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Whole Fish, DC

I've never been one to order a whole fish in restaurants, but I've done it twice lately and it was so delicious that I think I need to start doing so more frequently.

I tried a Latin American-style fried dish in California (the name is escaping me) and Porgy at Sonoma and really enjoyed both.

Name the best whole fish you've had around here and what the preparation was like. I think my next foray will probably be at an Asian restaurant, but I would love to hear more about what I'm missing.

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  1. Oceanaire had a good fresh whole fish preperation. The sides we ordered were awful, but the fish itself was good.

    1. Never had it myself but Nam Viet has a whole red snapper that seems to be popular. Draws attention as it's walked to the table the way fajitas used to in the early 80's.

      1. I've had non-Asian whole fish perhaps twice in the last few years. Most recently was at Duke's City on U Street this weekend. The dish was a special, but perhaps it comes around regularly. I'm not an expert on fish so I don't know how it was cooked. The Tilapia came stuffed with a few slices of lemon, topped with a light lemony sauce with capers. The meat was moist and not fried and didn't seem to be broiled or steamed. I'm guessing it was baked, perhaps enveloped in parchment paper? Accompanying the fish was asparagus and wedges of small potatoes. Not fancy but everything went well with the sauce.

        4 Replies
        1. re: Minger

          Tilapia is ruddy and cheap, so restaurants like it, but I find that its flesh tastes like mud. YMMV, but some say the sign of a great fish restaurant is no tilapia on the menu!

          1. re: howmanycupsinaquart

            The texture was also sorta muddy, not firm at all. I was happy to have a low-carb and low mercury option on the menu.

            1. re: Minger

              In Mark Bittman's encyclopedic book on fish, he provides numerous recipes for every kind of widely available fish you can imagine. Except Tilapia! When it comes to Tilapia, which he says has been substituting for red snapper and other more worthwhile fish, he refuses to provide a single recipe. He simply states that he avoids it and recommends his readers avoid it as well.

              I'm with you on the low carb low mercury option. While there is probably less mercury in tilapia than red snapper, there are many other wonderful fish that also have very little mercury that are typically available in restaurants.

              If you don't eat fish multiple times a week or month, then exposure to mercury through single portions of mid- and low-level mercury offenders should not be an issue, although I would be extra careful if you are pregnant. Generally, if you are not a big fish eater but are nonetheless concerned, I think the key is to memorize and avoid the handful of large predator fish that are the worst mercury offenders: shark, Tilefish, king mackerel, and, swordfish. Also, as the New York Times recently reported, a lot of Tuna has reached mercury levels that cross the threshold of "actionable" as well.

              1. re: howmanycupsinaquart

                The other dimension is PCB content of farmed fish. Any relatively inexpensive entree and unqualified salmon on the menu is most likely to be farmed. To keep this entry local, I ordered the salmon bento recently at Teaism anyway, instead of playing safe with chicken or beef, and got rewarded with a cold serving.

        2. I believe Dino has a whole fish special daily, or at least they used to have it. There is also one on the online menu:

          Orata 26
          Whole Fish - Venetian favorite: pan roasted Mediterranean sea bream (similar to red snapper), lemon, olio, capers, herbs & spices


          3 Replies
          1. re: dcs

            I can't speak to the rest of the menu, but I've had a lovely whole fried fish at Ten Penh. It's been about a year...so I don't know if it's on the menu, or not.

            1. re: dcandohio

              It was on the menu recently, and it was excellent. For future trips, its also on the menu for Restaurant week, with a small upcharge and was a great value.

            2. re: dcs

              At Dino, we always have a whole fish: simply pan roasted with spiced olive oil & lemon.

            3. I've always enjoyed the whole fish cooked in a salted crust at Mourayo on CT Ave. Most good Italian or Mediterranean restaurants (this one's Greek) will have a good, simply prepared whole fish. The key is "simply prepared" and when it's paired with the right wine wine, you can't beat it!

              1. Thai restaurant like 4912 in Tenleytown DC offer a whole fish(flash fried flounder) in either a sweet chili sauce or a garlic hot chili sauce.
                Pines of Rome in Bethesda usually have an Italian broiled fish( flounder) w/ garlic. Vincino in SS has rock or snapper broiled w/ garlic.

                1. Hudson's has a whole Brazini grilled entree in a tomato-based sauce. It was good when I had it a few months ago.

                  Like a previous poster stated, most Greek restaurants have whole salted fish.

                  1. In the last couple of weeks I've had a great (but super expensive) fried whole fish (sea bass) with Thai-style sauce at The Source ($38) and a whole fried fish (type unknown--but large) Hunan style at Eat First in Chinatown ($20). Both were yummy and both were carved tableside (not that I need it or it matters, just funny that even with the huge price difference, Eat First carved tableside). I think the fish at Eat First was larger, plus it came with more "stuff" (shredded veg, sauce, etc.). I had enough Ieft over from Eat First for dinner for 2 the next evening, at The Source only had enough left over for a light snack the next day.

                    1. DC Coast does a great Hong Kong Style Whole Crispy Fried Striped Bass, with an Asian Cucumber Salad and Garlic Soy Dipping Sauce. Tasty.

                      1. Komi usually has branzino baked in a salt crust. It's moist and delicious. Most Thai restuarants offer crispy whole fish. I like the one at Thai Square. Ask for spicy sauce.

                        1. Ten Penh does this and it's very good. Asian style. Don't remember a lot of detail. It was some time ago but remember being impressed. I think it was fried but you can order it steamed I think?

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: mrspvr

                            The Whole Crispy fish at Ten Penh is quite good, and so fun and pretty to look at. Nice crispy batter. I had it at lunch during restaraunt week. It's fried hong kong style. At lunch it's catfish. The fish was cooked well, but the catfish meat is pretty bland.

                            At dinner the menu says just crispy whole fish. During Rweek this was a $9 surcharge for dinner only. On the reg menu it's Market Price. So presumably they fry a tastier species for dinner.


                          2. Whole fish is a festive treat. I always like to order it in a group situation.

                            In the Virginia suburbs, Myanmar has a whole fish preparation that is fantastic. In Maryland, Ruan Thai in Wheaton has several excellent choices.

                            1. You should try D'Aqua on Pennsylvania Avenue.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: mnadel

                                Many casual Italian restaurants, (think Pines of Rome -Bethesda, Il Porto - Gaithersburg) always have a whole flounder, rockfish or snapper. Simply broiled with garlic, most always good.

                              2. It has been several years since I've been, but Ceiba had a delicious whole red snapper. I ordered that and my boyfriend ordered something else and he was quite envious of my meal!

                                I checked and it is still on the menu.