Eating out in Ottawa: Le Poisson Bleu offers a fresh, sophisticated take on fish and seafood

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The blue fish
610 Somerset St. W., 613-656-1638, lepoissonbleu.net
Open: Wednesday to Sunday 5pm to 11pm, closed Monday and Tuesday
Prices: Small Plates $15 to $24, Mains $28 to $127
Access: two steps to the front door

On one of the two visits I made to Le Poisson Bleu last weekend, we were hesitant about ordering the charcuterie board. That is, until our waiter was bubbling with excitement over the tuna bone marrow off the plate. After we twisted our rubber arms, we said yes to the $70 indulgence.

Some of you may have just done a double take, and for one or more reasons. Doesn’t a charcuterie board consist of cold cuts, usually the porky kind? And since when does a charcuterie board cost $70?

Well, shake your head. Opened in early February on an unassuming corner in Chinatown, Le Poisson Bleu advocates an emerging global culinary trend that focuses on preparing and serving seafood in innovative and even challenging ways.

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Australian chef Josh Niland, author of 2017’s The Whole Fish Cookbook and 2021’s Take One Fish: The New School of Scale-to-Tail Cooking and Eating, is the pioneer of this trend and his high profile supporters include the British cooking queen Nigella Lawson, who calls him ‘a genius’.

It’s a credit to Ottawa’s advancing restaurant scene that the three owners of Le Poisson Bleu – chef Alex Bimm, who has cooked at Les Fougères in Chelsea, Que., and The Whalesbone on Bank, his brother Eric Bimm, and their cousin and bartender Sophie. Velor – chose to fly their fish flag on Somerset Street West.

Kudos to them for offering fish and seafood dishes that arouse both curiosity and hunger, even when the sharpest of diners may have a guest who thinks they’ve gone too far.

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So, what about that tuna bone marrow?

I like tuna and I like beef marrow. But I didn’t leave LPB because I had developed a taste for tuna bone marrow, which I’ve since learned is also known as tuna back jelly.

Clockwise from top left, summer salmon sausage, tuna bone marrow, cod tongue mortadella, assorted pickles, and salted tuna loin made up the charcuterie platter at Le Poisson Bleu on Somerset Street West.
Clockwise from top left, summer salmon sausage, tuna bone marrow, cod tongue mortadella, assorted pickles, and salted tuna loin made up the charcuterie platter at Le Poisson Bleu on Somerset Street West. Photo by Peter Hum

One internet source says that tuna jelly “when it’s fresh…tastes like fresh seawater. It’s incredibly refreshing.” We missed that revelation. Instead, the allure of tuna back jelly went over my head and my dining companion even compared it to a slightly fishy Jell-O shot. Clearly we still have a lot to learn.

Of course, LPB’s website doesn’t say the food will confuse you. “We strive to create food that is fresh and memorable, refined yet unpretentious, comforting and full of heart,” it says. “The main thing is tasty.”

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So, if the overwhelming sensation of tuna back jelly isn’t for you, more conventional and tasty choices abound.

East coast oysters ($42 for a dozen) were pristine and salty, with not only the usual shaved horseradish and mignonette on hand, but a squeeze of spicy, homemade chermoula to garnish those delicious clams.

Oysters at Le Poisson Bleu
Oysters at Le Poisson Bleu Photo by Nicole Feriancek

Seared Tuna Tartar ($24), another raw, immaculately fresh treat, wrapped in an egg yolk that added unctuous savory.

Yellowfin tuna tartare at Le Poisson Bleu in Chinatown.
Yellowfin tuna tartare at Le Poisson Bleu in Chinatown. Photo by Nicole Feriancek

The Le Poisson Bleu ($15) fritters were fried concoctions of smoked trout and potato that were hard to stop eating, especially with a hearty romesco-esque seasoning that confirmed Alex Bimm’s penchant for big flavors.

Smoked trout and potato fritters at Le Poisson Bleu on Somerset Street West.
Smoked trout and potato fritters at Le Poisson Bleu on Somerset Street West. Photo by Alison Mah

Pieces of Virginia rock shrimp ($24), studded with crispy discs of trout “chorizo” and served on beds of loose, jalapeño-tinged polenta, were as sweet as that crustacean obscure.

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Rock shrimp at Le Poisson Bleu.
Rock shrimp at Le Poisson Bleu. Photo by Peter Humpost media

From Fogo Island came the most tender, meaty squid ($24) I’ve ever had. The dish’s lively pool of spicy chimichurri vie for dominance of the taste buds.

Fogo Island squid at Le Poisson Bleu.
Fogo Island squid at Le Poisson Bleu. Photo by Peter Humpost media

Fresh mussels ($16 for half a pound) steamed in a homemade XO sauce (a Hong Kong condiment made with dried scallops and shrimp) were all about the umami.

Steamed mussels at Le Poisson Bleu.
Steamed mussels at Le Poisson Bleu. Photo by Peter Humpost media

Along with tuna jelly, our charcuterie platter ($70) included (in order of ingenuity) slices of smoked albacore tuna loin, summer trout sausage with pistachio, and pistachio-spotted cod tongue “mortadella.” They all had a lot of salt-forward flavor and pleasant textures.

Of the five entrees, the unanimous favorite was a perfectly cooked, aged king salmon fillet ($38) with sautéed mushrooms in a simple yet irresistible sauce of emulsified house-made butter.

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Salmon at Le Poisson Bleu.

Something to wrap our heads (and purses) around was Le Poisson Bleu’s play on steak frites, which was swapped for a large, dry-aged piece of striped sea bass ($76 for an 11-ounce steak). The imposing steak, topped with dollops of that invigorating chimichurri, had concentrated flavor and textural complexity. The chips went from good to better as they sought out the delectable pan juices from the fish.

Striped bass steak at Le Poisson Bleu.
Striped bass steak at Le Poisson Bleu. Photo by Peter Humpost media

A whole local John Dory ($32), with butterflies and breading, didn’t work for us because the shrimp hollandaise sauce, which worked with the dish’s asparagus, took over when applied to the mild fish.

Butterflied crappie (sunfish) with asparagus at Le Poisson Bleu.
Butterflied crappie (sunfish) with asparagus at Le Poisson Bleu. Photo by Peter Humpost media

Also the decision to leave some scales on the fish for the crunchiness hinted at on the menu was debatable, especially when breading already made the fish crunchy. For example, I inadvertently removed bits of scales from my mouth instead of grinding through them.

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While two desserts — a mille-feuille ($12) alternating puff pastry and chocolatey pastry cream and a fig pavlova ($12) with lemon curd and rosemary-pinenut praline — were tasty, they both felt textured, too dense and almost not yielding enough. .

Mille Feuille at Le Poisson Bleu.
Mille Feuille at Le Poisson Bleu. Photo by Alison MahSubmitted

Fig pavlova in Le Poisson Bleu. As I’ve said about other restaurants, the money here for desserts is better spent on drinks.

Hot Girl Summer and Stroll Down Somerset cocktails at Le Poisson Bleu.
Hot Girl Summer and Stroll Down Somerset cocktails at Le Poisson Bleu. Photo by Peter Humpost media

Velour, a veteran of Montreal’s cocktail scene in charge of an attractive bar in the middle of Le Poisson Bleu’s dining room, makes some pretty artsy drinks. Two bourbon-based and two gin-based concoctions were balanced winners that were worth ordering again.

In terms of wine, the restaurant offers a small selection of affordable and often organic bottles from small producers, and some glasses are also available.

While we clearly liked some dishes more than others, Le Poisson Bleu still feels like a new restaurant. Provided you accept the fundamental premise that first-class and even avant-garde seafood should be celebrated in a relaxed environment, you will find countless refined delights. Just hold the tuna back jelly, if you prefer.

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