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Nov 14, 2007 09:23 AM

Get me to a fishmonger!

Are there any decent seafood vendors in D.C. or Northern Virginia? Both the Eastern Market shop and M. Slavin have sold me rotten (stink-to-the-heavens rotten) scallops. Today I went to Slavin and asked for two sea-bass filets and was presented with a bass steak cut thick enough for two people (yes, partially my fault for being slow on the uptake). The Maine Avenue market strikes me as a scenic prop -- the presence of a body of water seems to be only coincidental to the fact that fish is being sold.

Where else to try?

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  1. I have actually had good luck at the Maine ave fishmarket. You have to buy what looks good rather than what you think you want though. Cameron's in Silver Spring is a distant second. The other place that has a decent through put is Han ah rheum or super h mart in Falls Church. But I generally buy at Maine ave.

    6 Replies
    1. re: fishie

      There's a Cameron's in DC. Quick drive from Capitol Hill, too. 1540 Benning Rd, NE (Right by the intersection of H St and Florida Ave. Never been there though. There's always a coupon on the back of Safeway receipts (at least the ones from the Capitol Hill Safeway).

      1. re: JustinS

        I went into Cameron's (Benning Road) on a recon mission but didn't need anything that day. It was clean but unremarkable. The Black Salt shopper would get sniffy about it but it had a decent selection of ordinary seafood products that would satisfy most people. Don't expect to find sushi grade anything. They did have live crabs and oysters in the shell with really good specials.
        Until 12/15, they offer backfin crabmeat for $13.99 and in November they have #2 male or female crabs for as low as $5 a dozen on some days - perfect for gumbo.
        If they're buying from the same sources like pretty much everybody else in town, I'm not going to get uppity about them for day to day local seafood which is a lot of what we use.
        They offer carryout spiced shrimp, steamed crabs, seafood platters, party platters and a lot of daily specials.

        1. re: MakingSense

          By "sniffy" do you mean that it smells bad? If that's the case, I certainly would get sniffy. I buy both the "ordinary seafood products" as well as the unusual ones. I like baby octupus and branzino, but I love shrimp and fresh mackerel. The point is that it has to be just that. FRESH. I'm willing to pay a bit more at Black Salt for that.

          1. re: bacchante

            Ooops, Sniffy was a poor choice of a word, wasn't it? No, I meant snobby, as in that some folks think that they have to go to upscale fishmongers to get fresh fish when is some cases, the exact opposite is true. People will report that the place smells bad, like fish, etc. and they've read that it's a bad sign. Not necessarily. I buy my fish on the Eastern Shore at the broker's dock. The place smells terrible because they're shucking oysters, cleaning fish, throwing frames into bins, etc. and aren't hosing it down every minute. The prep rooms for some wholesalers in DC reek but the fish is fresher than you'll get in some of the local upscale markets.

            You can get fresh seafood at lots of places in the Metro area. Also not so fresh. A high price, fancy name or chic address is no guarantee. Neither is a location in a downscale strip mall a sign of poor quality. It's possible to get very fresh fish at lots of price points.

            1. re: MakingSense

              Well, I know what you mean. I frequently buy fish on the dock where the fishing boats come in at Chincoteague, and it is the same way.

              As far as freshness goes, I pretty much buy it by how it looks, as I don't have quite the nerve to ask the fishmonger to let me smell it. In general, I'm seldom satisfied with freshness. Either it doesn't taste or feel all that fresh when I get it home (on ice in a cooler), or else, it tastes and smells of preservatives.

              I trust Black Salt for freshness--so far I haven't been burned. For some years, there was a retail outlet in Arlington for a wholesaler that sold to the likes of Maestro and other high end places. I found some outstanding things there from time to time. For example, how often do you see scallops with the roe attached? Unfortunately never. And unfortunately, that place has been gone for a while.

              1. re: bacchante

                I think you're right. Retail consumers in the DC metro area are at a disadvantage. We're so close to the water and yet soooo far because of the distribution system. Restaurants get first dibs and what we get filters down so it's sometimes not the tops. Some of the better wholesalers don't even sell retail.
                Over the years, I've bought at places that did their own importing or bought/buy directly from brokers, but those are not common in DC, unless you're willing to drive up to Jessup or over to the Chesapeake.
                I grew up fishing and we froze our catch so I don't have a problem with frozen seafood as long as it's properly thawed. I'd never in a million years buy anything "thawed for my convenience." I do stock up when I can buy local fish like you do over in Chincoteague, and put it in the freezer.
                I eat the specialty items like scallop with roe at the restaurants that get the first choice of top quality directly from the source. Many of them bring it in themselves and it never hits fish markets. It's worth paying for. I think because Black Salt is attached to a restaurant, it is one of the most reliable places in town, although expensive for most people.
                Some of the Asian markets sound very promising if people can't afford Black Salt. Seeing the whole fish is the only way to know if it's really fresh. Have them filet it for you and get the fish frames for stock.

    2. We have had good luck with Capt White's at Maine Ave -- but we've been going for years and spending lots and lots of money there.

      1. You should do a search because I swear there was a long thread about this a couple months ago. I know in particular a bunch of people gave some pretty compelling reasons why NOT to ever shop at Maine Avenue.

        I also know I said I like going to Whole Foods on P Street and the Chowhound crowds practically ripped me to shreds. :)

        3 Replies
        1. re: Elyssa

          Yes, there was such a thread recently.

          I was one who responded very negatively about Whole Foods, but I was referring specifically to the one in Arlington. I've talked to others who also find that one very lacking.

          I also responded very negatively about Slavin and Maine Avenue.

          The best place I know of is Black Salt (the market in front of the restaurant) on McArthur Blvd. in Palisades.

          1. re: Elyssa

            And lots of hounds suggested the market at BlackSalt, which isn't all that practical for those of us without a car. I'm leery of the fish at Eastern Market - it always seems "no so fresh." And FWIW, I do shop at Maine Avenue, but again, I buy what looks and smells freshest, so you have to go with an open mind. If you want cooked seafood there, you will do just fine. I eat fried oysters there all the time and I've never suffered (except for needing larger pants).

          2. Please do not laugh. Please. Because this is going to sound ridiculous.
            The Kentucky Avenue Safeway. Now please. I asked you not to laugh.
            John, the thin older black man who works in the seafood department, doesn't eat meat, loves his seafood, and will always tell you what's fresh. Like exactly what came in that day, what was frozen, what was fresh, etc. There's a younger man and a woman who also are great, neither of them eats meat either.Can't remember their names right now. They're really good. None of them has steered me wrong.
            You won't get fancy-dancy things, sushi grade anything. Not a broad selection. But I've gotten some pretty good stuff, extremely fresh by following their advice. And the prices are good, especially the things on sale. Good place for Wednesday night supper.

            1. Bill: It's a bit of a trek, but I have to agree that only Bi H in Fairfax or the other Korean market on Gallows Rd fit the bill (sorry-haha) All the korean markets have a hugh selection of fresh whole or fillet or any way you want it fish, and will cut it your way.
              Cannon's on 31st in Georgetown may still be OK but I needed a third job to pay for it.
              When we want fish we still go out of our way to the Korean marts. Where else can you get a whole tuna (25lb) for $3 a pound? Live eels, 6 kinds of clams, sushi grade salmon & tuna, I could go on.

              3 Replies
              1. re: phatface

                $3 a pound for tuna (I'm assuming yellowfin) is suspiciously cheap. How does it taste?

                1. re: cleveland park

                  It is (was) whole albacore. About 2 feet long and big aroung about the diameter of a basketball. I did not buy it cause it looked like it would come out to about 12 pounds or so when dressed. A little too much for our needs.

                  1. re: phatface

                    Captain White's at the Maine Avenue wharf is, overall, the most reliable seafood market in the D. C. area. (Jesse Taylor's has proven to be inconsistent over the years.) Super H in Fairfax and several of the other large Asian markets are very good and very fairly priced but, for my interests, lack, say larger fish. I'll buy 2 1/2 to 3 lb red snapper, rockfish, etc. and the only place that consistently has them is Maine Avenue. Sometimes Wegman's has them as do most of the Whole Foods-but not consistently. Wegman's also occasionally carries fresh 15-20 count shrimp and has Carolina lump crab meat for $24 or so a pound along with farm raised clams, mussels, etc.. From my experience Whole Foods can vary with quality and who is behind the counter. Asking to have a two pound fish fileted, skin off with the head and frame returned can be met with stone silence sometimes. Nothing takes the place of the fish cleaning house on Maine avenue. I do not like Slavin's and was disappointed the one time I drove to the retail store in Jessup. Cannon is good but the variety is limited-and they are expensive. Black Salt is outstanding but, again, limited.

                    Bottom line: for shellfish Wegman's and Whole Foods are fine but if you are going for fresh fish it is worth the drive to Maine Avenue.