By Frank Sabatini Jr.
Take away the nearby palm trees and toss in a view of Casco Bay, and Beerfish would resemble any number of seafood eateries dotting the banks of Portland, Maine.
Or maybe not once you experience the California spins on clam toast accented with salsa verde or a lobster roll dressed in brown butter sauce instead of mayo and assembled with thick, buttery slices of toasted bread rather than the usual hot dog roll.
Beerfish is the brainchild of Abel Kaase, who also owns the unassuming Sessions Public in Ocean Beach.
His seafood-centric venture in North Park, which opened in June, is more conspicuous in comparison, luring in Uptowners with a roomy, adorable front patio festooned with rowboats, buoys and red table lanterns.
Customers place their food and drink orders inside at one end of the bar, which flaunts a wall of beer taps that correspond to an illuminated menu board listing all 30 of them.
Craft brands naturally rule the day in these necks, with most hailing from San Diego County breweries.
Seating in the bar area is limited compared to the patio, although its casual, nautical design is equally inviting, appearing as though you’ve stepped in from an ocean pier.
Visiting as a twosome, we ordered several items ranging from appetizers and a wedge salad to fish and chips and the lobster roll.
Fate would have it that our main plates were served to us before some of the starters, despite requesting them the other way around.
This is a persistent San Diego phenomenon that chefs and restaurant owners sorely need to address.
A half-pound of peel-and-eat shrimp arrived rightfully in the first wave of food.
It was the only letdown of our meal due to an unbearable overload of Old Bay Seasoning applied to what were otherwise sweet, perfectly steamed shrimp of impressive size.
We didn’t eat many of them, and yet it took repeated hand washings to eradicate the spice’s brawny aroma from our fingertips.
The clam toast was stupendous, even in the opinion of my companion who doesn’t like clams.
These were finely minced, like what you’d find strewn over linguini in an Italian restaurant — and here as well if you crave pasta.
Piled onto a slice of Texas toast, we loved the underlying layers of caramelized onions, lemon mayo and the salsa verde.
We opted for the addition of buttermilk fried chicken on a wedge salad, which was speckled generously with cherry tomatoes, red onions and smoky bacon.
The chicken was crispy and fork-tender, and the horseradish-buttermilk dressing added a novel zing.
Alaskan cod is used for the fish and chips. It featured three OK-sized pieces.
Based on past complaints I’ve heard from fellow foodies of the fish being overly battered, it seems the kitchen has since adjusted its recipe as we found the crispy, golden batter to be in proper ratio to the moist, flaky fish. The dill-spiked tartar sauce won us over as well.
I’m not sure whether Beerfish’s “quarter-pound” lobster roll derives most of its weight from the chunky pieces of Maine lobster or from the thick bread slices it’s stuffed into.
Whatever the case, it’s a distinct alternative to classic New England versions given its lack of celery and iceberg lettuce, which would surely wilt from the presence of warm brown butter sauce dominating the roll.
The only garden item in this interpretation is fresh chives sprinkled on top. And they work very well.
From a list of a la carte side dishes meant to also accompany other plates and sandwiches — hand-breaded oysters, grilled local catch of the day, a crab BLT and more — we ordered the grilled “border-style” corn on the cob, which arrived solo toward the end of our meal.
But I’ll count it among the best dressed cobs in town with its delicious draping of herby mayo, cotija cheese and micro greens.
Beerfish has beaten other restaurateurs to the chase in bringing a seafood-focused concept into North Park, where themes and craft beer can mean more to consumers than food quality.
But as one of the few places in the area specializing in ocean delights — and serving fresh-shucked oysters for $1 apiece during happy hour (3 to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday) — this quasi New England-style eatery appeases on all three counts.
—Frank Sabatini Jr. is the author of “Secret San Diego” (ECW Press), and began his local writing career more than two decades ago as a staffer for the former San Diego Tribune. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.