Critic's Notebook

Smelt Good

The little fishy is all over menus right now, fried up crisp and delish.

By Kathryn Robinson August 29, 2011

The summer smelt run is in full flash right now along Washington surf, and the evidence is all over Seattle restaurants. Sushi bars like Sushi Kappo Tamura and Shiro’s make dependable seasonal use of the best of our ocean smelt, as do the getting-nicer-all-the-time folks over at Pike Street Fish Fry.

Say what you will about the virtues of grilling and roasting; the really sublime way to treat smelt is to fry a mess of ‘em up in a light breading. This is how I enjoyed them two weeks ago as an appetizer at the new Ba Bar across from Seattle U, Eric Banh’s (Monsoon, Baguette Box) loving tribute to the street eats of Saigon. Four or five of the silvery creatures lolled across a buoyant toss of cucumbers and cherry tomatoes.

Then the next night, across town at Beacon Hill’s new pizza sensation Bar del Corso, there they were again, fried up in an herby cloak and addictively munchable.

Indeed, not for nothing are smelt known as the French fries of the sea—often not much bigger (ours were 6ish to 8ish inches long) and delectably salty and crunchy. Some of the crunch comes from the bones, which are most often served right along with the flesh but are handily dispatched by our teeth.

Same goes for…the head. Glassy lifeless eyes and all. Last week I’m afraid I grossed out a lot of 103.7 The Mountain listeners in my weekly report on Seattle dining—I’m on every Thursday morning at 8am— when I mentioned that since head-and-guts-and-tail-and-all is the way fried smelt are often served, it’s a fine way to eat them. The flavor is gently briny and light; the texture crisp and lovely.

Puts the bone in bon appetit. Ha.

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