Crab Bowl

7958 SW Barbur Blvd

(503) 245-9954

Forget Martha Stewart and Wallpaper magazine--if it were up to me, I would decorate my whole house with a nautical theme. I want those big wooden steering wheel things, knobby old ropes, rusty anchors, and a big ol' shrine to The Goonies. Since it's not up to me, I have to get my nautical fix at the Crab Bowl, a seafood joint with the best Northwest-style Fish and Chips I've ever had.

Searching for good eats along Barbur Boulevard can feel like a treasure hunt, and indeed there is much booty to be found. On the drive from downtown, you'll pass authentic Indian restaurants, neon burger joints, and the well-regarded pizza palace, New York New York. As a note of caution, when you see the Crab Bowl, keep driving and then make a u-turn. The diagonal parking is tricky.

The Crab Bowl's gruff roadhouse exterior conceals a surprisingly quiet, pleasant restaurant decorated in dark wood and antique mirrors. It's a small room, seating only about 20, and on some nights the operation is so tiny that your waiter may also be your chef. Cut him some slack for not always being there for you; he won't compromise the timing of the food preparation to fill your water glass. It's in the name of perfectionism, which is what great restaurants are made of.

Halibut, the customary fried fish of choice in the Northwest, can get tough and dry in less capable hands. The Crab Bowl, though, is the only place I've visited where this is not the case. Here, the fish is soft and moist, and naturally flavorful. It is blanketed by a thick, English-style batter that tows the line between crisp and supple. The chef here must have a PhD in fish frying from, I don't know, Cambridge or something.

Take, for example, the fried seafood platter ($14.95). I had mine with prawns, halibut, and oysters. Each had its own style; the prawns had a flaky, light breading; the fish, that glorious thick batter; and the oysters had been quickly pan-fried in breadcrumbs and left half-raw in the middle. I loved all three, and as a bonus, the fries are fresh-cut and lightly sprinkled with Old Bay seasoning, and the tartar sauce is house-made.

Pan-fried razor clams were enormous and tender, but the breading could have used a bit more salt. I fooled around with the un-fried side of the menu, with mixed results. Halibut, stuffed with baby shrimp and crab and bathed in a lobster sherry cream sauce (trés old fashioned) was quite good, but the accompanying side of vegetables was not. Fettuccini Primavera, which can be made vegan, displayed the skill and flexibility of this kitchen. It was rich and savory, with flavors of garlic, red wine and extra-virgin olive oil, though it also featured those flaccid vegetables.

All dinners come with soup or salad. The salad is A-OK, and topped with a smattering of baby shrimp. But the clam chowder is certainly the way to go. This is the good stuff--homemade, not too chunky or floury, and quite flavorful.

One last happy detail is the availability of Anchor Steam on tap. This beer, a hybrid ale/lager, is the best beverage with which to wash down a plate of fried seafood. Best beverage, best seafood; things that make you go, "YARRRRRGH!"