Italians have the Feast of Seven Fishes. The Wongs? Well, we have our annual Christian Chinese Country Christmas, where the star of the show is a down-home, Louisiana seafood gumbo that I’ve made for our Christmas Day dinner for 20 years.
Some years my brother Piers has made the seafood stew – which is good, but perhaps not quite as “out of this world” as mine – and this year, we’re mixing it up by having a gumbo cookoff between me and my brother Mark (he’s been practicing and I’ve been tasting, so I know my competition!).
It’s not a celebration unless there’s seafood, we say. I tend to celebrate my love for fish and shellfish throughout the year (my sushi allowance alone would likely blow people’s minds).
So, in honor of the holidays, here’s my own Feast of the Seven Fishes – Augusta style – seven local seafood dishes and restaurants that I’ve tried, tasted and rated.
FRENCH MARKET GRILLE WEST, 360 Fury’s Ferry Road, frenchmarketwest.com. Speaking of gumbo, we visited FMG West earlier this year with our friends Greg and Nancy and their son Collin. Among friends, Greg is known as the “Bayou Barrister” – as he’s a lawyer who hails from New Orleans. Fresh off of downtown’s Mudbugabeaux-N-Brew, I was hungry for more crawfish – and I wanted to see how “New Orleans” FMG West’s fare really was.
The menu is a bit different from the similarly named but dissimilarly owned French Market Grille in Surrey Center. The bright red crawfish hit the spot – firm and fresh. A few of the dishes weren’t to my taste: My shrimpaletta entrée, a riff on the classic Nawlins muffaletta, was mouth-puckeringly tart with its mustard and olive dressing, and our other entrees – a steak and crab chop – were also burnished near black on one side. The music and atmosphere, though? Right on, affirmed Greg – so definitely go to get a Nawlins vibe without having to book a flight.
HOKKAIDO, 4460 Washington Road, hokkaidoevans.com. I don’t often order noodle soup in restaurants. It just never seems like it would be filling enough. But somehow I was craving it, so the seafood udon at Hokkaido fit the bill. On a cold winter night, it was pure comfort: thick noodles in a light seafood broth, loaded with fresh shrimp, scallops, salmon, white fish, crab and vegetables. And Sean’s dinner bento box was a terrific deal: Served with a miso soup and salad, the box was filled with pretty trays of tempura vegetables, a California roll, shu mi (pork and shrimp dumplings), chef’s choice sashimi and rice.
TAKOSUSHI, 437 Highland Ave, Augusta; 1202 Town Park Lane, Evans; and 210 The Alley, Aiken; tako-sushi.com. Another great deal: the bento box for two at Takosushi. I don’t think I’ve ever ordered any of Tako’s Mexican entrees – I can’t get past the sushi.
For $40, the bento box includes soup and a salad, and enough sushi to make even me full, with two fat rolls, plus a variety of nigiri and sashimi to share.
AUGUSTA FISH MARKET AND RESTAURANT, 1843 Walton Way, facebook.com/AugustaFishMarket. This new market on Walton Way is owned and operated by the same folks who ran the old Ming Wah across the street – which should come as no surprise once you peek at the menu because it features plenty of fried rice, chicken wings and other Chinese favorites. My mom treated me to a platter of whole fried fish and a side of fried rice there. The rice is typical Chinese greasy spoon – totally old school and reminiscent of my days working in restaurants – but the fish, while also slightly greasy, was tender and flaky. Those afraid of bones, however, should go with fish fillets.
RHINEHART’S, 3051 Washington Road, Augusta, and 305 North Belair Road, Evans, www.beyondcasual.com. Despite its somewhat ratty interior – walls scrawled all over with names and notes from patrons past in black marker – Rhinehart’s has passed the mom test: It was my choice for one of my birthday dinners, and she didn’t bat an eye. And Rhinehart’s is the place I think of when I want oysters – fried, fresh or in a po boy. They’re always consistent and tasty.
BEAMIE’S, 865 Reynolds St., (706) 724-6593 or find them on Facebook. For a while the folks at Beamie’s knew my order the minute I stepped in the door: the fried shrimp basket with a side of pasta salad. Beamie’s casual atmosphere is perfect for lunch, and the fried shrimp is the only entrée I’ve ever ordered. The shrimp are always fat, with a flaky and flavorful crust, and plenty of tangy cocktail sauce to dip them in.
SHANGRI-LA, 2933 Washington Road, www.shochin.com. Not many can come close to my mom’s homemade steamed fish with ginger, soy and scallions, but Shangri-La (the restaurant, not the buffet) comes the closest. My mom will often serve her fish during holidays (it was one of the highlights of our Thanksgiving Eve Chinese feast this year). Shangri-La’s light version is prettily presented with bok choy, and the delicate white fish itself is sweet, tender and fragrant.
There are so many more places I could mention:
• Emashiya’s spicy blue crabs (which must be ordered 24 hours in advance);
• Pho Bac’s salt and pepper squid; and
• Eggroll Express’ shrimp in lobster sauce (which I’ve already raved about in another column).
More seafood? Bring it on, I say. But I’m still looking for a gumbo dish to rival our family’s recipe.