Original Fish Market

Original Fin



Cumin-seared waluu with carrot ribbons, tarragon butter broth and cockles.

Photo by Laura Petrilla

Original Fish Market
1001 Liberty Ave.
Westin Convention Center Hotel, Downtown
412/227-3657

Mon.-Fri., 11 A.M.-1 A.M.
Sat.-Sun., 1 P.M.-1 A.M.
APPETIZERS: $9-$17
ENTREES: $24-$46
DESSERTS: $6.95
Nonsmoking, Wheelchair Accessible, Parking Validated ($50 Plus); Full Bar, Sushi Bar


It's roomy. There's a crowd at the octagonal bar. A movie star or two hangs out at the spotless sushi bar animated by chef Mike Au of the magical fingers. The 11-by-17-inch paper menu changes daily. The wine list rolls out like a Santa wish list from a fortunate child. A bundle of tables in the front and rear abstractly connects a middle row of padded wooden berths that - close your eyes! - could be the last gasp of a Pullman night train rattling along its midnight route. Retro 1950s patterned wallpaper evokes images of an old seaside cabana, hinting at the primal allure of the ocean. Crater-sized light fixtures break the patrician grandeur, a little funky - but who cares? All around us, people are slurping oysters and dipping rosy Gulf shrimp as if there's no tomorrow. Things just keep getting better.

Impressive gumbos and blue-crab soup. Green mussels from New Zealand. Hand-picked mano-de-leon ("lion's paw") scallops from Baja. Alaskan halibut. Hawaiian waluu. "Is not, was not frozen," says executive chef Brian Annapolen, who routinely wheels and deals over the phone and Internet with some 30-odd purveyors. His efforts help ensure that anytime you hear the tired whine, "There's nowhere to have a serious meal after 10 p.m. in this town," you can rub your hands on an invisible oil lamp, imagine the genie's apparition and cry, "Original Fish Market!"

We're a bicoastal nation in that a majority of us voluntarily clusters within 100 miles of either ocean. Is it the tidal pull of the moon or the ionic magic of land interacting with salty sea vapors that draws us to these environs? "Maybe it's the alluring smell of coconut oil from SPF 45 sun block," suggests my husband, Brad. Though there are those who say the salt air makes everything taste better - a towering pile of balsamic-chili-glazed shrimp, impeccably fresh and full of flavor, is as good as any I've had seaside.

This month, when currents change and migrations begin, the chef suggests an oyster sampler, wild salmon and "sushi, sushi, sushi." On any given day, the house offers 12 to 14 types of oysters (a wet locker keeps them in seawater until they arrive) and 20 to 25 types of fresh fish - some cooked, some raw, some pickled, gently blanched or steamed. The little sushi nook is a worthy stop with its glistening, unsullied fish, as pretty as jewelry you pin onto your lapel.

With such a gorgeous crop of seafood arriving daily from all over the world, Annapolen is meticulous about supporting local growers. Spinach, asparagus, tomatoes, potatoes and squash are bought locally, in season, as are all herbs used to garnish entrees.

A perfectionist with a sense of urgency and a tremendous work ethic, Annapolen is a second-generation chef who remembers falling for restaurant life when his dad took him to work as a small child. Fascinated by the big, shiny equipment and the inevitable cacophony of a busy kitchen - "Everybody yellin' and it smelled great" - Annapolen had settled on this career path by the time he was 10, and he has never wavered. His thoughtful, prolific output and attention to detail still evoke old memories: a perfect caesar, tableside; lush lobster bisque; even that first great macaroni-and-cheese.

This is a chef who hates to "86" anything. If the golden trout runs out at lunch and the Idaho rainbow between 5 and 7 p.m., he'll reprint the menu two, even three times a day. "I love to feed people," he says. "If it's a birthday, anniversary, graduation, first date, they're going to remember the moment - and honestly, maybe not where, but more likely what they ate - for the rest of their lives."

Main courses are superb. On the evening we were the beneficiaries of a deal struck with a broker for off-size African lobster tails, I knew what he meant. Annapolen cracked the gargantuan tail and extracted the heavenly meat, perfectly cooked.

It was hard to call it quits. Slow-poached Hawaiian waluu, a fatty, oily fish, at once rich but descriptively elusive, stands up to its oily personality with a touch of lemon, showing off its innate buttery essence but fooling you with a clean, light touch.

Taking the "boring" out of "vegetable" is the broccoli rabe with roasted peppers, garlic puree and sherry gastrique balanced over carrot ribbons drizzled with hot champagne nage and crowned with fresh celery shoot. The flavors are bright and lovely together. Organic salmon innately pops with flavor, falling apart at the ping of a fork in a mesquite sauce laid on so lightly it's barely there. Annapolen is a bit of a closet minimalist, and it shows here.

If you're a creature who goes to a fish market and orders beef, face it, people may stare. I recommend the 21-ounce prime-aged rib-eye (generally from a Colorado stockyard), cooked over mesquite with salt and pepper and just a little olive oil (garlic and herbs cover up the flavor, says the chef) with a precious tomato jus and pickled mushrooms. Two voluptuous beer-battered onion rings are worth the splurge.

If you can talk your table into it, the chef's menu is positively fun. Annapolen will stop and ask some neat questions: "What did your grandmother cook? What did you feel like eating when you arrived? What do you love? Hate?" The difference between a meal and a masterpiece hangs on a chef whose technique renders the wallpaper insignificant. It accounts for all those chefs hanging out on their Monday nights off.

"Eugenius," whispered M.J., our server, referring to the immensely talented pastry chef, Eugene Kanar. The entire evening could just be a ruse for dessert, we decide, after tasting daffodil strawberry romanoff, a crispy homemade flower cup with vanilla-bean ice cream, whipped chantilly, spilling strawberries folded with Grand Marnier. Double-decker raspberry-and-citrus chocolate mousse rolled in crunchy banana chips infiltrated with orange zest is heartbreaking to cut into. Decorative chocolate ribbons look as if they have been shaped with a curling iron. Really, don't skip dessert.

A group of lifelong friends infrequently but assuredly gathers here whenever life circumstances align our paths. It began by welcoming back a prodigal friend long ago absconded to Australia and continued later, when one of us lost a parent. On and on... It's just that kind of place, where a glass of bubbly can be sipped from coffee to dessert without scowling servers, where we can dally, pass plates, taste one another's dragon rolls. OFM doesn't toe-tap, lord checks or do the post-dessert hound, a technique that sometimes involves bumping tables with vacuums.

Though at the moment we'd rather be tossing off our flip-flops to frolic on the balmy coast of somewhere else, reality is that in Pittsburgh, the season is short and ephemeral, restricted to backyard decks and swimming pools, frosty glasses from the freezer. The Original Fish Market effectively maintains the illusion of the sea in our midst - minus the boardwalk arcades, the amateur parades, and without a need for the "must-have" Italian ice.

And you can just drop in.
 


Each month, Deborah McDonald jump-starts appetites with lively restaurant reviews that scrutinize who's cooking what and where. She works anonymously, visiting each restaurant at least twice before writing her column.

Do you know of a restaurant you'd like to have reviewed? E-mail Deborah.

Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Top Ten Things to Do in Pittsburgh in May

Top Ten Things to Do in Pittsburgh in May

The month's best bets in The 'Burgh.
Best Doctors in Pittsburgh 2016

Best Doctors in Pittsburgh 2016

The list of the regions's 687 leading physicians across 80 specialities.
Making The Rounds: What It Means to be a Doctor in Pittsburgh

Making The Rounds: What It Means to be a Doctor in Pittsburgh

In a city known for world-class care, a life dedicated to health is rewarding, challenging, and innovative at every level — from med school to the board room.
Why Pittsburgh Police Chief Cameron McLay is Cornered

Why Pittsburgh Police Chief Cameron McLay is Cornered

Can McLay reshape the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police in his polite, communication-heavy, community-friendly, racially sensitive, 21st-century image?
Edit ModuleShow Tags

The 412

Pittsburgh Comic Shop Owners Prepare For Free Comic Book Day

Pittsburgh Comic Shop Owners Prepare For Free Comic Book Day

For comic book fans, it's the equivalent of black Friday, only much more fun.
Ross Photographer's Out of This World Picture To Be On Postage Stamp

Ross Photographer's Out of This World Picture To Be On Postage Stamp

The stunning photo of a star trail around Mt. Rainier took two hours to shoot.
Is PUC Going Overboard With Its Punishment of Uber

Is PUC Going Overboard With Its Punishment of Uber

Governor Tom Wolf, Mayor Bill Peduto, and Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald say the PUC went too far when it fined the ride-sharing company $11.3 million.
The Story Behind This Epic Picture of Lightning Over Pittsburgh

The Story Behind This Epic Picture of Lightning Over Pittsburgh

Most people crawl deeper under the covers during a nighttime thunderstorm, photographer Dave DiCello does just the opposite.

Sign Up for the 412 e-Newsletter

 

Our new, daily e-newsletter is curated by the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine and is designed to give you the very best Pittsburgh has to offer -- delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign me up!
* Email
 First Name
 Last Name
  * = Required Field
 
Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Top Ten Things to Do in Pittsburgh in May

Top Ten Things to Do in Pittsburgh in May

The month's best bets in The 'Burgh.
Best Doctors in Pittsburgh 2016

Best Doctors in Pittsburgh 2016

The list of the regions's 687 leading physicians across 80 specialities.
Making The Rounds: What It Means to be a Doctor in Pittsburgh

Making The Rounds: What It Means to be a Doctor in Pittsburgh

In a city known for world-class care, a life dedicated to health is rewarding, challenging, and innovative at every level — from med school to the board room.
Why Pittsburgh Police Chief Cameron McLay is Cornered

Why Pittsburgh Police Chief Cameron McLay is Cornered

Can McLay reshape the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police in his polite, communication-heavy, community-friendly, racially sensitive, 21st-century image?
The Eaglets Have Landed

The Eaglets Have Landed

The bald eagles nesting in Hays once again have given birth to a new generation. We take you into the nest to see how quickly the two chicks are growing.
Review: Justin Severino Knocks It Out of the Park With Morcilla

Review: Justin Severino Knocks It Out of the Park With Morcilla

Severino's follow-up to Cure is already winning national accolades.
Edit Module

Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

On the Blogs


Pittsburgh Comic Shop Owners Prepare For Free Comic Book Day

Pittsburgh Comic Shop Owners Prepare For Free Comic Book Day

For comic book fans, it's the equivalent of black Friday, only much more fun.

Comments


Pittsburgh, only cooler
PittGirl: How You Should Grade A Squishy Tongue

PittGirl: How You Should Grade A Squishy Tongue

Kennywood Park opens soon and new this season is the return of the famed whale at the entrance of Noah’s Ark. In the name of science, PittGirl paid an early visit to test the squishiness quotient of the whale's all-important tongue.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
Umami Izakaya (Finally) Open in Lawrenceville

Umami Izakaya (Finally) Open in Lawrenceville

The much-anticipated Japanese pub from Tamari's Roger Li and Round Corner Cantina's Derek Burnell will serve food and drink deep into the night.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
The Best 6 Places to Get a Cup of Tea in Pittsburgh

The Best 6 Places to Get a Cup of Tea in Pittsburgh

The quiet rise of Pittsburgh's tea scene gives us a few favorite gems.

Comments


Lawrenceville's New, Different Nighttime (and Morning) Destination

Lawrenceville's New, Different Nighttime (and Morning) Destination

The Abbey on Butler — part coffeehouse, part restaurant, part bar — could prove to be a major Lawrenceville destination.

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
Pirates Still Searching For Response to Arrieta-Caliber Dominance

Pirates Still Searching For Response to Arrieta-Caliber Dominance

The Bucs’ wild-card failures the last two seasons have cast a shadow of doubt if not impending doom over a season that otherwise ought to be ripe with promise.

Comments


Style. Design. Goods. Hide your credit card.
Welcome Warm Weather with This Bright Summer Shift Dress

Welcome Warm Weather with This Bright Summer Shift Dress

Local fashion line Kelly Lane has the perfect dress to kick off your summer style.

Comments


Sean Collier's Popcorn for Dinner

The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
Your Mother Deserves Better than This Awful Mother's Day Movie

Your Mother Deserves Better than This Awful Mother's Day Movie

Reviews of "Mother's Day," "Keanu," "Green Room" and local film news and notes.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
Finding Sunshine on a Rainy Wedding Day in Pittsburgh

Finding Sunshine on a Rainy Wedding Day in Pittsburgh

You don’t always need blue skies and sunshine to have a beautiful and memorable wedding. One couple shares their advice on making the most of a rainy wedding day and what to do when the forecast is less than ideal.

Comments


The latest tips and trends to refresh your home.
A Far From Ordinary House Tour in Wilkinsburg This Weekend

A Far From Ordinary House Tour in Wilkinsburg This Weekend

The Wilkinsburg Community Development Corporation hosts a one-of-a-kind house tour on May 7.

Comments


The hottest topics in higher education
A Week of Education for Adults & Children Alike

A Week of Education for Adults & Children Alike

Remake Learning Days, a program offering new and future-forward educational experiences, is set for various spots throughout the area.

Comments