SAN DIEGO – Rolling back from London last weekend, El Gringo had talked so much with his fellow food bloggers about the merits of Mexican style mariscos (seafood), that I’d built up yet another insatiable craving for the good, fresh stuff. Knowing that a trip south of the border to the Baja coast wasn’t in the cards this weekend, I decided to grab the esposa and niño and head down to National City south of downtown San Diego to Poppa’s Fresh Fish Company. I’d found them on a Yelp! search of fresh fish in San Diego a while back and had been looking for a reason to visit this restaurant and market.
Though this location has only been in operation for a few months, Poppa’s is very well known for their live, locally-sourced sea urchin (uni), oysters, shellfish and fresh fish throughout the San Diego farmer’s market communities. Poppa’s is a fixture at the Little Italy Mercado, Hillcrest, Imperial Beach, Mira Mesa, Ocean Beach and other markets throughout the county (for Poppa’s market schedule, click here). I was greeted by the friendly staff as we stepped in from the 95 degree heat. Nichelle walked us through what was fresh, delicious and on the menu for the day.
The big draw at Poppa’s is the sea urchin. Often stocking specimens as large as your head, the uni (sourced from the local San Diego seas) is served two ways: opened, cleaned and served in-shell, or as ceviche. El Gringo wondered if they could put together an uni shooter, Baja style in Clamato with spices and cilantro. Nichelle assured me that this uni was SO good, one doesn’t need to add much of anything to it to enjoy it. The enormous uni was sat in front of us (the roe sacks still squirming), and we dug in with our plastic forks, a bottle of Tapatio at the ready. The texture was right on, soft, but much firmer than uni one might eat at a sushi restaurant with all the right tastes of brine and ocean.
Next up were a dozen Virginia Blue Point Oysters served on the half shell. The oysters were just one of five fresh bivalve varieties available on this particular day and Nichelle recommended them as the best in their case (which also contained fresh fish, salmon spread and other really good looking items). Sure enough, the oysters were smooth, tasty and went down well with a bit of horseradish and cocktail sauce. We chased the oysters with our freshly brewed iced herbal teas (though El Gringo’s Señorita was missing a cold cerveza).
In addition to raw items, Poppa’s Fresh Fish Company also serves a seafood pho, clam chowder, grilled fish and fish tacos. We ordered the shrimp, swordfish and halibut tacos, which were served with cabbage, pico de gallo and crema with a side of tortilla chips. The tacos, while just a touch light on the amount of seafood added, were very good and fresh. El Gringo understands that they also do a seafood tamale, which I’ll have to try on a future visit.
Our final bite was a seared scallop, covered in Smoked Apple Carmel Sauce from Praline Patisserie, a local San Diego-based business. Poppa’s employee Aaron Schulman let us know that all of the sauces, teas and vegetables are sourced from the connections with vendors they’ve come to work with at the county’s farmers markets. A decent amount of their seafood comes from Baja California as well. Back to the scallop…the texture of the scallop worked nicely with the carmel sauce and it was fantastic!
As we prepared to leave, Aaron gave us the update on this new National City location, “We do great at the farmer’s markets. This is our first physical location, so people are just getting to know that we’re here. Some people come expecting a place where you’ll sit down and get table service. And though I’ll bring it out to you, this isn’t that place. We just prepare and serve really good and fresh seafood from local vendors. That’s it.”
And what more do you need. We’ll be back, and you should check out Poppa’s Fresh Fish Company as well!
Your Gringo in Mexico (via San Diego),
Poppa’s Fresh Fish Company is located at 3227 Ocean View Blvd., San Diego, CA 92113. Check out their website at www.poppasfreshfish.com for their Farmer’s Market Schedule.