In case my last name didn’t tip you off, I’m pretty Italian. And around this time of year, there’s a particularly important cultural phenomenon that takes place in my community: Feast of the Seven Fishes. It’s an Italian-American Christmas Eve tradition, and the premise is wildly uncomplicated: eat seven different courses of seafood. Easy. Delicious.
Best part is, you don’t technically need to be Italian to participate (don’t tell my ancestors that I said that). If you’re curious about festa dei sette pesci, join in by checking off these seven excellent seafood dishes around Seattle, from hand-sliced salmon belly lox to clam pizza.
Communion, owned by Kristi Brown (of That Brown Girl Cooks! fame) and her son, Damon Bomar, is by far one of the best new restaurants of the past year. Located in the Central District, it specializes in soul food with touches of Vietnamese and Ethiopian influence, and what you really shouldn’t miss here is Brown’s po’mi, a sandwich that’s part po’ boy, part banh mi. Complete with catfish coated in a light cornmeal crust, not-too-tart pickled daikon radish and carrot, fresh cucumbers, grilled jalapeño, salty pork paté and a really, really (really) good remoulade, this stuffed baguette deserves a spot in Seattle’s seafood hall of fame, let alone its sandwich hall of fame. Communionseattle.com
While we’re on the subject of catfish, the sandwich at Matt’s in the Market has been a mainstay on the menu since this restaurant at Pike Place opened more than 20 years ago. If you haven’t tried it yet, now is the time. The sandwich is stacked with cornmeal-dredged catfish, a spicy sambal mayo, and shredduce (that’s what we’re supposed to call shredded lettuce now), all on untoasted potato bread. There’s something about the squishy loaf slices giving way to crisp catfish, a kick of creamy heat, and cold, crunchy iceberg that just works. And you shouldn’t change what works. Mattsinthemarket.com
If you’d rather have your seafood cooked with flames instead of sizzling oil, head to Sushi Ave, a new Japanese spot in the International District. There, you’ll find various types of aburi, which is sushi rice pressed into a rectangle with a thin layer of fish and sauces spread on top before getting promptly blowtorched. Grab an assortment, but don’t forget the wasabi tuna filled with shrimp tempura and mashed avocado, topped with buttery inferno-blasted tuna slick with mellow wasabi sauce, and oozing with char, richness and tang all at once. Please sign my petition for more sushi in this city to be set on fire. Sushiavewa.kwickmenu.com
Vongole, aka clams, are kind of a big deal for Feast of the Seven Fishes. And my favorite clams in Seattle are not swirling around a chowder crock or steamed in a bath of Pinot Grigio. They’re scattered on a pizza. The Independent Pizzeria’s clam pie is an homage to New Haven-style white pizzas, slathered in olive oil, mozzarella, grana padano, garlic, a healthy splash of white wine, bright parsley, and, of course, polka dots of chopped clams. Squeeze the accompanying lemon wedge over the surface and enjoy your momentary escape to Connecticut. Theindiepizzeria.com
Imagine a hush puppy, crackly on the outside and fluffy on the inside. Now, imagine it crossed with a crab cake. Great news. You don’t have to imagine it anymore because the crab puppy is a real thing that Emerald City Fish & Chips serves at its storefront in Columbia City. Get these fantastic little deep-fried bundles of cornmeal batter and fresh crab alongside seasoned fries and delicious spicy tartar sauce that’s so tasty it deserves to be rationed to ensure every piece of fish and potato gets a dunk. Emeraldcityfishandchips.com
Calling Paju’s incredible fried rice a seafood dish might be a little bit of a stretch but it still counts because what makes this Queen Anne Korean restaurant’s bowl of grains so magnificent is the faint oceanic umami of squid ink. The sea-scented, black-dyed rice pairs uncannily well with additions like fermented kimchi and a velvety smoked quail egg yolk that practically begs you to break open and stir. The only thing it’s missing is bacon. Just kidding. It also has bacon. Pajurestaurant.com
Having been born and raised in New York (where Feast of the Seven Fishes originated), I’m always on the prowl for good lox. And it’s safe to say that Matthew Segal makes the best cured salmon in town. Matthew’s bagel-and-lox pop-up, Loxsmith (get it?) appears inside Nacho Borracho on Capitol Hill every Thursday through Sunday, selling around 20 different bagel flavors, ranging from egg everything to Hot Takis-encrusted. What I’m truly obsessed with here is the wild-caught belly lox, decadent and melty and appropriately salted. It could give Russ & Daughters a run for the money. Yeah, I went there. Loxsmithseattle.com