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The District Fishwife - Fresh, Sustainable Seafood (With Prepared Items) Inside Union Market


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District Fishwife is a new permanent vendor in Union Market that, like Red Apron is combining retail and prepared foods.  I had the chance to attend their opening party, where they served up fish and chips as well as some meaty fried oysters.  Last time I was in the market, I didn't see the oysters on the menu, so I don't know if that was a one off.

The fish and chips were fantastic.  The fish was excellent...substantial, crispy crust without a greasy feel or taste.  No complaints about the fries (er, chips) either.  They were served with the standard accoutrements, including a house-made ketchup that didn't really do it for me (needed more vinegar, I think).

There really isn't much to indicate that they are more than a retail fish-monger (like how Red Apron has the bar area), so it'll be interesting to see how they reel people in for the prepared stuff. (Sorry.)

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Fiona Lewis is doing great things there (and her enthusiasm is infectious).  Not only are the fish and chips and the thai salmon curry delicious, but the retail seafood itself is fantastic.  The buyer is Vernon Lingonfelter, formerly of the Lingonfelter truck at the Bethesda Farmers Market.  Certainly Black Salt-level quality, possibly even better.  Black Salt-level prices, too, but that comes with the territory.  Between Fishwife and the Maketto pop-up (serving only two items -- a weekly soup and great pork buns), there's finally compelling reason to trek to Union Market.

Kudos to The District Fishwife for some expertly filleted shad today, with a handful of very thin bones in only 1 of the 4 fillets we bought.  Prepared with Zora's recipe as inspiration, this was a delicious fish (my first time trying it, I was there to get shad roe but they were out). 

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there's finally compelling reason to trek to Union Market.

Ok I'll bite. I realize everyone has their favorites, but this seems a bit over the top. Union Market has always been a worthwhile place to go. Plus, I really like Maketto too, but I feel there are plenty of other vendors whose product is on par with the soup and pork buns.

Thanks for the back story on DF, I haven't bought any retail seafood there yet.

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Went to Union Market for some early dinner grazing yesterday afternoon. Getting Fish and Chips at District Fishwife was definitely our priority -- and they did not disappoint. Fiona took my order and had a bit of time to chat as things were winding down on what was probably a pretty busy weekend for them. She talked me in to one of her DC Brau/Chocolate City Black & Tans. The superior (DC Brau) Penn Quarter Porter kind of overwhelms the Chocolate City Copper Ale -- and the two don't layer because there's no nitrogen added to the porter so that it will float over the ale (as you would see when Guinness Drought is used). But this is over beer nerd analysis - it tasted like PQP and was refreshing.

The fish: terrific. And I don't even like catfish. Was wary when I saw that she uses blue catfish, but I appreciate her reasons for using the species. We need to save cod and get rid of nasty ass catfish, so might as well fry em up! And DF charges a reasonable $12 for two sizable filets with a large serving of chips. If she was using cod, I bet the price would be more like $18 or a much less generous portion would be on offer. But the star here is the excellent, crispy batter and nice frying. The fish itself was flaky, mild and clearly very fresh. I wonder if catfish tastes a little better when it wonders in to the saltwater of the Bay, where it's not supposed to be.

The chips: excellent. Kind of a hybrid between hand-cut skin-on fries and proper chips. Nicely cooked and great with the homemade ketchup that Fiona had just finished cooling. So glad that was ready for us. The tartar sauce was nice too.

Union Market is such a nice place to bring our toddler; parking, enclosed but room to wander, plenty of tables, easy for us to get food and adult beverages on the go. I think DF will be our go to for fish and chips now. Fiona got me to enjoy two things I'm usually pretty anti, catfish and ketchup. :D

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I picked up some Scottish salmon this weekend, and used it in a curry.  The quality of the fish was really outstanding.  Heads and tails above from what we've gotten used to from Whole Foods.  I was skeptical, but pleasantly surprised it was so noticeably better.

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I think I'm developing a pretty serious crush on Fiona who is lovely and tattooed and has a killer Aussie accent and serves up fish that is -- with Black Salt -- the freshest in town.  Yesterday she flashed that smile and talked me into fish collars and octopus on top of the slab o' rockfish I bought.  Not cheap, but everything a fishmonger should be.  Both she and her staff are an excellent source of cooking advice and everything I've cooked from there -- from Monkfish pan roasted and served with confited fennel (I've been reading to many menus) to the best tuna I've ever tasted at home with pureed rosemary/white beans, has been spectacular.

Sadly, I haven't noticed many of the "little fish" mentioned by Pool Boy, but the inventory seems to change daily so maybe I've just been unlucky. On the other hand: fish collars.  Where do you see those?  Also, I'm told that if you call in the morning, they'll hold some bones and heads back so you can make a fumet. I quizzed Fiona about grouper cheeks but she admitted they mostly keep those for themselves.  Mostly.

While we're on the subject of fish, anyone got a good fish collar recipe?  Also, if you had a great deal of sorrel and a reasonable quantity of rockfish, how might you bring the two together?

ETA:  Results here, if you're curious. 

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I'm probably at District Fishwife two to three times per week, and they've yet to have the smaller fish. Fiona has, however, told me that she plans on carrying them soon. They do have razor clams, which I don't really see around, and everything she does carry is of incredible quality. 

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Bought some wonderful New England U-10 sea scallops at District Fishwife today. And, really pleased to report that all the praise above is still true (though didn't see Vernon and not sure he is still working there?).

Fiona is really a wonderful ambassador for seafood. She has the knowledge, the compassion, the enthusiasm, the intelligence and the generosity to be exemplary as the proprietor of this excellent seafood counter.

Yes, the prices are higher and, as someone posted above, that necessarily "goes with the territory." But, there are lower cost options like the great catfish in what may be the area's best fish and chips.

Today, while I was being rung up, I asked the person packaging my scallops about their salmon on display. Three kinds, all of great appearance, but all farmed. Of course, wild salmon is out of season but I was curious that Fiona would represent any farmed product. She overheard my question and came over to talk with me. Starting out saying that she'd never have sold any farmed salmon several years ago, even now there are just five farms in the world with quality standards high enough for her. She explained the improvements over the last several years and that "we just can't keep operating like we have," which is much written about and very true.

I'd love to see her be able to expand into her own space but, with our conversation about the salmon, forgot to ask about that!

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Their fresh seafood is undoubtedly excellent, albeit expensive at times. That said, fresh seafood is worth the price.

I believe their prepared foods are under appreciated. Don't miss the fried cod and chips whenever they have it. Their curry dishes are also quite delicious.

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Fiona is my favorite vendor in town -- she's devoted to selling the best products; I've virtually never been disappointed.  Prices are often high but reasonable (and she's always eager to point you to the best deals, including collars; skate; sardines; etc.).  Vernon no longer works for her, but Fiona herself appears to be almost as particular in choosing her purveyors, and she's chosen well!  (Plus she's much friendlier than Vernon.)

I also served fish from them tonight, mahi mahi. This is my favorite fish purveyor in town, bar none, and I'm so thrilled I can go there on a regular basis. Everything is wonderful.

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Fiona is my favorite vendor in town -- she's devoted to selling the best products; I've virtually never been disappointed.  Prices are often high but reasonable (and she's always eager to point you to the best deals, including collars; skate; sardines; etc.).  Vernon no longer works for her, but Fiona herself appears to be almost as particular in choosing her purveyors, and she's chosen well!  (Plus she's much friendlier than Vernon.)

Wow.  This thread hadn't had any activity in 8 months until my short post today. Didn't think it'd prompt so many to weigh in but totally understand.  Fiona and DF are unique in the area for all the great reasons mentioned.  I'm glad there are so many fans since probably means she's making a go of it and can survive/thrive doing what she does.

Quoted your post to react to the part about her devotion "...to selling the best products..."  Absolutely agree but also why I so appreciated the convo I had with her today about farmed salmon. No doubt she deals with customers all the time who look down on that, believing that wild is best and the only way to go.  But, she is of course right that current fishing practices are depleting stocks and she clearly cares about that intently. I loved getting her uber-informed take on the state of modern salmon farming and how far it has come in her opinion.  I told her I'd try some next time there...and I will.

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I'm not sure, but I do know everything they make is fresh and delicious. They also appear to quietly partner with other Union Market vendors.

Should just ask Fiona about the cod. She's entirely transparent and loves talking with/educating customers. May be that she can't predict the cod availability. Know that was true for Vernon when he had it at the Sunday Bethesda Farmers Market.  Some weekends he just couldn't get it.  Or, might be price dependent. If it fluctuates significantly, she may pass on it when it runs too high.  I'll ask next time I'm there if I remember.

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Overdue with this but wanted to share that I had opportunity to attend a class of sorts a few weeks ago led by, and adjacent to, Fiona at District Fishwife.

Part of a series organized by Union Market and an outside event-management vendor, these sessions ran through the late winter and early spring, featuring different UM vendors like "knife skills" from the knife vendor guys and, I think Maketto may have even led one before they opened their permanent spot.

Anyway, Fiona's was the last of the series. She was awesome. Simple format for maybe 15-20 people. First she demonstrated how to break down a fish (maybe a salmon; I'm forgetting some of the details now). Then she taught us the less-straightforward technique of breaking down a skate wing before demo'ing a simple sautee of the result after dredging and with butter, capers and wine. We all got to try the results. Delicious.

Fiona claimed afterward that she'd been very nervous doing this but, I swear, she didn't show that at all. As I told her then, her accent probably gets her halfway there but she did a superb job.

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Picked up a couple of barramundi and some shrimp for the grill yesterday. Really good quality fish and grilled well at home. The shrimp were quite good as well. I'll be back to shop there again. Saw some great stuff (razorclams, excellent diver scallops, monkfish liver and sea urchin among other things) - hoping to score some sardines or other small fishies in the future, too.

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Picked up a couple of barramundi and some shrimp for the grill yesterday. Really good quality fish and grilled well at home. The shrimp were quite good as well. I'll be back to shop there again. Saw some great stuff (razorclams, excellent diver scallops, monkfish liver and sea urchin among other things) - hoping to score some sardines or other small fishies in the future, too.

The barramundi does grill up great, if you don't overcook it.

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Shrimp ball banh mi sandwich for lunch today. Delicious! Jalapeno and cilantro on the baguette. The shrimp balls transported me home to a memory of something I haven't had in years, Cajun garfish boulettes. I don't know what's in them. Some garlic. Some I don't know what.  Don't see it mentioned on the website. Hope they serve it again soon.

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