This was one of the more memorable places I visited during my stay in Toronto, and not just for its name.
This “Fresh off the Boat” has no affiliation with my favourite Asian American family sitcom. Even though the restaurant actually played hardcore hip hop, including some tracks “Eddie Huang” would approve of. (You need to follow the show the get the reference.)
The term “Fresh off the Boat” was formerly used to classify newly immigrated Chinese citizens to western countries. It was used as a jab to point out their differences in culture, food, and beliefs. It was seen as something derogatory when I was growing up. To be someone “fresh off the boat” (aka F.O.B) was an insult, and as a Chinese student in a western school, you wanted none of it. But on the television series and in Eddie Huang’s memoirs, they have take back the term and use it lovingly to point about the uniqueness that a Chinese American family faces. And at this restaurant, it is used literally to emphasis the freshness in all the seafood they use in all their dishes.
The restaurant’s exterior had a clean look to it. All black with its name lit in teal. Although, it the large crab decal on the window that says it all: seafood joint.
The theme travels inwards. Bleach wood wall paneling, rope tied in sailing knots dangling from the rafters, a propellor used in decoration, single light bulbs strung from wires, walls papered with a grey scale illustration of a school of fish at swim; and nautical themed photos of ships at high sea. Black and white visual memories of fishermen with their catch of the day, and fingers snipped by pincher claws.
The counter in which you order from is framed in a ceiling to floor moulding feature. It bevels and makes it appear that you are order from within a circle. Or perhaps, a ships’s window: a porthole?
The menu was easy to navigate with a series of items spelled out across several blackboards. Together, they formed a functional collage by the entrance. It all sounded so good, I took the proper time to go through each option. An Asian inspired po’boy meet banh mi with battered catfish and pickled kimchi. An Asian inspired surf and turf sandwich with Korean style beef partnering up with tiger shrimp. Catfish, sword fish, and mahi mahi grilled. The classic fish and chips combo with halibut. And a lobster roll, shrimp sandwich, seafood chowder, and fries topped with snow crab.
There was much of it I wanted to order and all of it I wanted to try. But I was just one woman, trying to eat all she could, and pack in a month’s worth of dining out in Toronto all into one weekend trip. I had to pace myself and prioritize my eating to what I felt was the most unique, what stood out from a list of creative seafood twists. Nothing was more this then eating a burger with a whole crab in place of an regular patty.
Enter the “Soft shell crab burger”.
The “Soft shell crab sandwich” comes with a whole battered and fried soft shell crab, lettuce, and tomato on a grilled bun. It is served with with a side of fresh cut fries and a cup of broccoli and raisin slaw. Soft shell crabs are crustacean without the tough exoskeletons of other crabs. They have nothing to protect their juicy meat, and you can eat them without cracking into them. The crab was battered claws and all. Then with a dollop of mayonnaise, it was sandwiched between vegetables and two halves of a hamburger bun. In hindsight I should have ordered just the crab as is, as it was what I came here for and the only thing I ended up eating all of. The buns just made for great mits to keep my hands from getting saucy.
The crab was juicy, each bite had liquid dribbling down my chip and moisture pooling between my fingers. You needed the firm grip of both hands, but even then it was hard to eat without looking like a savage. Half way through the burger buns broke apart, soggy with the moisture from the crab. From there it was knife and fork, picking at things. The crab was crispy bites with golden brown breading. Quite the treat, that I could have eaten a bucket of it, a la “KFC” style.
It is worth noting that, even the side of slaw was the restaurant’s own creative interpretation. I didn’t even know you could make a decent slaw using broccoli. Semi raw broccoli stems julienned down to size, coated in vinegar and mayo, along with carrots for colour and raisins for sweetness. It offered the perfect tang to partner with seafood, the freshness you need when having something deep fried, and the sweetness to reset your palette after every forkful.
But he forewarned you get thirsty quick with this one. Luckily they made available a self serve station that included iced water and all the napkins and utensils you would need. The lemon slices floating in the water was a nice touch as citrus naturally pairs well with seafood.
Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – Yes.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this to someone visiting from out of town? – Yes.
The place was something special, truly one for the seafood lovers. Classics and new flavours well thought out, and as consistent as their setting. This is one Vancouver needs, and would do well in our restaurant landscape. This is especially so, considering our great resources to fresh seafood and our already prevalent use of Asian flavours and ingredients; not to mention there is an the easy availability of both here. Don’t deny your cravings.