Ice-fished walleye and other Earthly delights2/12/2014
Seafood season arrived on the first weekend of this month, along with Bacon Fest, the Year of the Horse and the NFL championship game between the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks. Despite the seemingly antithetical relationship between the first thing and those others, all are bonded in mutual dependence. Sales of shrimp, America‘s favorite seafood, soar each year before the latter and the many parties it inspires. Because fish is a homonym for abundance in Chinese, believers in various forms of Asian astrology believe that eating whole fish on the New Year brings good luck. Bacon Fest is a uniquely Iowan version of Lupercalia, the ancient pagan precursor to Mardi Gras in which participants overindulge their carnal instincts before the fasting of Lent. This year’s Mardi Gras (March 4) will be the latest in the next quarter century. Then, fish sales will continue to soar among true believers of various Christian faiths — that hold Saint Thomas Aquinas’ conviction that fish (unlike meat, eggs and dairy products) do not “create a greater surplus available for seminal matter, which when abundant becomes a great incentive to lust.”
In the northern hemisphere, February is seafood season for scientific reasons, too. Winter’s cold waters produce fattier creatures. Gourmets particularly cherish uni (sea urchin eggs), caviar, halibut and tuna plucked from February waters. This Feb. 26, Waterfront Seafood is planning a special night devoted to one such wondrous cold catch — ice-fished walleye. Walleye is probably the No. 1 reason that many Iowans own lakefront property in Minnesota or travel there on vacation. Among gourmets of that species, ice-fished walleye is considered transcendent. There aren’t many ways to experience it, though. You either endure negative 50-degree wind chills to pitch an ice tent and fish or find a restaurant that actually brings this delicacy to you.
Any night’s a good time to visit Waterfront, which celebrated its 30th anniversary last week. Its 250 or so seats are often filled by 5:30 p.m. Some folks show up as early as 3 p.m. for happy-hour discounts. The best of those brings Waterfront’s lavish shrimp cocktail for $7, a $4 discount from their menu price. Six very large shrimp, expertly deveined and chilled, were served recently with cocktail sauce, fresh horseradish, two large lemon wedges and a basket of three types of crackers. Other favorite appetizers at the bustling restaurant include oysters on the half shell ($1.25-$1.90 each) that are sourced from Waterfront’s 67-year-old Delaware Bay facility. Those were served with cocktail sauce plus extra horseradish, with generous lemon. Prince Edward Island blue mussels ($9 per pound) and Littleneck clams (16 for $15) were presented with wine and butter sauce plus sourdough bread from the venerable Wedemeyer Bakery of South San Francisco.
Fried foods used different types of breading. Waterfront’s crab cakes (two for $9) were filled with a high ratio of crab meat to binder yet still tasted mostly of breading. That was hardly the case with their popular cornmeal battered catfish ($15 with two sides), pan-fried oysters ($11-$22) or rock shrimp ($9-$20). Among cold water fish, sautéed, potato-encrusted halibut ($28 with two sides) stood out even over another halibut dish baked with sour cream, mayonnaise, onions and bread crumbs. Cold water lobster and king crab were available for special indulgences. Soups — oyster stew, crab, clam chowder and gumbo — were by far the best side dishes and ranked with any of the best such soups in Iowa.
Side Dishes Des Moines Metro Opera’s Food and Wine Showcase, often the best charity food-and-wine event of the year, will be on Friday, Feb. 21 at the downtown Marriott. Tickets are $40-$100… Sbrocco and Chocolaterie Stam collaborate on a four-courses wine dinner on Tuesday, Feb. 25, for $120 per couple. CVWaterfront Seafood 2900 University Ave., West Des Moines 223-5106 Mon.-Thurs. 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Fri.-Sat. 11 a.m.-10:30 p.m. 2414 S.E. Tones Drive, Ankeny, 963-1940 Mon.-Thurs. 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Fri. 11 a.m.-10:30 p.m., Sat. 11 a.m.-11:30 p.m., Sun. 11 a.m.-8 p.m.
Jim Duncan is a freelance writer who has penned nine different columns for Cityview and its sister publications beginning in 1987.