Escape Fish Bar on Fifth | Casual & Tasty

September 16, 2011

In hopes of satisfying my lingering craving for fried fish, I recently visited the newly-opened Escape Fish Bar on Fifth Avenue in the heart of Downtown's Gaslamp District, and I was very happy I did.  Escape is a casual, petite seafood alcove which prides itself on offering the freshest catch, a great selection of local craft beers, and an ample wine selection.

Owned and operated by Pacific Beach native, ocean lover, and local attorney, Scott Quan, Escape Fish Bar was inspired by his parents. Quan's family frequently vacationed in the Pacific Northwest, and a fast favorite was a small eatery named Red Fish Blue Fish, which operates from a converted shipping container located right on a pier in Victoria harbor, British Columbia, luring patrons who line up in droves for their fresh catch of the day and the Tacones – a Japanese style seafood taco.

Quan was so enthralled in the idea of opening a similar style eatery that he invited the chef and owner from Red Fish down for an extended stay in San Diego to assist him in designing hypothetical menu items, and perfecting the techniques required to accomplish them authentically. To put the finishing touches on his concept, he collaborated with Chef Ivoreno Brigitha, whom Quan met in Costa Rica, resulting in the welcomed addition of Central American influences to the Asian and Pacific Northwest-inspired cuisine of Escape.

At last, Quan decided to run with his long-developed concept and converted one of his frozen yogurt shops in the Gaslamp into Escape Fish Bar - a quaint and comfortable interior, casually decorated with beach murals and sidewalk seating, a short stretch of bar, a kitchen-side counter area, and the sweet sounds of reggae music. Don't be fooled by the relaxed interior, because once you taste the food, you'll realize that there is nothing lackadaisical about the preparation of the cuisine.

Although a bit on the pricey side, the menu items sampled were all well-executed, delicious, made with extremely fresh ingredients, and provided in ample servings. The Tacones (2 per order) come with your choice of grilled or tempura battered seafood, wrapped Japanese hand roll style (cone shaped) and grilled in a large flour tortilla with roasted pumpkin seed slaw, lime pickled jicama and onions, daikon radish sprouts, smoked chili avocado sauce and served alongside your choice of coconut milk rice, potato salad, or roasted pumpkin seed slaw ($14 for Pollock or Cod, $15 for Mahi, $16 for Albacore, Ahi, Yellowtail, Mango Shrimp, Wild Alaskan Salmon or Local Halibut). We enjoyed the crisp tempura fried Pollock tacones, which came together delightfully when combined with the light wasabi flavor of the double horseradish tartar sauce.

Escape's tempura fish and chips were another highlight: the fish was so delicate and flavorful, and the double cooked Kennebec fries were some of the best in town – crispy on the outside with a smooth potato-ey middle – especially amazing when dipped in the house made red curry ketchup. When choosing the type of fish for your dish, be sure to ask the hospitable and knowledgeable server which is freshest ($15 for pollock, $16 for cod, $18 for mahi or wild Alaskan salmon, and $20 for yellowtail or local halibut).

Not to be outshined, the light and crispy panko shrimp corn rice cakes, the flavorful ginger infused shrimp cocktail, the roasted pumpkin seed slaw, and the spicy Mexican carrots were each unique and satisfying in their own right. There were no disappointments.

738 Fifth Ave., Downtown

Sunday to Thursday from 11:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m.
Friday and Saturday from 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 a.m.

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