After opening a Mexican restaurant in his sister’s Canadian neighborhood at her request, Mike Reeves moved back to Fort Collins wanting to open a monster bar, larger than Tony’s.
But when he found an empty unit on Old Town’s Oak Street – once an appliance store with fewer walls and a simpler design – Reeves, behind the bar in his restaurant Fish last Wednesday night, said smiling, “It just looked like a fish restaurant.”
Standing, arms crossed in a white collared shirt streaked with fish juice, Reeves, 38, says eight years to the week after opening Fish, he always knew he would end up in the restaurant business – something he blames on his grandfather, who owned several throughout his lifetime.
Reeves shares snippets of his life and his work in between cutting filets of fresh fish for the chef, Spoon, mixing drinks for his “friends” at the bar and catching up with several “regulars” seated throughout the warm space, able to seat about 45 people but not big enough to have been a steak place, he says.
Having situated ourselves and the camera equipment at a table beneath a ceiling spotted with wire, fabric and paper mache fish, we asked Reeves what he recommended. With that, he left the table, pulled a strip of white pink tuna from the case and went to work, cutting the fatty fish into strips.
After we shot photos of lobsters — flown in from Nova Scotia — in a tank near the front door, a copy of Dr. Seuss’ “One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish” high upon a shelf and walls lined with photos of Reeves’ friends, family and co-workers, our waiter, Gideon Bush, brought out a plate of four ahi tuna egg rolls ($16).
Crafted from seared ahi tuna, carrots, ginger and cabbage, propped up on top of a trio of garlic chili, Japanese tonkatsu and Sriracha sauces, the four egg roll halves were balanced against one another, the crispy shell complimented by the fresh, pink tuna and spicy-sweet of the sauces.
The idea for the dish, Reeves says, came from his friend, a travel agent, who went to New York, came back and said, “‘Picture this: Crispy cones of ahi tuna.'” With this, Reeves smiles and returns to cutting fish behind a glass case filled with fresh oysters, mussels, halibut and tuna and decorated with photos of his 2-year-old son and an ultrasound of his son-to-be.
Back in the kitchen, Spoon moved quickly, alternating battering strips of white fish and lowering them into a fryer and preparing a salad — made from dandelion greens, cherry and teardrop tomatoes, shallots, cabbage and carrots, topped with a strawberry balsamic dressing and three goat cheese balls rolled in pepper and rosemary — specially made for us.
After working at Fish for six years, Spoon said he loves the laid-back work atmosphere — which gives employees the ability to come to work in shorts if they choose, Reeves says — and his culinary freedom to create the specials each day, which, on this occasion, included our parmesan breaded halibut, served with a white wine reduction, pine nuts, tomatoes and balsamic served over a bed of crisp green beans ($24.50).
Overwhelmed by the three plates before us, each reaching across the table to take another bite of the halibut or to further deconstruct the tower of egg rolls, Bush placed a fourth plate in the center of the war zone that was formerly our dinner –/this one decorated with three pan-seared scallops atop a bed of beets and surrounded by a pumpkin and ham hash ($14).
There was only one word to describe those scallops, complimented by Mike’s glass of Tilia Bornarda red wine: sexy.
Finishing off the last of our tantalizing mollusks, we watched Reeves help a table of guests in their debate about whether a phenomenon known as noodling –/where a fisherman tickles the chin of a catfish to attract it and then shoves their fist through the fish’s head and out the gill, dragging it to the surface –/was real.
Intrigued by the debate, Reeves said, slyly, “I have an internet connection.” Behind the bar, he opens his laptop and Googles “noodling,” and plays a YouTube video of several Southern men partaking in the primitive fishing technique. End of argument.
Don’t worry, none of the fish we consumed last week were caught using the highly unusual and somewhat graphic fishing method. However, to see a YouTube video about noodling, visit http://youtube.com/watch?v=LksuKTD8y0o.
Staff photographer Michael Kalush and News Managing Madeline Novey can be reached at email@example.com.