The Fish Store and Oyster Bar
Telephone: +1 250-725-2264
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Rostra rating: 3.5
In a foodie town brimming with restaurants, The Fish Store and Oyster Bar is a standout. Located near Tofino’s docks, this establishment owns sole distribution rights to Clayoquot Sound oysters and supplies all the other local restaurants. This arrangement guarantees fresh oysters in all of Tofino’s restaurants, but none are fresher than at The Fish Store where they can be eaten only ten minutes distance by boat from their long line deep water fisheries.
The Fish Store and Oyster Bar is MagoGuide’s favorite kind of restaurant, sporting an unpretentious yet attractive and functional design, staffed by friendly knowledgeable people, and serving killer food. The dining space divides into outside tables and a long bar inside. The industrial design theme is dominated by blond wood and stainless steel. The restaurant’s glass front opens completely for a breezy outdoor ambience at the bar or transforms into a warm indoor setting during Tofino’s frequent bouts of inclement weather.
Our server Rebecca was a pearl amongst shuckers. She steered us away from the more expensive non-local oysters toward the Crassiostrea Gigas from Clayoquot Sound. We also got to watch and learn while the Fish Store’s owner taught a newbie the ins and outs of shucking. Rebecca explained that management works hard to build a knowledgeable staff via training and expeditions to the off shore farms to learn about oyster husbandry. Evidently the deep water cultivation techniques allow oysters to feed continuously and grow rapidly with thinner shells and more meat, as well as having less negative environmental impact than shallower approaches.
The oysters themselves were superb, clean, sweet, and no grit. I had a dozen to start and six more for dessert, but I really went crazy the next day at the annual Tofino Dock Festival where the Fish Store and Oyster Bar set up a booth that they stocked with a boat newly arrived from Clayoquot Sound and let ticket holders founder on nature’s bounty. I do not think that I have ever eaten fresher oysters.
Back at the Fish Store there are two types of mignonette on offer. Both were just fine but I thought they detracted from the incredible flavor of the oysters, which needed only a slight squeeze of lemon. You can also order oysters broiled, a move that makes sense in the winter but singles you out as a heretic in the summer.
With an estimated 50,000 gallons of oysters harvested from Clayoquot Sound annually, opportunities abound to eat yourself to death. “Buck a shuck” nights at the Fish Store are downright dangerous given the multiple Tofino Brewing Company beers on tap, jewel box of a wine list, and full bar. Then there is Tofino’s designated Oyster Month and associated festival in November. The mind boggles. Just how many babies are born during a typical August in Tofino?
Oysters are only the beginning of the incredible seafood available at the Fish Store. Most every dish is made a minute, a real culinary accomplishment for a small restaurant. Standouts include their fish chowder and anything containing the local spot prawns, which Rebecca proudly showed us were still very much alive when they went into the pan.
I did, however, have a nit or two to pick with the salmon tartar. It was constructed from excellent fresh local salmon but it needed acid, white pepper, and gutsier capers. They used nonpareille capers, which got lost in the shuffle. Better to go with larger salt cured capers (e.g., from Pantelleria) and rinse them in vinegar before incorporating into the tartar.
Patti had no such issues with her Thai peanut chili with local salmon that delivered excellent heat and flavor. An accompanying green salad was very good, containing correctly dressed fresh lettuce and edible flower petals, simple and tasty. As was inexplicably usual with Tofino eateries, the bread was limp and bland. The only culinary addition this town really needs is an artisan bakery worthy of the name.
A final reason to patronize the Fish Store is (tautology alert) that it is a fish store. At the far end of the bar is a tank filled with Dungeness Crabs and other crustaceans. Fresh and smoked fish are also available for purchase and removal as well as an assortment of local non-oyster bi-valves.
Bottom line: Whether you eat it there or take it away, the seafood at The Fish Store and Oyster Bar is exemplary in a town where local, fresh, and sustainable maritime sustenance is de rigueur. If you head to Tofino for Oyster Month and some storm watching you may well find yourself next to Team Mago at the bar.