specialties. Westward is shining the spotlight on seafood with some interesting Mediterranean influences, featuring a fine oyster bar and a menu that includes smoked Manila oyster dip and whole fish roasted in the wood oven. Currently nominated for a James Beard award for Outstanding Restaurant Design, Westward sits pretty on Lake Union for a fine waterfront experience.

Top of my list now, though, may be RockCreek in Fremont. Chef Eric Donnelly is no stranger to seafood, as was formerly at Oceanaire downtown. (This spot is now Blueacre, another good choice for seafood.) RockCreek sports an upscale “fishing lodge” look, with a main dining room and an upstairs loft that also has a nifty private dining space. Donnelly’s goal is to go beyond the staples and introduce diners to fin fish from all over the world. His preparations are global—some restrained to emphasize the subtle flavors of the fish itself, and some with bold and bright ingredient combinations and flavors.

A previously satisfying brunch experience made me eager to return to RockCreek. Thinking back to the delicious Dungeness crab relleno and my partner’s bacon and fried oyster Benedict, I had high hopes for fish of the unfried variety.

The one-page menu has a half-dozen starters along with oysters in shooter and half-shell form. Seafood choices intensify in the small plate section, ideal for sharing. Landlubbers can skip to the bottom of the menu to find a few meat, poultry, and pasta items, but seafood fans should especially focus on the “Fin Fish” section with about ten selections that can change based on season and availability.

I sampled my way around the menu, trying oysters, a salad with seared sardines, hamachi crudo, barbequed octopus, and a few of those fin fish dishes. Read on for a detailed look…

RockCreek oyster shooter

What better way to start than with an oyster shooter and raw bar shot? This one is with an Effingham Inlet oyster, adorned with ginger, ikura, and shiso, and accompanied by a shot of sake. There’s a perfect marriage of Japanese flavors, with the uniquely complex herbal notes of the shiso playing well against the oyster and the briny bubbles of salmon eggs.

RockCreek oysters

More oysters: this time a sampling of local Olympias (small, but packed with meaty flavor) and Judd Coves on the half-shell. I enjoyed the champagne mignonette, but with oysters this good, ultimate ate them straight up.

RockCreek sardine salad

I’m a big fan of small fish, so from the Starters section the “Seared Monterey Bay sardine salad with roasted eggplant, mint, basil, tomatoes, and shallot lime vinaigrette” was high on my wish-list. There’s actually more going on than that (radishes, fennel, etc.), and I really enjoyed the variety of flavors—especially the herbs. The sardine was perfectly seared.

RockCreek crudo

From the Small Plates section, here’s Hawaiian hamachi crudo with Walla Walla sweet onion vinaigrette, crisp bonito and sesame pickles and shiso. If I can’t each sushi, crudo might be my second favorite way to enjoy fish, as the flavor shines through.

RockCreek octopus

Another small plate was the chili barbequed Alaskan octopus with cannellini beans, capers, oil-cured olives, and chili-vinaigrette. I’m high on the concept of this dish, again with wonderful flavors (briny against tangy barbeque, with bursts of parsley and lemon zest), thought I wish the octopus was a little less tender and a little more chewy. (That texture admittedly plays to the appeal that Eastern preparations have for me over Western preparations.)

RockCreek black cod

First of three from the Fin Fish section of the menu: Short Trip Neah Bay black cod Provencale with sherry, lime, caramelized shallots, and Provencale herbs. This was well-executed, and will appeal to those who like more subtle fish preparation and strong herbal notes.

RockCreek char

Next is Icelandic char with pea vines, Manila clams, Calabrian peppers, and Meyer lemon broth. I really enjoyed the slightly acidic and spicy profile of this dish. In testimony to the quality, I wish there had been just a little more of the broth, as it was so flavorful that I was spooning it up with each bite of fish.

RockCreek branzino

My favorite of the bunch was whole Grecian branzino with rose petal harissa, garbanzo bean roasted garlic puree, and sea salt. This was slightly floral, with the complexity of the harissa prominent, though not enough to disguise the delicate puree. I hope restaurants will serve more whole fish. If you’re not afraid, there’s a lot eating if you properly (or not) pull apart the fish and pick against the bones. As with many animals, the face meat is especially divine.

RockCreek lime dessert

To satisfy the sweet tooth, I sampled a couple of desserts. “Light” and refreshing after a fish feast is the key lime pie, graham cracker, and whipped cream.

RockCreek smore

And then the RockCreek S’mores with Valrhona chocolate mousse, smoked meringue, caramel, sea salt, and graham tuile. This dessert is quite sweet, and certainly fun.

RockCreek menu

Here’s a look at the Fin Fish section of the menu.

RockCreek interior

RockCreek is rocking each night, plenty busy with every table taken. It gets a little on the noisy side, but that’s to be expected at a restaurant that fills because the food is so solid.

RockCreek on Urbanspoon

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