Dish Review

To the Lighthouse

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Billingsgate Seafood Market is a beacon for fish fanciers

You know, I really like fish—by which I mean “I like eating fish”; when it comes to the actual animal that’s called a fish, I’m pretty ambivalent, really—but for someone who enjoys fish so much, it’s a rare occasion indeed that I actually get a chance to eat it, mostly because I never make it at home. I don’t know; I’ve always thought that fish was just too difficult to prepare for some reason, that it would be way too easy to screw it up, and as the old saying goes, hell hath no grossness like a fish scorned by undercooking. So instead, for years I’ve learned to avoid that trainwreck altogether and simply do without—until recently, that is, when it suddenly occurred to me that there are these things called “restaurants” that are happy to cook food and give it to you in exchange for money. And so to celebrate this rather unrelevatory revelation of mine, my girlfriend and I headed out to the only place you should go if you’re looking for seafood: Billingsgate Seafood Market and Lighthouse Café.

Just as the name suggests, Billingsgate is first and foremost a seafood market, and upon entering the building you’ll pass by the display coolers boasting an extravagant selection of fresh fish and shellfish just waiting to be taken home and possibly ruined by terrible cooks like me. For those who’d rather not take their chances, however, there’s a dining area just past the market in the equally-aptly-named Lighthouse Café, seeing as the tables are, well, all inside a big lighthouse. Despite it only being 5:30 p.m., which is relatively early to be going out for dinner on a Friday, my girlfriend and I got in just under the wire and were shown to a table with a fantastic view of the rapidly-growing lineup of hungry customers who arrived just seconds after us.

After ordering a half-litre of the house white ($13.95), a light and fruity Chilean sauvignon blanc that seemed like a safe bet, we settled in and began perusing Billingsgate’s substantial menu, which offers a little of everything from your traditional fish-and-chips or steak-and-lobster combos to more exotic-sounding dishes like the vodka-and-vermouth-seared jumbo prawns with tomatoes, feta and jalapeño-stuffed olives. I, however, was in the mood for a big, meaty cut of fish that night, so after some hemming and hawing, I decided to go with the grilled Hawaiian swordfish steak served with rice, vegetables and a cucumber-lemon relish ($17.95); my girlfriend, meanwhile, opted for the organic spring Pacific salmon in a pecan butter sauce, served with Ecuadorean shrimp meatballs, rice and veggies ($17.95). For some reason unconvinced that this would be enough food, we added an appetizer of mussels provençale—fresh PEI mussels steamed with garlic, white wine, sea asparagus, tomato concasse and herbs ($8.95)—to share, before we leaned back to sip our wine and take in the surroundings.

This may sound odd considering we’re talking about a restaurant that’s housed inside a big fake lighthouse, but the décor is surprisingly modest: 10 or so Formica-topped tables, wrought-iron chairs, a few maritime-themed knickknacks strewn about… to be honest, the dining area’s a bit dated and feels especially out of step with the modernity and fine quality of the cuisine once it hits the table. But this is admittedly a pretty minor concern, and nothing a few choice renovations wouldn’t address. Ah well.

After a short time, the mussels arrived in a black cast-iron pot full of the pungent aromas of garlic and wine. Steamy and in abundance, the mussels were fantastic, soaking in a rich tomato sauce that we sopped up with a few slices of accompanying focaccia bread, but man, are there a lot of mussels in there—almost too much for only two people, in fact, and I winced a bit as I, defeated, left a plate of food to be taken away, less than completely eaten.

But these things have a way of working out, and once our main courses showed up, it became clear that it was a good thing I saved some room. Served with rice and a nice and pedestrian selection of sautéed vegetables, my swordfish steak was thick and meaty, lightly buttered and grilled without any marinades to cover up its subtle flavours, while the cucumber-lemon relish (which actually tasted more like raisins than anything else) served on the side in a phyllo pastry bowl complemented the juicy, fleshy texture of the fish perfectly. On the other side of the table, the spring salmon was getting equally enthusiastic reviews; the pecan sauce provided a light crunchiness that offered a pleasant texture contrast to the soft, flaky salmon, while the shrimp meatballs held their own off to the side, not remarkable enough to steal the show, but a nice touch that made a fairly typical dish memorable.

In the end, dessert, as it so often does, turned out not to be an option, and we finished off our wine and strolled up to the counter to pay our bill, which came in just north of $62 before tip—a fair price for an excellent meal. I think I could get used to this whole “restaurants that prepare seafood so I can’t ruin it” sort of thing. V

Billingsgate Seafood Market and Lighthouse Café
7331 Calgary Trail • 432-7851

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